The Winter 2010 flu vaccine drive
[She died because his profession won't use vitamin C. No vaccine, especially flu vaccine, has ever saved anyone's life as many of their own studies have shown, again and again.]
Sophie Borland and
Last updated at 8:39 AM on 14th January 2011
The doctor whose little girl died just hours after falling ill with swine flu yesterday accused Ministers of denying children a life-saving jab for the sake of £6.
Parents across the country were moved to tears by the haunting image of three-year-old Lana Ameen lying on a life support machine, one of the youngest victims of this winter’s deadly outbreak.
Now her father, registrar Dr Zana Ameen, has told how, with all his medical knowledge, he can see only one reason not to offer the swine flu vaccine to young children – cost.
Writing in today’s Daily Mail, he appeals to Ministers to look at the heartbreaking photograph of his beloved daughter just hours from death and ask whether it is right to deny other children a vaccine. He writes: ‘If I could show the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley the photograph of Lana shortly before she died, I would say to him: “Put yourself in our position, think how we feel”. It’s not too late for them to think again.’
Dr Ameen writes: ‘Everyone – from her health team to the Government, to me, her Daddy who loved her more thananything in the world – let her down.’
And he says: ‘As a doctor, I can’t think of
any medical reasons not to make it available to young children. The only
possible reason can be saving money.
‘But I don’t care what their plans to save
money are, we’re talking about life and death here.’
He spoke amid mounting worries over this
winter’s flu outbreak and growing concerns about how Ministers are tackling it,
as it emerged yesterday that:
Happy family: Lana with her father Dr Zana Ameen and mother Gemma. Tragic Lana had no underlying health problems
Speaking exclusively to the Mail yesterday from northern Iraq where he is visiting grieving relatives, 34-year-old Dr Ameen told how he had attempted to get Lana and his pregnant wife Gemma immunised before Christmas, only to be turned down by their GP.
The swine flu jab was given to under-fives during last winter’s pandemic, but Government advisers maintain that during the current outbreak it should be given only to those with underlying health conditions such as asthma.
Dr Ameen and his wife took Lana to Stepping
Hill Hospital in Stockport, in the early hours of Christmas Day after her
temperature soared and she displayed mild cold symptoms.
Doctors initially diagnosed a minor infection
and sent her home, but later that day, Lana had a fit and her temperature soared
to 107.5f (42c) and she was taken back in.
She was declared dead at Alder Hey Children’s
Hospital in Liverpool within hours.
Lana’s parents have allowed the photograph of her on a ventilator to be published as they try to persuade the Government to think again on under-fives.
Mrs Ameen, a 28-year-old healthcare assistant,
said the growing scale of deaths underlined the need for their campaign.
Shocking: The picture released by Lana's parents to shame Ministers
Her husband, an Iraqi Kurd who fled to Britain
in 2001 and is now a registrar training in diabetes and endocrinology at Good
Hope Hospital in Birmingham, spoke of his anger that the battle to save Lana’s
life costs thousands of pounds – as a consequence of saving £6 for a vaccine.
The couple, who had been visiting Mrs Ameen’s
relatives in Stockport for Christmas, have lodged a complaint with Stepping Hill
Hospital for failing to diagnose Lana’s condition initially. It has said she
received ‘appropriate and timely’ treatment.
Yesterday the Department of Health defended
its stance on vaccination and suggested the outbreak may have peaked.
The number of people in critical care in
England has fallen from 783 last week to 661. Lana is one of six children aged
below five who have died since October.
Last night it emerged that experts advising
the Government had wanted to give the under-five’s the flu jab but the plan was
Members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination
and Immunisation first discussed immunising very young children during a meeting
According to minutes of the meeting the
‘influenza sub-group’ concluded: ‘A majority of members of the sub-group advised
that it would be prudent to include children aged between six months and five
years in the 2010/11 seasonal influenza programme.’
When the committee met again less than three
weeks later this proposal had been ditched.
Swine flu: Victim Lana Ameen with her mother Gemma Ameen from Stockport, Greater Manchester
Last month the JCVI met to consider whether
the under-fives should get the jab after infection rates suddenly soared. But it
concluded there would be no ‘gain’, as rates would probably begin to fall in the
next few weeks.
Last night a source on the sub-committee who
had recommended giving the jabs to the under fives said: ‘It is hard to stand by
and watch while the JCVI back themselves into a corner on this. It is not too
late for them to change their minds.’
Dr Vas Novelli, head of infectious diseases at
Great Ormond Street Hospital, said last night : ‘It is essential that the
under-fives are vaccinated.’
Professor John Oxford, a virus specialist at Barts and the London Hospital, said: ‘It obvious that this age group should be vaccinated. They are routinely vaccinated in the U.S. and Canada.’
My darling daughter Lana meant
everything to my wife and me. So healthy, so active. She was our little candle
in the night time, the only flower in our garden.
Now she has been taken from us and I can
hardly find the words to describe the agony we are going through. The grief, the
anger, the frustration, the ‘what ifs’ and terrible ‘should haves’ that haunt me
now, as they do every day.
As a father and as a doctor, I feel I failed her. I should have spotted the signs earlier. I should have insisted she stayed in hospital after she was initially discharged, with her high temperature and runny nose passed off as a simple infection.
Devastated: Dr Zana Ameen writes 'As a father and as a doctor, I feel I failed her. I should have spotted the signs earlier.'
But most all, I should have done everything
possible to make sure she received the vaccine I know could have saved her life
in the first place.
