Logo of bmjgroupThis articleSubmit a manuscriptOpen Access at BMJContact us
BMJ : British Medical Journal
BMJ. 2009; 339: b4164.
Published online Oct 27, 2009. doi:  10.1136/bmj.b4164
PMCID: PMC2768779

Acceptability of A/H1N1 vaccination during pandemic phase of influenza A/H1N1 in Hong Kong: population based cross sectional survey

Joseph T F Lau, associate director and professor,corresponding author Nelson C Y Yeung, research assistant, K C Choi, research associate, Mabel Y M Cheng, junior research assistant, H Y Tsui, research associate, and Sian Griffiths, director and professor

Abstract

Objective To investigate the intention of the Hong Kong general population to take up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1.

Setting Cross sectional population based anonymous survey.

Participants Random sample of 301 adults interviewed by telephone (response rate 80%).

Main outcome measure Intention to take up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 under five hypothetical scenarios: vaccination is free; vaccination per dosage costs less than $HK100 (£8; €9; $13), $HK101-200, or more than $HK200; and no data are available on the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.

Results 45% (n=135) of the participants reported that they would be highly likely take up vaccination if it was free. When vaccination incurred a cost, however, the prevalence of uptake decreased: 36% (n=108) would take up vaccination if it cost less than $HK100, 24% (n=72) if it cost $HK101-200, and 15% (n=45) if it cost more than $HK200; and in absence of proved efficacy and safety decreased to 5% (n=14). Moreover, 32% (n=95) considered universal A/H1N1 vaccination unnecessary. Overall, 39% (n=117) of participants believed that A/H1N1 vaccination would prevent the virus being contracted; 63% (n=189) erroneously believed that efficacy of the vaccine had been confirmed by clinical trials, and 16% (n=49) believed that it is necessary for everyone in Hong Kong to take up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1.

Conclusions The uptake of vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 by the general population of Hong Kong is unlikely to be high and would be sensitive to personal cost. Evidence about safety and efficacy is critical in determining the prevalence of uptake of vaccination.

Introduction

The earliest confirmed case of influenza A/H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 was reported in Mexico on 23 April,1 and the World Health Organization declared the disease to be a pandemic on 11 June.2 As of 13 September 2009 the virus has spread to over 170 countries, territories, and areas, and is estimated to have caused over 3486 deaths.3 The mortality from A/H1N1 appears moderate, although the virus does seem to be more infectious than seasonal influenza4 and children are particularly susceptible.5 On 20 September, 22 054 cases of influenza A/H1N1 and 15 associated deaths were confirmed in Hong Kong.6 The government has now suspended the testing of suspected cases. The development of A/H1N1 vaccines would be one of the most effective ways to control the pandemic.7 Many governments have announced large scale plans for vaccination against influenza A/H1N1. On 19 June 2009 the government of Hong Kong passed legislation to purchase five million doses of influenza A/H1N1 vaccine and indicated that a large scale vaccination campaign would be launched at the end of the year,8 9 with an acknowledgement that the vaccine might not have gone through complete clinical trials. The government announced that the vaccine would be provided to a high risk group of two million people, including healthcare workers, people aged more than 65, children aged 6 months to 6 years, and those with particular health conditions, along with 500 000 people who would voluntarily pay for the service.10 The tender was unsuccessful and a new round of bidding was initiated. The cost of vaccination has not yet been agreed. The market price for seasonal influenza vaccination in Hong Kong is around US$20-25 (£13-16; €14-17).

A recent study reported that 48% of healthcare workers in Hong Kong were willing to accept vaccination at the prepandemic phase of the influenza A/H1N1 epidemic and that the perceived risk of contracting the virus and history of vaccination against seasonal influenza were associated with the willingness to take up vaccination, whereas fear of side effects and doubts about vaccine efficacy were major reasons for unwillingness.11

The uptake of seasonal influenza vaccination in Hong Kong during September 2006 to April 2007 among community dwelling older people aged 65 or more was 35% and it was lower among pregnant women (4%), children aged 6-23 months (9%), those with chronic diseases (23%), and adults in the general population (15%).12 We investigated the intention of taking up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 under five hypothetical scenarios including cost and availability of clinical evidence on the vaccine.

