Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vaccination jitters abound

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A news story this week reports that a British teenage girl who died shortly after being immunized against cervical cancer was in fact killed by a malignant chest tumour and not by a reaction to the vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

That finding comes as a relief, and perhaps a bit of surprise to some, following as it does on the heels of the death of Natalie Morton, 14.

Her passing initially cast doubt on the safety of immunization programs against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), even those associated with products not made by GlaxoSmithKline.

Of course, the latest news concerning the British teen is not going to change the minds of people who are opposed to the use of vaccines on principle.

As well, even though a purported link between autism and various vaccines has effectively been proven false, people who want to blame the mysterious disorder on modern science will continue to do so. And people who don't like to be poked with needles are sure to cling to any sort of excuse that gives them a reason not to get immunized against the regular flu or H1N1 flu.

And to be fair, there are genuine -- but generally reasonably acceptable -- risks associated with some vaccines.

Furthermore, some people should be immunized and some people should not -- depending on their medical circumstances.

The confusion surrounding immunization programs for the regular flu and H1N1 this fall has made it more difficult than ever for ordinary Canadians to know what to do concerning vaccinations.

All anyone can really suggest is that the public pay close attention to information put out by reputable sources, such as physicians and health regions.

News that many health professionals are not planning to get immunized against the flu, however, is indeed a little perplexing. In case you missed it, a recent report from Toronto Public Health, shows that for the past three years, flu shot uptake rates among staff of Toronto's hospitals and long-term care facilities have been lower than the provincial median rates.

The median rate among acute care hospitals in Toronto was 42 per cent, and 55 per cent among the staff of complex continuing care hospitals.

That means Ontario health professionals are putting patients at risk. Their refusal to get immunized makes little sense.

Then again, believe it or not, when the SARS epidemic hit the Ontario capital, some nurses there refused to report for duty. That truly is scandalous and one can only hope that nurses in Alberta would not behave similarly if such an outbreak ever strikes here.

For the record, Alberta Health Services strongly recommends that seniors, people with chronic medical conditions, children between the age of six and 23 months and pregnant women get the seasonal vaccine. When the H1N1 vaccination is ready, people should get that shot as well -- even if they've already had the seasonal shot.

--The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2009 A10

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