Chief Medical Officer slams reports cheap vaccine to blame for record flu season

Paul Hayes

30/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, has slammed reports suggesting the use of cheap flu vaccine led to Australia’s worst ever flu season, calling them ‘utterly false’.
‘I could not be clearer – I completely refute this false claim,’ he said in a statement.

Australia hit by worst flu outbreak on record
Australia hit by worst flu outbreak on record

According to reports, doctors have said the use of a $6 budget vaccine was a key factor in the more than 217,000 confirmed cases of the flu in Australia this year – a massive jump from the 2015 record of 100,000 – with people aged 80 years and older reporting the highest notification rates.
‘The flu vaccines chosen this year were the best available in the Australian market, selected by medical experts in Australia and around the world,’ Professor Murphy said. ‘They are the same vaccines which are available and used in the UK, US and other countries, and the same vaccines available on the private market in Australia.’
Blame on so-called cheap vaccine came after Immunisation Coalition Chair Prof Paul Van Buynder told News Corp Australia what was used this year was problematic and failed to adequately protect older patients.
‘Paying for a vaccine that doesn’t work is a false economy. If you can stop tens of thousands of people getting sick or hospitalisation the extra expense is worth undertaking,’ he said. ‘This was a disaster year and if we don’t get policy change as a result, heaven help me.’
Prof Murphy addressed questions over why the vaccine was the best available and other vaccines, such as Fluzone high-dose influenza vaccine, were not used in Australia. 
‘The two vaccines mentioned in the media today are not available in Australia because the companies have not had them registered for use in Australia with the Therapeutic Goods Administration [TGA],’ he said. ‘They have, therefore, not submitted an application for their use on the National Immunisation Program with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee [PBAC].
‘A vaccine cannot be considered by the PBAC unless a company submits an application and the vaccine has been approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.’
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel told newsGP it is important Australian patients do not lose trust in their GP following today’s reports.
‘I would like to reassure patients that choices of vaccines used each year in Australia are based on recommendations from independent medical experts. This ensures Australians receive the best possible vaccines,’ he said. ‘I urge anyone concerned about this issue to speak to their regular GP. GPs are well aware of the type of vaccination they administer every year, and how efficient this vaccination is.’
Dr Seidel believes a Government-subsidised flu vaccination program should be introduced in Australia to ensure greater effectiveness, particularly among vulnerable patients.
‘There is no point having a stronger vaccination if a large percentage of our population is not receiving it,’ he said.
New vaccines for each year are designed based on detailed characterisation of the influenza strains circulating in the previous season, and some testing suggests that this year’s vaccine is matched well.
‘The main issue really is the low vaccination rates, in particular in children,’ Dr Seidel said. ‘Poor timing of vaccine administration is another contributor that informs the effectives of the vaccine.’

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George   30/10/2017 4:44:37 PM

It's pretty clear that public trust in the flu vaccine has been dented by its poor performance (and resultant deaths) this year, and that an acknowledgement of that is required.

A 2X% effective vaccine is not going to create herd immunity, no matter the vaccination rate.