Methods

The target population was Chinese adults aged between 18 and 60 who lived in Hong Kong. The study was carried out during 2-8 July 2009, after influenza A/H1N1 had been declared a pandemic (11 June),2 the first community infected case had been reported (10 June),13 and before the first reported death associated with the virus in Hong Kong (27 July).14

We carried out telephone surveys by using a structured questionnaire. Study methods were similar to those used in local studies related to severe acute respiratory syndrome,15 16 17 18 19 avian flu,20 21 22 and influenza A/H1N1.23 Telephone numbers were randomly selected from current telephone directories; over 95% of households in Hong Kong have a telephone line installed.24 25 Interviews were done from 6 30 pm to 10 pm to avoid over-representation of people not working. An eligible member was selected from each of the contacted households. If more than one household member was eligible, we invited the one whose birthday was closest to the survey date to join the study. Verbal consent was obtained from the participants and the interview took about 20 minutes. At least three telephone calls were made at different hours and weekdays before we considered the number to be invalid. A total of 378 eligible participants were identified and 301 completed the interview; the response rate was 80% (301/378).

Outcome measures and data analysis

The questionnaire items were modified from those that had been used in some of the studies on avian flu 21 26 27 and a study on influenza A/H1N1.23 Participants were asked sequentially about intentions to take up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 under five hypothetical scenarios: vaccination is free; vaccination per dosage costs less than $HK100, $HK101-200, or more than $HK200; and clinical data are lacking on vaccine efficacy and safety. Response categories included unlikely (certainly not, mostly not), unsure, and highly likely (mostly and definitely). As a reference, the median family income in Hong Kong in 2006 was around $HK17 250.28

Participants were asked whether clinical evidence on the safety and efficacy of the influenza A/H1N1 vaccine was currently available. Other questions were related to knowledge about different modes of transmissions of the virus and perceptions related to the virus and its vaccine.

We tabulated the distributions of several variables. Analyses were carried out in SPSS version 16.0.

Results

Of the 301 participants, 55% (n=165) were women, 47% (n=140) were aged less than 40, 37% (n=111) had received some education after secondary school, and 63% (n=189) were married or cohabiting. Twenty per cent of the participants (n=61) self reported ever receiving vaccination against seasonal influenza (table 11).

Table 1
 Characteristics of participants and intention to take up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 according to five hypothetical scenarios

Perceptions towards vaccination against influenza A/H1N1

Intentions—When the participants were asked about their intention to take up free vaccination against influenza A/H1N1, 45% (n=135) thought it highly likely (that is, mostly or certainly) and 55% (n=166) thought it unlikely or were unsure (mostly not, certainly not, or unsure). The prevalence of intention (highly likely to take up the vaccine), however, decreased with increasing cost in the hypothetical scenarios where a charge was levied for vaccination: 36% (n=108) were highly likely to take up vaccination for less than $HK100, 24% (n=72) for $HK101-200, and 15% (n=45) for more than $HK200. In the absence of data on efficacy and safety the prevalence decreased to 5% (n=14; table 1).

Positive and negative attitudes—39% (n=117) of participants believed that vaccination would be effective at preventing influenza A/H1N1, 63% (n=189) erroneously believed that efficacy of influenza A/H1N1 vaccine had been confirmed by clinical trials, and 16% (n=49) believed that it is necessary for everyone in Hong Kong to take up vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 (49%, n=146, not quite necessary and 32%, n=95, completely unnecessary; table 22).). Overall, 27% (n=81) of the participants believed vaccination against influenza A/H1N1 would be inconvenient and 16% (n=49) believed that it would cause quite a lot of side effects or that side effects would be very severe (table 2).

Table 2
 Participants’ knowledge and perceptions of influenza A/H1N1 and its vaccine

Knowledge and perceptions about influenza A/H1N1

Knowledge—51% (n=153) of the participants gave correct responses to all three questions on modes of transmission through droplets, bodily contact with infected people, and touching objects contaminated with the A/H1N1 virus (table 2).

Perceived severity—30% (n=90) of the participants erroneously believed that the fatality associated with A/H1N1 among adults exceeded 1%; 14% (n=41) believed that A/H1N1 results in severe and irreversible damage to the body among adults; 13% (n=37) believed that more than 10 deaths related to A/H1N1 infection would occur in Hong Kong, and 40% (n=118) believed that there are quite a lot or many hidden H1N1 cases of influenza A/H1N1 in the local community (table 2). Compared with seasonal flu, less than half of the participants believed that A/H1N1 would result in a higher fatality rate (36%, n=108), higher infectivity (42%, n=126), and more severe bodily damage (33%, n=95; table 2).

Risk perception—Around 10% of the participants considered themselves (10%, n=31), their family members (10%, n=30), or the general public (12%, n=35) to have a high or very high chance of contracting A/H1N1 in the next year, and 28% perceived a high (high, very high, or certain) chance of having a large scale outbreak of influenza A/H1N1 in the coming year (table 2).

