H1N1 Flu Vaccination

I’m trying hard to make sense of the news reported on H1N1 flu vaccination. I rarely follow news broadcasted by SPH and Mediacorp. But I found myself correcting my parents last weekend when they told me that the news reported of the vaccination for H1N1 being available to the public very soon. I couldn’t believe that it would be true and didn’t believe that my estimates were wrong. Happen to read the article below on TODAY on my way to NUS (any news about H1N1 is sure to attract attention nowadays) and it inspired me to do some serious research of my own…

Sydney AFP (Tue Jul 14) – Australia ordered 21 million courses of H1N1 vaccine yesterday – enough to cover the country’s entire population – as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the pandemic was “unstoppable”.

Way to go Australia~! Wait a minute, I didn’t know that vaccines can be pushed out for mass production so quickly. What about the clinical trials necessarily to ensure that the vaccine is effective with well documented side effects?

With the global death toll from A(H1N1) now reaching at least 429, WHO director of vaccine research Marie-Paul Kieny said Monday (Jul 13) that a swine flu vaccine should be available as early as September.

Okay… This could be a possible source of confusion to the general public. I don’t understand why Marie-Paul Kiney would announce such optimistic estimates. Fortunately her boss provided more information two days later (bolded emphasis mine).

London AFP (Wed Jul 15) – Chan told the Guardian newspaper that a vaccine would not be available for several months, despite statements from health officials here that the first stocks would start arriving in August.

“There’s no vaccine. One should be available soon, in August. But having a vaccine available is not the same as having a vaccine that has proven safe,” WHO director general Chan said in an interview with the newspaper.

Oh~ So it was just a statement that an untested vaccine would be made available as early as September… But has everybody forgot about the 1976 swine flu vaccine complications (Guillain-Barré syndrome) experienced in the United States?

Time.com – Concerned that the U.S. was on the verge of a devastating epidemic, President Gerald Ford ordered a nationwide vaccination program at a cost of $135 million (some $500 million in today’s money). Within weeks, reports surfaced of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease that can be caused by the vaccine. By April, more than 30 people had died of the condition. Facing protests, federal officials abruptly canceled the program on Dec. 16. The epidemic failed to materialize.

Sure, WHO had officially declared a swine flu pandemic. However, it is also important to remember that the flu is not more deadly now that it has been declared a pandemic. Rather, the announcement reflects the global spread of the disease, not an increase in its severity. Based on the 17 deaths in Britain after contracting H1N1, with nearly 10 000 confirmed to be carrying the virus, the recovery rate after contracting H1N1 stands at 99.8%. And it is important to highlight that some of the victims were diagnosed to have died of other causes other than swine flu after conducting post-mortem.

Update: Straits Times just published a Breaking News story (sgclub link if Straits Times remove this story from their server) as I finish this blog draft. I have to say that I am very satisfied with MOH’s decision. The story happens to cover a lot of what I’ve written. Haha… But I personally don’t believe that there’s a need to “order enough H1N1 vaccine for the entire population.”

Other Thoughts

Am also really surprised in the rush of various governments to vaccinate their entire population from this flu, which could eventually be happening as regularly as common flu. One sentence in the news report that irked me:

A group of vaccination experts had concluded that “the H1N1 pandemic is unstoppable and therefore all countries would need to have access to vaccines,” she said at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Call me a conspiracy theorist but I wonder if the vaccination experts with possible links to the pharmaceutical companies are so enthusiastic about vaccination because of some possible monetary benefits. I could imagine myself laughing to the bank if I am one of the appointed companies to manufacture the vaccine.

One last rant. Despite being wary about the effectiveness of the vaccine, I am personally disappointed that Singapore is not listed as one of the countries involved in the mass production of the vaccine. We should seriously invest some financial resources in tapping this gold pot.

WHO – Close to 90% of the global (production) capacity today is located in Europe and North America, with further significant manufacturing capacity in Australia and Japan. However, during the past five years, six manufacturers in developing countries have begun to acquire the technology to produce influenza vaccines and have received technical and financial support from WHO.

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