At least the medical insurance companies have assessed the risk of the swine flu vaccine properly. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that they are refusing to extend insurance to doctors who give the swine flu jab. Clearly, they think that the vaccine, which is being fast-tracked with only the bare minimum of clinical safety trials, represents too great an insurance risk. One must therefore conclude that it is, in reality, too great a clinical risk as well.
The insurance companies are arguing (quite rightly, in my opinion) that if the government wishes to rush a half-tested vaccine into use, then they should bear the risk. Some insurers seem to be prepared to accept the risk if the doctor documents that he has told the patient that the vaccine is untested and experimental. Expect the uptake of the vaccine under those circumstances to be very low.
I would seriously advise any doctor to get a written waiver from each patient they give the vaccine to, detailing exactly what the patient has been told. This will be my advice to the group practice I am currently working in, as well.
It is now clear from the epidemiological data that the swine flu is no more dangerous than the normal seasonal influenza, and possibly less so, as it does not appear to be as dangerous to the elderly. For this reason, it makes no sense at all to attempt to push a swine flu vaccine without adequately testing it first, particularly in Australia and New Zealand where we are coming to the end of the flu season. There is now plenty of time to test the vaccine properly and include it with next year’s seasonal vaccine. The need for untested vaccine is simply not there. Even in the US and Britain, there is still probably enough time to adequately trial the vaccine in time for the winter flu season.
The headlong rush to get a mass vaccination program up and running without the standard safeguards is chillingly reminiscent of the previous swine flu epidemic in 1975, where more people became seriously ill from the vaccine than from the influenza virus. The department of public health need to curb their enthusiasm for mass vaccination and step back and take a good look at this. There appears to be no pressing reason to rush blindly ahead and put patients and doctors at risk.
The vaccine companies, who have made massive investment in the production of the vaccine, will attempt to pressurise the government to go ahead with a nonsensical mass vaccination program. Ryall should resist the temptation to be seen to be “doing something”.