Unnecessary swine flu panic
As a medical practitioner, I am concerned by the Ministry of Health’s management of the recently reported H1N1 cases. The public health messages coming through official channels have not provided enough information for individuals to make informed decisions.
This coupled with political rhetoric off the political party platforms have only served to fan the flames of hysteria and create issues out of non-issues.
This is a dangerous thing, if only because our public health systems are already stretched to capacity. National and international guidelines state, high-risk individuals should be offered annual flu vaccinations. A label of “high risk” relates to the elderly, or individuals suffering with chronic heart or lung conditions. These individuals need the vaccine because they are at greatest risk of prolonged morbidity and mortality from flu.
The recent pandemonium and rush for vaccines has depleted national stocks which means that scarce resources have been allocated away from those who need it the most, toward the worried who are less likely to contract flu in the first place and, if they do, are most likely to make a full, unimpeded recovery.
I worked at the hospital during the initial H1N1 outbreak of 2009/2010.
At that stage we had cause to be concerned—we were dealing with a previously unknown virus. Since then we have good data to suggest that H1N1 is not the killer that we imagined it to be. In the aftermath of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, analysis of the mortality data found that swine flu caused less deaths than the seasonal flu. The actual mortality from swine flu in England in 2009 was found to be 0.026% of those infected.
The reporting of swine flu patients who are critically ill in hospital is heavily biased and is likely to cause unnecessary anxiety. This type of reporting does not take into account the total number of cases of swine flu, many of whom got better without any hospital treatment.
The public should also be aware that vaccines may have rare but serious side effects. The use of vaccines should be regulated by competent healthcare staff trained in assessing risk and benefit. When there is a panic-driven rush for vaccination, all of this calculated risk is thrown out the window and we are more likely to see an adverse reaction to vaccination. Who will be blamed for this if/when it does happen?
The US Centre for Disease Control confirmed reports that some of the swine flu vaccines used in 2009 were associated with some patients developing narcolepsy, a rare but devastating neurological condition.
Prior to this the vaccines used in the 1976 swine flu epidemic were associated with many cases of Guillane Barre syndrome, a paralysing neurological disorder.
In highlighting these vaccine side effects, I do not intend to erode public confidence in preventative medicine but instead wish to highlight the importance of risk benefit analysis in the administration of any licensed drug.
For me, the benefit of taking the H1N1 vaccination simply isn’t there and this is why I will abstain.
Dr Nilash Ramnarine