For what can be worse for any parent than to
see their three-year-old child killed in just two or three hours and to know
that one simple injection could have saved her life?
That’s why Lana’s death has left me not just
raw with grief but angry on so many levels. Everyone – from her health team to
the Government, to me, her Daddy who loved her more than anything in the world –
let her down.
I took this latest swine flu outbreak very
seriously. I’d been told, at the Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham where I work
as a registrar, that the strain was more aggressive this year than last winter.
Darling daughter: Lana Ameen who died within hours of catching swine fly. Her father writes today that she died because of the lack of a £6 jab
When we doctors were routinely offered the
vaccination three weeks before Christmas, of course I took it.
I told my wife Gemma, who was just ten weeks pregnant at the time, to ring our GP and ask about getting Lana and herself vaccinated too. She did so, but was told they weren’t eligible as Lana was under five and Gemma not quite 12 weeks pregnant.
They were following guidelines from the
Department of Health which has said that only children with certain underlying
conditions like asthma would get the vaccine this year.
Like thousands of parents who have made
similar enquiries, I didn’t press it, although I was still concerned enough to
tell Gemma not to take Lana out so much or to places where she might get
infected. We were even over-protective at times, asking visitors and relatives
before they arrived if any of them had a temperature to prevent her being
Yet on Christmas Eve, when Lana started
showing signs of what we thought was just a heavy cold, I still didn’t think she
might have contracted swine flu. That night, with her temperature soaring to
almost 104F (40C), we took her to the local A&E at Stepping Hill Hospital, near
Stockport, where we were spending Christmas with Gemma’s family.
She was discharged in the early hours of
Christmas morning with a suspected infection, and was well enough to open her
presents later that day. She fell asleep after Christmas dinner because she was
tired, and when we woke her up her temperature was no more than 100F (38C).
Within half an hour, however, Lana’s temperature had risen to over 104F (42C) and she was having fits. She was rushed by ambulance to A&E, and then transferred to a special care unit at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool where, on Boxing Day, she was pronounced brain dead.
Our darling girl was gone. And now the only
consolation I can hope for is that some good might come from our loss, and that
other parents should be spared our torment.
As a doctor, and from what I experienced with
Lana, I know only too well how difficult diagnosis and treatment of swine flu
is. If it can happen to us, what chance have non-medical parents got to spot if
their child might be infected? That is why I say prevention is better than a
Appeal: Dr Ameen has told David Cameron to think again about funding the swine flu jab for young children
The Government should make this vaccine
available to everyone, regardless of your age, health or gender.
I can understand the thinking behind the
Government’s decision to not make the vaccine universally available this year.
Last year, the under-fives were eligible, along with pregnant women.
But this year, following the change of government and the difficult financial position they inherited, they needed to look at ways of saving money.
Yet that vaccine costs just £6 to £8 per
person. I ask David Cameron to compare that cost to the life of a child. The
Prime Minister has a child of four himself – just a year older than Lana – so I
ask him to consider what happened to us and to ask himself now whether he would
want his own child vaccinated. If I could show the Health Secretary Andrew
Lansley the photograph of Lana shortly before she died, I would say to him: ‘Put
yourself in our position, think how we feel.’
It’s not too late for them to think again.
Swine flu is everywhere, six children under five have died since the start of
the outbreak – that’s one in ten of the total 62 killed so far.
Even if you set aside the emotional issues, the financial arguments for not making the vaccine more widely available do not make sense.
By not vaccinating everyone, they’re creating
a false economy: money may be saved initially, but many thousands of times more
will be spent treating patients who contract the virus. I know, from my
knowledge of the profession, that the equipment and medication that were used to
try and save Lana’s life will have cost £5,000 to £10,000 alone.
Yes, we are facing tough financial times.
Cutbacks need to be made. But the Government spent millions of pounds bidding
for the 2018 World Cup – a bid which resulted in a humiliating failure – yet now
they won’t spend money protecting young children from a deadly virus. How can
that be right? Even if it saves just one life, it’s surely worth it.
After all, we all pay tax to fund the NHS, and
surely it is the Government’s most vital duty to protect its citizens.
Swine flu isn’t simply going to go away. The
winter isn’t over yet, many more children could die if they are not vaccinated.
This year’s strain of doesn’t just kill people with underlying health issues, it
can kill an otherwise fit young child like Lana.
My medical colleagues and I have no doubt that
if my darling daughter had been vaccinated, she would still be alive today.
That’s why the Government must wake up and
change their immunisation policy urgently.
It’s too late for us and for Lana – but it’s not too late for other families.
The heartbreaking – and sudden – death of three-year-old Lana Ameen will have terrified parents everywhere, who will be fearing the worst about any child with a cold or sniffle.
But the important thing to remember is that the vast majority of people who get swine flu get it mildly.
And despite the tragedy of Lana’s death, we’ve found that in our practice at least, children don’t get swine flu nearly as badly as adults.
Nor are the elderly particularly affected – probably because they
sensibly took up the vaccine when it was offered.
In fact, those worst affected are the over-30s to middle-age group – why this is so is not clear.
But the important question is when to seek emergency medical advice if you think your child has swine flu.
I tell my patients to go to A&E if their child shows any one of the following symptoms (and as their GP, I would also be calling ahead to the hospital to make sure a paediatrician was there to see the child as soon as they arrived):
If your child suffers any of the symptoms above, play safe, and go to A&E.