Vaccination challenges

Mainland China is dealing with another health scare and scandal. This time it’s about vaccines that were sold all over the country, improperly stored and in many cases used beyond their validity dates. At best, hundreds of thousands of vaccinations made are essentially worthless, which is bad enough; at worst they may have adverse health effects. Fortunately, national and international health authorities assure us that the latter is unlikely and, contrary to rumours that immediately gained some traction, very unlikely to be a cause of death.
So, essentially, we are dealing with a gigantic fraud and a huge amount of useless vaccinations. That is surely a significant issue for Mainland citizens. Their trust in health authorities will inevitably be further eroded, and anxiety about the level of protection provided to anyone who got vaccinated, properly or not, is bound to be high. But it also raises important issues for Macau and Hong Kong.
First, there is the fear that, as has happened in previous similar situations, Mainlanders will look to the two regions as safe sources of supply. The governments of both special regions were quick and adamant to state that stocks are enough for local needs, and will be reserved and guaranteed for residents. That is a welcome and necessary assurance to avoid anxieties this side of the border. But both regional governments should be bolder and take a broader and less defensive look at the issue.
First of all, this is not a health problem solely for the Mainland. Vaccination is a public service and in many cases delivered freely to everyone for a reason. It must be universal to provide effective protection to a population. If a significant part of the population fails to be immunized, the risk rises for everyone. With the enormous flow of people coming in and out of our borders every day that problem is also our problem.
Secondly, if only for what we might call humanitarian reasons, we should consider what we could do to help those affected by the scandal. Surely, the health services providers in both regions, either public or private, can find ways to co-operate with the Mainland authorities, helping them to strengthen their vaccination coverage; and also to support those who may come to us anyway, seeking both reassurances and access to safe vaccination services. It is difficult to see why we shouldn’t.