Discussion

A vaccine against influenza A/H1N1 will become available in the near future. Over 30 governments placed orders for vaccines by June 200929: the United Kingdom ordered enough to cover its entire population,30 Japan intended to provide enough for half its population,31 and Australia ordered enough for half its population.32 It is uncertain whether the early production of vaccine could meet the demands of different countries.31 Many governments therefore intend to provide A/H1N1 vaccine to a substantial proportion of the general population. A few countries are more conservative—the US government will confirm the proportion of citizens who need to be vaccinated after the completion of clinical trials,7 whereas mainland China plans to provide vaccines for 5% of its population.31 Most of the governments have not announced the pricing schemes.

Our results are comparable to those of a study in health workers,11 with a similar prevalence for intention to take up A/H1N1 vaccination when it was free (48% v 45%). Lack of data on safety and efficacy was the reason for health workers’ unwillingness to take up vaccination. No trials have studied the responsiveness of the general population. Our results show that intention to take up A/H1N1 vaccination would be highly sensitive to cost as well as to the availability of scientific evidence on its efficacy and safety. As the population of Hong Kong is seven million, the Hong Kong government plans to purchase five million doses of the A/H1N1 vaccine. The actual demand would depend on the cost and, more importantly, the availability of clinical evidence on efficacy and safety. Without such an assurance the prevalence of uptake of vaccination in the general population would be lower than 5%. It is not known whether the prevalence for high risk groups would be different but previous data showed that, except for elderly people, the prevalence of vaccination against seasonal influenza for other risk groups in Hong Kong tended to be low.12 There are reasons to speculate that in the absence of scientific evidence, the prevalence of uptake of A/H1N1 vaccination in these high risk groups would remain low.

The intention to take up free vaccination might, however, be an over-estimation as most of the participants (63%) erroneously believed that at the time of the survey clinical evidence on the efficacy and safety of A/H1N1 vaccine was available. Many of these participants may change their mind if clinical evidence remains unavailable when the vaccination campaign is launched. The publicity that less than half of the local healthcare workers were willing to take up A/H1N1 vaccination 11 might also undermine the public’s confidence in being vaccinated. The relatively low levels of positive intention to take up A/H1N1 vaccination in the general population may be partially explained by the confusion between different types of influenza related vaccination. A previous study showed that a high proportion (39%) of the general public were under the misconception that seasonal influenza vaccination is effective at preventing influenza A/H1N1.23 Without clarifying such a misconception, people may resort to seasonal influenza vaccination, which has passed clinical trials on efficacy and safety, rather than receiving a new vaccine, especially if it has not been fully tested. Although about one third of participants believed that A/H1N1 has a fatality of more than 1%, that A/H1N1 is more severe than seasonal flu, and that many hidden cases of A/H1N1 exist in the community, over half of the participants believed otherwise. Perceived susceptibility was also relatively low (around 10% perceived susceptibility as high). Therefore in the context of the study influenza A/H1N1 was seen by the participants as a relatively mild disease and that it might not be worth the risk to be vaccinated against A/H1N1 as it has not been thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy.

Despite Hong Kong being a fairly affluent city with a high degree of vigilance for A/H1N1,23 acceptability of the A/H1N1 vaccine was still highly sensitive to cost. It is expected that such sensitivity would be even higher in developing countries and in those countries where people may feel less anxious about influenza A/H1N1. Moreover, since the A/H1N1 vaccine is new, people worldwide are curious about its effectiveness and safety. In developed countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, the strength of governmental measures to control influenza A/H1N1 has been much weaker that in Hong Kong—Hong Kong had exercised quarantine measures and still recommends closure of schools with the rate of sick leave reaching or exceeding 10%.33 The results also suggest that as the scientific evidence is not available, expected uptake of A/H1N1 vaccination in the general populations of different countries would be low.

The results provide some insights into different international settings, with important implications. Governments want to promote A/H1N1 vaccination in the general population and need to understand barriers and facilitators for its acceptability before implementing vaccination on a full scale. From our results it seems that free or low cost vaccination needs to be provided to achieve a high rate of vaccination against A/H1N1. More importantly, the general public has to be convinced about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety as misconceptions may exist about what the scientific data show. Good communication between health workers and the public is therefore a prerequisite for a successful A/H1N1 vaccination programme targeting the general population. Acceptability studies and real time monitoring are crucial for the success of such programmes.

