[Meryl Dorey: This article
talks about how worried doctors are about the effect all of these nasty flu
vaccine reactions are going to have on the uptake of vaccination. It's a shame
they are more concerned for the vaccination policy then they are for the kids.]
The Fallout From A Batch Of Flu Vaccine
By Claire Krol
When the Health Minister Kim Hames announced in April he had suspended the
flu vaccination program for children under five, hundreds had already fallen
ill, some had come close to death.
Days earlier a pattern had begun emerging - all the children had received the
flu vaccine in the 24 hours before they were admitted to hospital.
Physicians at Princess Margaret Hospital dealt with the worst cases.
Those children suffered febrile convulsions, or in layman's terms, a fit or
seizure brought on by a high temperature.
Within 24 hours the vaccine had been withdrawn for children under five
In as many hours, high level investigations were underway within the WA health
Department, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and with the manufacturers to
try and determine what had gone wrong.
It's since been established the reactions could be traced back to the vaccine
Fluvax, sold in Australia by pharmaceutical giant CSL.
Investigations into exactly why children fell sick when they did, and exactly
what might have been wrong with the product are still underway.
With so many questions left unanswered, health experts are now querying whether
the public's confidence in immunisation has been permanently dented.
Christine's eldest daughter Molly was one of the doxens of children who suffered
febrile convulsions after taking the vaccine.
She has resolved never to vaccinate her children against the flu again, and is
tossing up the pros and cons of being vaccinated altogether.
"I just couldn't believe what happened. I had put so much trust in these
"Modern day medicine keeps telling us that we should vaccinate our children but
I feel like I have been almost indocrinated by health authorities to vaccinate
them, without knowing all the facts."
Christine doesn't want her surname published because she's concerned her
children might be victimised when they get to school.
"I am worried that if I do choose not to vaccinate them, and the school or other
mothers find out, they might not want to interact with my children, or allow
them into the school community."
She says she's not alone in her concerns.
"When I talk to the mothers at playgroup about what happened they too are
concerned. They have also had a real scare and I think a lot of them are
reassessing what is right for their kids."
It's stories like this that concern Curtin University Health policy expert
Professor Mike Daube.
He says immunisation became the cornerstone of the public health system during
the 20th century.
"Vaccination is crucial. It's more than just about preventing some diseases. I
think because it's been around for so long now and people accept it as a part of
the scenery they forget just how important vaccination is."
He says parents have lost their faith in immunisation, and health authorities,
both state and federal, need to pay attention.
"Parents are more worried and that's a fact. It would be a tragedy if this
situation impinges on other types of vaccination. Immunisation has been so
successful that people have forgotten what the world would be like without it"
It's been a few short months since the program was reinsated in Western
Australia and the Health Department is reluctant to release any exact figures
showing what impact, if any, the incident and following suspension has had.
Before the vaccine was withdrawn on April the 22nd, 58 children in WA had
presented to hospital suffering febrile convulsions, another 481 had had some
other form of unspecified reaction and 14 suffered a local reaction and swelling
at the injection site.
Communicable Disease Control Director at the Health Department Dr Paul Armstrong
says it remains to be seen what the lasting effects of the suspension will be.
"The uptake of seasonal influenza vaccine has not been as high as seen in 2008
But, he says there's no direct evidence to suggest parents are choosing not to
vaccinate their children against a range of other infections and diseases.
"The suspension of Fluvax due to febrile reactions does not seem to have had an
effect on the uptake of other vaccines and it is not yet clear if there has been
is a lasting effect in childhood influenza immunisation rates.
"Nor should it. The high rate of febrile reactions in 2010 was related to the
vaccines of one manufacturer (CSL Ltd's Fluvax products) and there has been many
years of experience showing influenza vaccine to be safe in children."
Professor Daube says a high profile media and advertising campaign would be the
best way to rebuild confidence.
"We need to put in place a program that reminds people what life would be like
if we didn't have immunisation. The fact that people would be dying younger and
more often of some of the diseases that have mostly been wiped out.
"If we didn't have immunisation we would still have people dying of smallpox and
polio, we'd still have measles, diphtheria and so many of those diseases that
were once commonplace and have now pretty much disappeared."
He says there is no quick-fix and it could take years to repair the damage done.
"The onus is on governments and health professionals to reassure the public
about vaccination. We need to mobilise the health workforce. It's about
hammering the message through to parents to remind them they should get their
Dr Armstrong is acutely aware of the risks posed by an unvaccinated children and
"Vaccines not only protect the individual but they also protect others in the
community by increasing the overall level of population immunity, thereby
minimising the spread of the infection.
"It is also worth noting, immunisation has been proven to be one of the most
cost- effective public health measures we have to prevent certain infections
diseases that, prior to vaccines being developed against them, caused
significant illness, disability and death."
Australian Vaccination Network
Investigate before you vaccinate
02 6687 1699 - Work
02 6687 2032 - FAX
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little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin