Database to raise alarm on vaccines

HEALTH authorities are to be alerted instantly to any severe side effects from vaccination in the first “real-time” immunisation database.

The Australian Health Ministers Conference will debate Western Australia’s plan to set up an online monitoring system for immunisation, to avoid a repeat of this year’s flu-shot scare.

The proposed database would require doctors and immunisation clinics to enter the details of all vaccinations given to children, as well as any side-effects.

More than 100 Australian children suffered febrile convulsions after being injected with a new flu vaccine in March and April, and the Queensland coroner was unable to rule it out as the cause of death of a Brisbane toddler.

The Chief Medical Officer has suspended the Fluvax vaccine — a world-first combination of seasonal and swine-flu strains — for the under-fives.

West Australian Health Minister Kim Hames will recommend that the nation’s health ministers adopt the advice of former WA chief medical officer Bryant Stokes, who headed an independent review of the flu-vaccine controversy.

Professor Stokes yesterday said most states and territories still relied on old-fashioned and slow paper-based reporting of adverse reactions to vaccines and medicines.

“We are a first-world country with a good health system,” he told The Australian.

“There must be a more accurate way to record adverse events, because at the moment it is all paper-based. The argument will be that it is expensive, but it’s pretty expensive looking after a child who is disabled.”

Professor Stokes said when hospitals began reporting adverse reactions to the seasonal flu shot in April, “it seemed that nobody knew how many innoculations had been given”.

“There needs to be a national program so that every time a vaccine is given, it is recorded . . . in real time,” he said. “When an adverse event is recorded it should also be done in real time.”

Professor Stokes said a national web-based system would alert health authorities automatically to any unexpected side-effects before a vaccine was rolled out more widely.

“There is a very short time frame in which Australia can prepare a vaccine for each flu season, and it’s not as if they have thousands of subjects to test,” he said.

“What I think should happen is you can put flags in the computer program so if there are more convulsions recorded, a red flag should indicate if there is an abnormal adverse event rate.”

Professor Stokes predicted a repeat of this year’s vaccination problems without a national surveillance system for adverse reactions. “If this had been in place, I believe the whole process (of vaccinating children with the combined seasonal-swine flu) would have been stopped much much earlier,” he said.

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