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Australia: WA Launches Flu Vaccine Inquiry

Posted by ObeMike Tuesday, May 4, 2010

source: Sydney Morning Herald
by: CORTLAN BENNETT

The West Australian government has launched an inquiry into the flu vaccinations that caused adverse reactions in hundreds of children across the nation.


WA Health Minister Kim Hames said the inquiry would scrutinise systems used to identify public health risks, including vaccine side-effects and disease outbreaks, after criticism of the government's slow response.

Last month, seasonal flu shots caused adverse reactions in 251 children under five in WA, with 55 suffering convulsions and 196 suffering fevers and vomiting.

WA was the first state to suspend the vaccination program, which was put on hold nationally the next day after children in other states and territories reported severe side-effects.

However, parents and health professionals have criticised the time it took the WA government to react.

"There has been concern expressed by members of the public regarding the process and the time taken by the Health Department in reaching a conclusion that there was a problem with the vaccine and proceeding to closing that vaccination program," Dr Hames said on Tuesday.

"I have been reassured that everything was done in the correct time frame."

However, Dr Hames admitted there were communication problems and that the inquiry would focus on them.

He said the inquiry would be completed in about a month and would be conducted by former WA chief medical officer Bryant Stokes.

"He will do an investigation into the circumstances surrounding problems with the vaccine, the timing that it took us to close that program down ... and mechanisms that we can put in place that will make calls to the public Health Department work better," Dr Hames said.

The WA health minister said he had informed the federal Department of Health of the inquiry.

"We've also informed (Federal Health Minister) Nicola Roxon that we're undertaking this review because the actual management of reactions to vaccinations (is) the responsibility of the commonwealth, not the state," Dr Hames said.

"Concern has been expressed about the reaction of the commonwealth department, particularly with the Brisbane case, where I understand a young child died following the vaccine, and nobody was notified."

WA opposition health spokesman Roger Cook said questions remained about the level of co-ordination within the Health Department.

"Parents need to know what went wrong and how the Barnett government will stop it happening again," Mr Cook said.

Two-year-old Queensland girl Ashley Epapara was found dead in her cot on April 9, the day after she and her twin sister were given the seasonal flu vaccination by a private Brisbane GP.

Queensland Health Minister Paul Lucas last week stressed that so far there was no evidence to show the vaccine caused the girl's death.


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