Health | ‘Most important is the vaccine,’ Tam says

Alexis Tam (center)

The Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam, visited health facilities yesterday to inspect the works regarding the prevention and cure of influenza, as the region has officially entered the peak period of the disease.

During the visit to the Centro Hospital Conde de São Januário (CHCSJ), the secretary reaffirmed to the media that prevention is the key step to countering contagious diseases. “The most important [preventative measure] is the [flu] vaccine,” said Tam, noting that only the timely vaccination of all at-risk groups can prevent a widespread transmission of the influenza virus.

Confronted with figures that so far already indicate more cases of the disease this year, Tam said, “There is in fact a slight growth [in the number of cases] when compared with last year but I think that is normal,” he said, adding the Health Bureau (SSM) is buying another 20,000 doses of the vaccine in addition to the initial acquisition of 150,000 to meet all possible demand.

“We are buying another 20,000 vaccines and with these, we will raise [the total number] to 170,000. It is enough for the whole population,” Tam said. Tam also presented a new measure, saying, “We are soon going to [extend the free vaccination program] so the students from university institutions in Macau can also receive the vaccines. This is a new measure that we are going to enforce but it is subject to acceptance [from the students].”

Questioned on the topic, the Secretary noted that non-residents are of concern to the government, although the priority for the government lies with local residents.

“[In the universities] there are also non-resident students and they also can take the vaccine [for free]. We do give priority to residents first. That’s our first priority, but even non-residents, like university students, we also help them,” Tam said in reply to the journalists.

The director of the SSM, Lei Chin Ion, added that according to the measures approved and enforced by the government, “non-residents must go to the private clinics in Macau and bear the expenses of the vaccine,” in order to get vaccinated. “The public hospital and other public health care facilities are only providing vaccines to residents as the workload is already too heavy with those. I suggest [to non-residents that want to be vaccinated] to resort to the clinics,” Lei added, noting that the only exceptions to this rule are the students since “they are part of at-risk groups” and as such are among the first to receive the vaccine.

Also according to Lei, at the most recent count, the SSM detected 14 concerning cases of influenza, including one case that led to the death of an 86-year-old male last week and another that resulted in the hospitalization of a four-year-old boy who is said to be in critical condition, yet reaffirmed that there are no reasons for alarm.

According to Lei, “at the moment, the majority of the cases we are receiving are from the adult population,” noting that the situation of the pediatric emergency room, one of the places toured by Tam, is stable and not requiring special attention.

“[If needed], we do have plans to relocate staff to take care of that. It’s all under control,” Lei concluded.

Regarding the case of the four-year-old boy who has an encephalitis, the chief of Pediatric service of CHCSJ, Jorge Sales Marques, added, “he is responding well to the treatment and his clinical status has been improving, although it is still too soon to say that he is safe.” The physician added, “We certainly do not know yet when he could possibly be released from the hospital and, at this point, not even the extent of the aftereffects. We will update on this case tomorrow.”

Three Portuguese physicians to start work soon

Alexis Tam confirmed that the SSM intends to hire 10 Portuguese physicians from various specialties, saying, “but this is also depending on their willingness to come work in Macau,” adding that for the time being, only three so far had been hired and were due to commence work very soon.

Tam noted that he was aware of the region’s inability to provide enough physicians, noting the strong support received from both Portugal and mainland China in dealing with the low supply of physicians.

Tam also added that, if needed, the government would “even send local patients to other places [such as Hong Kong] to receive treatment free of charge. I think this is the best policy in the world.”

The director of the SSM, Lei Chin Ion added, “we have received many application and résumés [from physicians] but not all were considered adequate. For the time being, only three are starting their duties.”

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