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Flu shot scare confidence low,WESTERN AUSTRALIA

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    Posted: September 30 2017 at 4:03pm

Flu shot scare has confidence low

The flu vaccine was suspended last week after hundreds of children in Western Australia experienced side effects including fever and in some cases convulsions. The scare has significantly damaged parents' confidence in ongoing flu vaccinations.

  • KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Health authorities around the country are still scrambling together information about possible harmful side effects from this year's flu vaccine on toddlers. The vaccine's use was suspended last week after hundreds of children in Western Australia experienced side effects including fever and in some cases convulsions. The death of a child in Queensland is being investigated for a possible link to the vaccine. The health scare may have already significantly damaged parent confidence in ongoing flu vaccinations, as Matt Peacock reports.

    MATT PEACOCK, REPORTER: Across the country, health authorities are calling parents of children who've received this season's flu vaccine.

    Other calls are being made to check on hospital cases of high fever to see if there's any link with the suspended flu jab.

    ROBERT BOOY, CENTRE FOR IMMUNISATION RESEARCH: We're looking into whether they might have been vaccinated before they had a febrile convulsion. We've been looking at whether febrile convulsions are more common in the last month compared with last year, the year before, the year before that.

    MATT PEACOCK: Just after three and a half hours after her children received the vaccine, Sharron Coppin's eldest daughter began shivering and turned purple and she raced her to a Perth hospital. But on her return home, her one-year-old twins had become even sicker.

    SHARRON COPPIN, MOTHER: They went downhill very quickly. Both of them were very unwell and lethargic and just not doing much, and then next thing I know my daughter just suddenly went into convulsions. She started shaking all over. Her face just went really pale, her lips went blue. She just was uncontrollably shaking and she wasn't responding to anything.

    MATT PEACOCK: The Coppin children were taken to hospital by ambulance and the next day were discharged apparently unharmed, but leaving some very shaken parents.

    SHARRON COPPIN: It was the most scariest thing that I've had to deal with with her. I just didn't know whether she was gonna make it or not. I can't even have the words to say how scary it was.

    MATT PEACOCK: It's this possible side effect from the vaccine in children younger than five that the specialist on paediatric immunisation, Professor Robert Booy, agrees is potentially alarming.

    ROBERT BOOY: They'll generally shake all over, like a tonic clonic fit. They go very tight, they'll go blue and unresponsive. Usually only lasts a minute or two, but it's incredibly frightening. Parents think their child might be dying and they need to be reassured that in the great majority of cases a febrile convulsion is simple and they recover perfectly without any long-term damage.

    MATT PEACOCK: West Australia is the only state to provide free flu vaccines for toddlers in its Health Department's words, "... to help ensure our young children are protected from this illness." For the first two years, the measures seemed to be working.

    PETER RICHMOND, CHILD HEALTH, UWA: This year has been something that I've never seen in 20 years as a paediatrician. We have had a large number of - we've had a large number of children presenting to their doctors who were previously well who received the flu vaccine and they had a very sudden onset of this high fever, and obviously for parents of young children it was very scary, and unfortunately some of these children actually had febrile convulsions.

    TARUN WEERAMANTHRI, WA HEALTH: We now know that there've been 55 possible febrile convulsions, that's seizures, with fever in the 72 hours following seasonal influenza vaccination in young children. In the addition we've identified another 196 other milder forms of reaction, not including convulsions.

    MATT PEACOCK: In Queensland a baby girl died earlier this month a day after Dr Amir Eskandari gave her and her twin sister the vaccine.

    AMIR ESKANDARI, GENERAL PRACTITIONER: Grandma came and just said Ashley was OK up till morning and then when they went and woke her up they found that she's not alive.

    MATT PEACOCK: As a coroner investigates the death, that state's chief medical officer has stressed that there might be no link.

    JEANETTE YOUNG, QLD HEALTH: There's nothing jumping out and saying this child died as a result of receiving the vaccine.

    MATT PEACOCK: Most of this season's flu vaccine has been made at CSL which has already ruled out a faulty batch as the likely cause. It's actually three vaccines mixed into one - one for A type flu, one for B type and one for last year's pandemic of swine flu and all part of a World Health Organization program the Commonwealth chief medical officer Professor Jim Bishop believes offers reassurance.

    JIM BISHOP, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Well all our evidence is it's very safe. There's nothing that we've seen from the international work or from the work really from other states at this point that the vaccine is not a safe vaccine.

    MATT PEACOCK: Safe at least for those over five years old, but for toddlers that very same research feeds the concerns of a critic of this type of mass vaccination Australian National University's Professor Peter Collignon.

    PETER COLLIGNON, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, ANU: With the lowest dosage of the vaccine in those studies, about 35 per cent of children under the age of three develop fevers and of those - overall, 15 per cent of children develop fevers of more than 38.5 degrees. Now that's a very high proportion.

    PETER RICHMOND: Influenza vaccines in previous years and I'm sure in future years will be safe in young children, but this year we have had problem and it's very important for us to understand why.

    MATT PEACOCK: One possible explanation, believes Associate Professor Peter Richmond, might be that the combination of swine flu and the other A and B strand vaccines has prompted a more vigorous immune response.

    PETER RICHMOND: Our current thoughts are looking on: is this related to the swine flu strain being incorporated into the vaccine.

    MATT PEACOCK: As health authorities scramble to collate their data, their fear is that this episode will discourage parents from participating in future vaccination programs.

    ROBERT BOOY: Some people will be concerned and may be dissuaded in the short term against vaccinating their children and I totally understand that, but we will with - in concert with other experts around Australia get enough information as quickly as we can to provide the reassurance that parents need.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: Matt Peacock.

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