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This article was published 6/8/2009 (4432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The race to create a vaccine for the H1N1 virus could place the public at a greater risk than the one the vaccine is designed to prevent, says a University of Manitoba professor.
Arthur Schafer, director of the U of M's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said it appears a vaccine will be rushed to the public before it can properly be determined that it's safe or if it even works.
Schafer said the scientific research shows that the effectiveness of seasonal flu vaccines in the past have been marginal. The effectiveness of antiviral drugs, designed to mitigate the effects of flu, are equally unimpressive and research shows they can have dangerous side effects, he said.
"Good ethics requires good facts, and the ethical debate so far has been who should be the first (to get the vaccine) and there has been virtually no discussion of the safety and effectiveness of the drug."
Schafer said so far the H1N1 flu has been no more lethal than seasonal flu. Vaccines to treat seasonal flu have not been effective and there is no evidence to suggest a vaccine for H1N1 will be more effective.
Schafer said that an independent review of the effectiveness of flu vaccines concluded that healthy adults shouldn't be taking them, adding he wonders why anyone would want to take a vaccine for H1N1 that's been rushed to the public and without proper studies to determine it's safe.
Schafer said public health officials are aware of the scientific evidence, adding however he believes they and politicians are rushing a vaccine so no one can blame them if an anticipated fall outbreak of H1N1 results in a massive number of deaths.
"For both politicians and public health officials, what could be worse than having people point an accusing finger at you and saying 'people died because you didn't order the vaccine or didn't distribute it effectively to the population,'" Schafer said.
"The so-called cure can be worse than the disease or can be useless. There may be other alternatives, safer, more effective things we can do, it all depends on the evidence."
A senior official with the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that fast-tracking H1N1 vaccine production will not undermine safety concerns.
But Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny said countries using a vaccine will need to be vigilant to look for and investigate any reports of adverse effects.
Kieny said she expected an H1N1 vaccine will be available in many countries by the fall.
&emdash; With files from Canadian Press