Can anyone allay my fears?

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From William Rennox.

I KNOW from scanning the internet that I am not the only one sceptical about the advice coming from the States and UK Government regarding the efficacy of the proposed flu vaccines to combat the Swine Flu epidemic.

These are being touted as a Panacea, whereas we know that the flu virus can mutate so quickly as to render any vaccine ineffective.

Are we being fed a media story about the efficacy of flu vaccination, when in fact its main benefit is to act as a Placebo and reduce public fears about swine flu?

If there is no effective vaccine and limited benefit from such, then can the government at least be honest about it and stop treating us as children who need protection from the truth?

I realise that so far it has not been a so-called ‘killer virus’, however, the following has been reported by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta:

‘It’s uncertain at this time how serious or severe this novel H1N1 pandemic will be in terms of how many people infected will develop serious complications or die from novel H1N1 infection. Experience with this virus so far is limited and influenza is unpredictable. However, because novel H1N1 is a new virus, many people may have little or no immunity against it, and illness may be more severe and widespread as a result. In addition, currently there is no vaccine to protect against novel H1N1 virus.’

Remember the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 is estimated to have killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide.

Can anyone with expert medical knowledge of infectious disease control allay my fears?

1 Claremont,

Bagatelle Road,

St Saviour.

Dr Susan Turnbull, Deputy Medical Officer of Health and Dr Ivan Muscat, consultant microbiologist replied as follows:

YOUR correspondent raises some controversial issues on this topical subject, and we welcome the opportunity to respond.

Since the World Health Organisation raised its alert level to the maximum Phase 6 on 11 June (new pandemic flu virus circulating within communities in two or more WHO regions), vaccine manufacturers have been triggered to begin producing a new vaccine designed specifically for the new swine flu (pandemic influenza A H1N1).

This process takes three to four months so the ‘pandemic-specific’ vaccine will be ready by September or October. The quote from the US Center for Disease Control is correct in that there is currently no such vaccine – but there will be.

This is very good news for Jersey – we are already regarded as a ‘preferred customer’ for pandemic-specific vaccine so will be among the first worldwide to have access to the new vaccine. With a very low number of confirmed cases so far, and as it is summer, we have an ideal opportunity to learn from experience elsewhere in the world to Jersey’s advantage.

Just at the moment, it is reasonable that we pursue measures to contain spread of the virus, and keep the impact on our community to a minimum. The virus remains susceptible to anti-viral medication in the form of Tamiflu. We have ample supplies to treat everyone if we need to. When the new specific vaccine becomes available to us in the autumn, we should be able to draw a line under this pandemic, from Jersey’s perspective, by offering immunisation to all.

Turning to the severity of the new virus – it is worth mentioning that the term ‘pandemic’ concerns the infectiousness of the virus, and the extent of its spread around the world and in communities. It says nothing about its virulence (this is the seriousness of the effects the virus can cause). We have learned a great deal about the new virus since it first came to the world’s consciousness in the last week of April.

No previous pandemic has been detected so early, nor monitored so closely. As we write, 42,224 cases have been confirmed worldwide. Overall, it is young people (under 25s) who have accounted for most of the cases, and the overwhelming majority of these have experienced a mild to moderate illness. However the virus has the potential to cause more serious illness albeit infrequently overall.

So far, across the world there have now been 175 deaths (of which 113 in Mexico and 44 in the United States) and a larger number of hospital admissions with severe illness such as pneumonia. Many, though not all, severe cases have been in people aged 30-50 and with underlying chronic medical conditions – most frequently respiratory conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, immune system disorders and obesity. Some pregnant women have been among those severely affected.

The virus is here with us now. There is no cause for alarm, but equally no room for complacency or disregard for the real, but overall low risk of serious illness posed by the new pandemic flu virus.

Our intended approach is towards keeping the impact on Jersey to a minimum, following balanced and reasonable containment measures while awaiting the new vaccine.

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