blames a flu vaccine for child convulsions
northern hemisphere braces itself for the flu season, and for the first
time the US recommends flu vaccination for everyone over 6 months of age,
Australia has confirmed that its main seasonal flu vaccine, Fluvax, caused
convulsions in 99 children, all of whom recovered. Fluvax is made by the
Australian firm CSL.
insist that the benefits of flu vaccines outweigh the risks, however, and
are calling for better surveillance to pick up occasional problems faster.
March, Australia started vaccinating ahead of the southern hemisphere's
flu season. All the drug firms' vaccines contained three killed strains
of flu, one of which was last year's pandemic strain, which persists as
the dominant seasonal virus in Australia, North America and elsewhere.
April, reports came in of children with fever and convulsions following
vaccination. On 22 April Australia suspended flu vaccination for children
under 5. In late July, vaccination resumed with other makers' vaccines,
but not CSL's Fluvax.
Fevers and convulsions
week the Australian Department of Health and Ageing reported that flu vaccination
was "causally related" to fever and convulsions in 99 Australian
children this year. Of those, 74 had no other possible cause, and Fluvax
had been given to all 66 of those where the vaccine's name was known, CSL
says it is trying to identify the problem.
is an occasional side effect in children given flu vaccines, and about 1.4
per 10,000 people vaccinated have seizures. High fever can cause seizures
in 2 to 4 per cent of otherwise normal children 3 years and under, though
no one is sure why. Fluvax caused seizures 50 times as often as would be
expected with a vaccine.
analysis published in the journal Eurosurveillance, Heath Kelly, head of
epidemiology at the state infectious diseases laboratory in Melbourne, calculates
that Fluvax might have been worse than flu, causing two or three cases of
convulsions for every case of flu it prevented that would have required
a hospital stay during the pandemic.
David Isaacs, professor of paediatric infectious diseases at the University
of Sydney says the comparison is unfair. Children usually recover completely
from fever-related seizures, though there can be brain damage in rare cases.
By contrast, 1 per cent of children admitted to hospital with pandemic flu
in Australia died.
may well have prevented additional cases of convulsions caused by flu itself.
In the biggest study so far of the neurological effects of the 2009 pandemic,
Joshua Bonkowsky of the University of Utah reported last week that swine
flu caused as many cases of neurological complications in five months as
ordinary flu had in the previous four years. The most common were seizures.
Moreover, the complications were more severe and lasting than ordinary flu.
"Given how bad some of the complications from the H1N1 influenza were,
we are really encouraging people to get vaccinated," he says.
is also adamant about the need for vaccination. "The issue is not influenza
vaccines in general, but one manufacturer's vaccine in one year," he
says. "Such problems must be acknowledged rapidly on the rare occasions
when they occur."
due to the scare, only 19 per cent of Australians were vaccinated this year.
So far swine flu is known to have killed 16, including some with no previous