This study has some limitations. Firstly, the response rate was lower than 80%, although comparable to those of other relevant published studies.17 27 34 35 The sex and age distributions of the sample were comparable to those of the census data.36 In this sample, 45% of the participants were men (census data 46%), 25% were aged less than 30 years (census data 25%), 21% aged 30-39 (census data 24%), 29% aged 40-49 (census data 27%), and 25% aged 50-60 (census data 24%). Secondly, Hong Kong went through a unique experience with the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the results of the current study may not be applicable to the situations in other countries. Some observations about A/H1N1 vaccination may, however, be shared among countries. Thirdly, this study could only document the willingness of people to accept vaccination against influenza A/H1N1, which may not necessarily reflect their actual behaviour. Fourthly, we did not record participants’ chronic disease status; those with chronic disease may have different intentions from the rest of the general population.

Conclusions

Participants did not consider universal vaccination against A/H1N1 to be necessary. Efficacy and safety data are needed to enhance uptake. Cost is important although our study suggests that most of the population would not take up vaccination against A/H1N1. As the A/H1N1 vaccine is new and major plans regarding the vaccine have been made in many countries, further research is warranted. Further studies should also monitor the level and factors predicting intentions towards A/H1N1 vaccination longitudinally in different risk groups as well as in the general population. International comparisons are also warranted. Such studies would improve the understanding of vaccination against different types of influenza related diseases.

What is already known on this topic

  • In Hong Kong the uptake of vaccination against seasonal influenza by the general population and high risk groups is low
  • Over half of the healthcare workers in Hong Kong were unwilling to be vaccinated against influenza A/H1N1
  • A history of seasonal influenza vaccination and the perceived efficacy of the vaccine were significant factors associated with willingness of uptake

What this study adds

  • The uptake of vaccination seems to be sensitive to personal cost and would be low in the absence of data on efficacy and safety

Notes

We thank the participants; Tony Yung and Johnson Lau for their assistance in the preparation of the questionnaire; Mei Wah Chan, Mason Lau, and Cheri Tong for coordination of the telephone survey; and colleagues who interviewed the participants.

Contributors: JTFL designed and supervised the study, finalised the analysis, interpreted the findings, and wrote the drafts of the manuscript. He is guarantor. NCYY commented on and helped revise drafts of the manuscript and carried out a literature review. KCC analysed the data. MYMC and HYT carried out a literature review and assisted in designing the questionnaire. SG made suggestions to improve the manuscript and revised later drafts.

Funding. This study was supported by the Research Fund for the Control of Infectious Diseases, Food and Health Bureau, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Li Ka Shing Institue of Health Sciences.

Competing interests: None declared.

Ethical approval: This study was approved by the Survey and Behavioral Research Ethics Committee of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Data sharing: No additional data available.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4164

