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Monday, 29 October 2012

Influenza vaccine suspension: Special posting: Politics trumping Public Health

Those on the inside of the vaccine distribution system and following the Novartis Fluad® and Agrflu®  product “suspension” are shaking their heads.   Why?  

At a time when influenza vaccine has become the lightening rod for anti-immunization rhetoric, it is fuel on the fire.  

The Canadian logic appears to be that since the Italians noted some minor aggregates and recalled the vaccine, then the French followed suit – that we in Canada need to look like we are doing something as well.   Even if the vaccine is okay, we need to look like we were being prudent in protecting the public’s health and reacting to a potential threat.  We will need to look like we have taken an appropriate time to evaluate the problem, consider safety and risks, determine options and make decisions.   All for the sake of appearing to do the right thing.  Another case of politics trumping science. 

The vaccine has been through quality controls.  The minor issue is not different or problematic.  Every expectation is that existing product will still be released, the only question is what length of delay will be believable for the public. 

The damage is done.  There will be the usual nay-sayers rhetoric and “I told you so” from the immunizer detractors.   The calls are already coming in from those concerned their health has been assaulted having all ready received the vaccine.   Those seeking vaccine will want the “other vaccines” as they are perceived as safer.  Some who received the vaccine will not believe it worked and will return for a second dose of another brand. There may be a shift away from getting any vaccine as distrust builds against vaccine manufacturers and public health, or there could be run on vaccine if the perception is that there now will not be enough.  

Through it, the decision makers will not be standing on the front line fielding the tirades and inquiries.

Normally there would be a media feeding frenzy, but Hurricane Sandy will take precedence.   If we at DrPHealth were making the public relations decision -  wait until the storm passes and influenza vaccine starts creeping back towards the front page, and then re-release the vaccine for general use.   We could be wrong and perhaps some magical scientific finding will appropriately justify the caution and a full recall -  but heck, why not unmask the predictability of the current shallow politicos who are more worried about public perception than public health.

October 31 update:  As predicted, Health Canada released the influenza vaccine, although as the storm was still drenching and blowing major centres – its impact on Canada certainly nowhere as devastating as our southern cousins and therefore not in the forefront of the news. The release of the vaccine quietly occurring with minimal media attention and without some greatly needed questions answered as to why any action was taken. 

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