Nothing to hide!


When a Western Australian politician called a halt to the children’s influenza vaccination program in 2010 there were lots of questions needing answers.

  • Why was it a politician not a scientist calling a halt to the program? 
  • Why were children getting fevers from the vaccine? 
  • Was it the Australian vaccine or all vaccines? 
  • Why was the government vaccinating children in Western Australia and not elsewhere?

There was the inevitable backlash and chance for some crazy people to declare “all vaccines are evil” but the real issues was that vaccines for influenza and particularly children and influenza had been introduced into Western Australia (WA) because of three deaths from the influenza A in 2007. 

There was a push for ALL of Australia to get free influenza vaccines for children to the age of 5, partly because of the West’s experience but also international evidence that children are more prone to dying from ‘flu as well as the elderly, sick and pregnant. However the government decided it was not a “cost effective” program.

WA went ahead with the State Government and donated vaccines, in the urban area. It proved highly successful and with the help of the GP’s the coverage rate was more than 30% in the first year. Then the 2009 pandemic arrived, so it seemed like a really good idea BUT suddenly the kids were getting fevers and febrile convulsions. The scientists were talking about the reported cases; the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) were aware of the issue and the politicians pulled the pin. Soon it was advised nationally to stop vaccinating kids under 5.

From the point of view of someone who supports vaccines, I think there is a case to make that an occasional side effect is worth putting up with if you are saving lives - BUT I want to know why these kids are getting fevers more than other years and why the Australian vaccine (made by CSL in Australia) seemed to be the problem. It has taken a couple of years to find out why and even in 2012 the “working hypothesis” was “due in part to heat labile, viral-derived components from the new strains used in the 2010 southern hemisphere season” (Scientific Investigations into Febrile Reactions Observed in the Paediatric population Following Vaccination with a 2010 Southern Hemisphere Trivalent Influenza Vaccine. Eugene Maraskovsky)

I am pleased the cause seems to be now evident and discussed. When things go wrong with vaccines we need to be able to talk about it. There should be nothing to hide.

In the 1970's, a Swine Flu vaccine was blamed for causing more problems than the disease. It did cause problems. The vaccine was associated with a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a paralyzing neuromuscular disorder.

As part of a $137 million plan to immunize every man, woman and child in the US to prevent a pandemic like the Spanish Flu (that killed half a million people in the U.S. and as many as 50 million worldwide), more than 500 people developed GBS and at least 25 people died from this side effect of the vaccine. It triggered a public backlash against flu vaccinations.

This is perfectly understandable if authorities try to keep this information quiet.

Even today there are lots of stories about the terrible effects of vaccinations.  Vaccines save lives but can cause side effects. Vaccines used in Australia now are safer than ones we used 20 years ago, and they are 1000’s of times safer than getting the diseases like polio, measles, diphtheria.

As a measure of the concern about safety in Australia and the vaccine we use, we changed from the oral polio vaccine that cause vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) in about 1 in a million vaccines. The new vaccine will cause problems in about 1 in 14 million vaccinations, and the risk of catching polio is low in Australia.

We also changed our triple antigen from the old “whole cell” vaccine in the whooping cough (pertussis) component to the less painful “acellular” vaccine. This is also an interesting story because we have had recent outbreaks of whooping cough and we now wonder if the safer, less painful vaccine might not be as effective as the old painful one

Either way, my thought are that there is nothing to hide, or should be nothing to hide. As we talk about the risks of catching diseases like the ‘flu, whooping cough, measles we should be talking about the benefits of our vaccines, how safe they are and if there is a problem we should disclose what we know straight away.  It has been hard for us here in Australia to find out that one of our vaccines (made in Australia by an Australian company) causes fever in children, but we know it is still good in adults and it can still save lives (like vaccinating pregnant women).

It is also important to lean from anything like this that happens. In Australia we have a better working relationship now between the scientists and the politicians about our vaccination programs; we have had a review of some of the regulators (e.g. TGA) and most people think it will be working better now. We know what causes the fever in children with the Australian vaccine and we may be able to use that knowledge to develop tests that could check future strains of influenza vaccines to make sure they have fewer side effects.

Let’s keep it that we have nothing to hide from the people who will be getting vaccinations, who will be paying for them through their taxes and who need to be confident they are being kept informed about what is going on.


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