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US outbreak of swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) virus infection-Mexico, March-April 2009. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm58d0430a2.htm [PubMed]
2. World Health Organization. World now at the start of 2009 influenza pandemic. 2009. www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2009/h1n1_pandemic_phase6_20090611/en/index.html
3. World Health Organization. Pandemic (H1N1) 2009—update 66. www.who.int/csr/don/2009_09_18/en/index.html
4. Fraser C, Donnelly CA, Cauchemez S, Hanage WP, Van Kerkhove MD, Hollingsworth TD, et al. Pandemic potential of a strain of influenza A (H1N1); early findings. Science 2009;324:1557-61. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. msnbc. Best way to stop flu: vaccinate schoolchildren. 2009. www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31269066/ns/health-swine_flu
6. GovHK. Fight against pandemic, 492 new cases of human swine influenza. 2009. www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200909/20/P200909200178.htm
7. Department of Health and Human Services, US. Vaccines, vaccine allocation and vaccine research. 2009. www.flu.gov/vaccine/vacresearch.html#campaign
8. news.gov.hk. Ten billion dollars have been passed for purchasing H1N1 vaccines. 2009. www3.news.gov.hk/isd/ebulletin/tc/category/healthandcommunity/090619/html/090619tc05006.htm
9. GovHK. Fight against pandemic. Tender for human swine influenza vaccine cancelled. 2009. www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200908/20/P200908200216.htm
10. new.gov.hk. Four groups of people will receive vaccines for free. 2009. www.news.gov.hk/tc/category/healthandcommunity/090609/html/090609tc05004.htm
11. Chor JS, Ngai KL, Wong MC, Wong SY, Lee N, Leung TF, et al. Willingness of Hong Kong healthcare workers to accept pre-pandemic influenza vaccination at different WHO alert levels: two questionnaire surveys. BMJ 2009;339:b3391. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
12. Lau J. Influenza vaccination coverage and self-reported reasons for not receiving influenza vaccination among different groups of Hong Kong community report submitted to the Communicable Disease Division, Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch. Center for Health Protection, Department of Health, 2006.
13. GovHK. Fight against pandemic, three new cases of human swine influenza. 2009. www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200906/10/P200906100349.htm
14. GovHK. Fatal case of human swine influenza recorded. 2009. www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200907/27/P200907270272.htm
15. Lau JT, Yang X, Tsui HY, Kim J. Impacts of SARS on health-seeking behaviors in general population in Hong Kong. Prev Med 2005;41:454-62. [PubMed]
16. Lau JT, Yang X, Tsui HY, Kim J. Monitoring community responses to the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong: from day 10 to day 62. J Epidemiol Community Health 2003:864-70. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
17. Chan SSC, So WKW, Wong DCN, Lee ACK, Tiwari A. Improving older adults’ knowledge and practice of preventive measures through a telephone health education during the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong: a pilot study. Int J Nurs Stud 2007;44:1120-7. [PubMed]
18. Leung G, Ho L, Chan S, Ho S, Bacon-Shone J, Choy R, et al. Longitudinal assessment of community psychobehavioral responses during and after the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong. Clin Infect Dis 2005;40:1713-20. [PubMed]
19. Leung GM, Quah S, Ho LM, Ho SY, Hedley AJ, Lee HP, et al. A tale of two cities: community psychobehavioral surveillance and related impact on outbreak control in Hong Kong and Singapore during the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. Infect Cont Hosp Epidemiol 2004;25:1033-41. [PubMed]
20. Lau JT, Tsui HY, Kim J, Griffiths S. Perceptions about status and modes of H5N1 transmission and associations with immediate behavioral responses in the Hong Kong general population. Prev Med 2006;43:406-10. [PubMed]
21. Lau JT, Kim J, Tsui HY, Griffiths S. Perceptions related to bird-to-human avian influenza, influenza vaccination, and use of face mask. Infection 2008;36:434-43. [PubMed]
22. Fielding R, Lam W, Ho E, Lam T, Hedley A, Leung G. Avian influenza risk perception, Hong Kong. Emerg Infect Dis 2005;11:677-82. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
23. Lau J, Griffiths S, Choi K, Tsui H. Widespread public misconception in the early phase of the H1N1 influenza epidemic. J Infect 2009;59:122-7. [PubMed]
24. Lee S, Tsang A. A population-based study of depression and three kinds of frequent pain conditions and depression in Hong Kong. Pain Med 2009;10:155-63. [PubMed]
25. Schooling C, Lam TH, Thomas G, Cowling B, Heys M, Janus E, et al. Growth environment and sex differences in lipids, body shape, and diabetes risk. PLos ONE 2007;2:e1070. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
26. Lau JT, Kim J, Tsui HY, Griffiths S. Anticipated and current preventive behaviors in response to an anticipated human-to-human H5N1 epidemic in the Hong Kong Chinese general population. BMC Infect Dis 2007;7:18. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
27. Lau JT, Kim J, Tsui HY, Griffiths S. Perceptions related to human avian influenza and their associations with anticipated psychological and behavioral responses at the onset of outbreak in the Hong Kong Chinese general population. Am J Infect Control 2007;35:38-49. [PubMed]
28. Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong. Census and Statistics Department announces results of household income study. 2009. www.bycensus2006/gov.hk/en/press/070618/index.htm
29. msnbc. First batch of swine flu vaccine produced. 2009. www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31269066/ns/health-swine_flu
30. Directgov. Swine flu treatment and prevention. 2009. www.direct.gov.uk/en/Swineflu/DG_177814
31. msnbc. WHO: Asia will be short of swine flu vaccine. 2009. www.msnbc.man.cn/id/32554045/ns/health-swine_flu/
32. Department of Health and Aging, Australia. Vaccine to protect against pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza—a step closer. 2009. www.healthemergency.gov.au/internet/healthemergency/publishing.nsf/Content/news-200809
33. Education Bureau, Hong Kong. EDB calls on schools to prepare for new school year. 2009. www.edb.gov.hk/index.aspx?nodeID=71&langno=1
34. Lau JT, Yang X, Pang E, Tsui HY, Wong E, Wing Y. SARS-related perceptions in Hong Kong. Emerg Infect Dis 2004;10:587-92. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
35. Tang C, Wong C. An outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome: predictors of health behaviors and effect of community prevention measures in Hong Kong, China. Am J Public Health 2003;93:1887-8. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
36. Census and Statistics Department. Population by age group and sex. 2009. www.censtatd.gov.hk/hong_kong_statistics/statistical_tables/index.jsp?subjectID=1&tableID=002

Articles from BMJ Open Access are provided here courtesy of BMJ Group
PubReader format: click here to try

Formats:

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...

Links

  • MedGen
    MedGen
    Related information in MedGen
  • PubMed
    PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles
  • Substance
    Substance
    PubChem Substance links

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...