Sunday, April 25, 2010

Swine Flu- One Year On And Still A Storm In A Teacup

It is just on one year since the world first heard of swine flu. It is still extraordinary that a mild flu like illness has led to such a completely over the top behavior from “health officials”.

The program to vaccinate children aged between six months and four years has been “temporarily suspended” by the state of Western Australia. This was after at least 60 cases of adverse reactions including fever, vomiting and febrile convulsions. A number of children had to be admitted to hospital. One child remains in a critical condition. The number of reported cases is likely the tip of the iceberg and there may be hundreds if not thousands of children who have had milder reactions that are not reported.

An urgent meeting of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has been called to investigate the matter. The Australian Chief Health officer who two weeks ago sent a letter to doctors urging them to vaccinate, today said doctors should stop vaccinating children under five immediately. This response has been swift and is to be commended. There have been suggestions that these reactions have been known about for two weeks and it has been “kept quiet”. Hopefully this is not the case.

The recommendation is that everyone else can continue to be vaccinated. The reactions have been to the “seasonal” flu vaccine, which as usual has three strains. This year one of the three is H1N1 or swine flu. The chief health officer has said that it remains safe for children to have the swine flu vaccine by itself.


Here are some facts. The vaccine is tested on a small group of people and an even smaller group of children. If there is a one in 5000 reaction this may not show up in a trial of 200 but there will be 20 cases by the time 100,000 doses have been given. In 1976 a mass vaccination campaign resulted in more deaths from complications of the vaccine than of the virus. This was with a strain similar to H1N1. Clearly it is this component which is the problem.

From the outset everything to do with swine flu has been rushed and corners have been cut, based on the fear of this virus. The estimates of swine flu have been wrong from day one. The 2009 southern winter and 2010 northern winter have been the mildest, in terms of flu, for many years. Predictions of millions of deaths were ridiculously wrong and deaths were less than usual. Every year some people die in relation to flu. Most of these have other illnesses and there are a small number where there is overwhelming infection.

The USA, UK and many European countries slashed their orders for vaccines and still had many doses to spare. The Australian government is sitting on a huge stockpile of vaccines. The notion that the only way to protect yourself from flu is to be vaccinated continues to be promoted with no regard given to the fact that a competent immune system is your best protection from flu or any virus. I am yet to see any advice from health authorities on ways to strengthen your immune system.

I am not into conspiracy theories so do not see swine flu as a government plot in collaboration with the vaccine manufacturers. It is my opinion that conspiracy is not the correct interpretation of events when incompetence or stupidity would be an equally valid explanation.

This is also not a debate about vaccination per se. In the same way that if a drug is withdrawn from the market, it is about that drug, not drugs as such.

Swine flu has been a textbook health scare. The threat was way over stated and the reaction was way out of proportion to the threat. Now we have the situation where those who got it wrong are too attached to their position to admit error. The continuing push to vaccinate on the basis of fear is wrong. If even one child dies or sufferers serious harm based on a program that was not needed, then this is not acceptable.

The issue is not about the rights or wrongs of vaccination in general. It is about whipping up fear and telling people that only a vaccine can protect them from a mild illness.

The authorities got it wrong. It is time for them to fess up. Ongoing attempts to reassure the public about the safety of a vaccine, which is unnecessary, will only serve to further undermine confidence in vaccination and in health advice.

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