flu vaccine revisited

The 2011 influenza vaccine campaign gets off to a slow start.

Adverse effects of the 2010 vaccine may be to blame.

It is now exactly a year ago that the flu vaccine was withdrawn for children in Western Australia. The reason was the hospital admission of around 45 children with fever and convulsions after vaccine administration.  A detailed investigation implicated a specific brand of flu vaccine made by CSL and known as Fluvax. Other types of flu vaccine used last year were not associated with these effects.

This year influenza cases continued to trickle through during the summer months, partly due to international travel. The H1N1/09 strain responsible for the 2009 pandemic is now one of the predominant types of virus and has been targeted by vaccine manufacturers. The virus is responsible for a wide spectrum of disease from minimal effects to life-threatening respiratory or multisystems failure.

Unfortunately, critics have seized on the paediatric problems attributed to a specific vaccine batch as grounds for general criticism of this year’s vaccination programme. Add that to more general skepticism about the risk from influenza virus and you find a powerful explanation for the low uptake of this year’s vaccine. There are concerns the vaccine is being avoided by many for no good reason.

But note: there have been deaths from H1N1 influenza in Australia this year even before the start of the usual infection season. That includes young adults. Public health authorities are now doing their level best to counter the anti-vaccine propaganda and promote influenza vaccination of at-risk children. If it were a simple matter of adults making informed decisions about their own level of exposure to a remote risk, it might be understandable. However, the black-and-white simplicities painted by the anti-vaccination lobby are a parody of infectious disease reality.

  • Influenza kills some of the most vulnerable, defenceless individuals in our community every winter.
  • Hospital and clinic workers have a particular responsibility to protect the patients they care for by reducing any risk of passing on influenza at work by seeking personal vaccination.
  • The most vulnerable who have genuine medical reasons for missing out on the flu vaccine are best protected by vaccinating those closest to them.
  • Those with a fear of needles can now get their vaccine in a device that only just penetrates the skin, already shown to produce an improved immune reaction.

Winter is on the way; it’s time to get shot up.


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