Scientists urge ministers: tell truth on ‘over-hyped’ flu vaccine

 

Jeremy Laurance

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The flu vaccine given to millions of people each year in Britain is “over-promoted” and “over-hyped” and the protection it offers against the seasonal illness has been exaggerated, scientists claim.

Flu causes thousands of deaths, mainly among the elderly, in the UK each year but the vaccine is of limited effectiveness, especially for older people. One expert told The Independent the Government should be held accountable for “wasting taxpayer’s money” on the annual £120m national vaccination campaign.

But scientists stressed it was still worth getting the jab as it is currently “the best we have”.

A report published by the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, US, says the misperception that existing flu vaccines are highly effective has become a barrier to developing new and better vaccines.

It also risks undermining public trust in mass immunisation campaigns if Governments fail to tell the truth about the vaccine.

Michael Osterholm, director of CIDRAP and professor of Environmental Health Sciences, said: “I have been a strong proponent of vaccination in general and flu vaccine in particular for many years. I still recommend its use as the best we have. But we have over-promoted this vaccine. For certain age groups in some years its effectiveness has been severely limited relative to what has been previously reported.”

The vaccine is offered free on the NHS to everyone in the UK over 65, to patients of all ages with chronic illnesses such as asthma, to pregnant women and front-line healthcare workers in what is an annual bonanza for drug companies.

Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show 60.8 per cent of over-65s have had their flu shot this winter and 37.5 per cent of those with chronic illnesses. Among pregnant women uptake is running at 29.8 per cent with healthcare workers at 28.4 per cent.

Flu vaccine has to be re-formulated every year on the basis of an educated guess by experts who attempt to match it with the strains of the rapidly mutating flu virus likely to be circulating that season.

A 2010 review by the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of experts, concluded that the vaccine had little impact in years, like the winter of 2011-12, when the vaccine and the viruses were mismatched.

On average, flu vaccine shortened the illness by about half a day but did not reduce the number of people hospitalised, it said.

Tom Jefferson, an author of the Cochrane reviews, said: “We have conducted four reviews since the late 1990s. We calculated that you need to vaccinate between 33 and 99 people to prevent one case of flu, depending on the match between the vaccine and the circulating strains of the virus. I want people held accountable for wasting taxpayer’s money on these vaccines. The reviews have been available for years and nothing has been done.”

Influenza vaccine was first introduced in the 1940s and protection rates of between 70 to 90 per cent were frequently cited. The CIDRAP report found that the flu shots given in the UK, using trivalent inactivated flu vaccine, provided 59 per cent protection in healthy adults aged 18 to 64 but there were no good studies demonstrating its effectiveness in adults of 65 and over.

Professor Osterholm, an US public health adviser whose report “The Compelling need for game changing influenza vaccines” was published last month, said: “Our report is very comprehensive. It took three years, we reviewed 12,000 peer reviewed papers and interviewed 88 experts from around the world. We took no money from the private sector or governments – we had no conflicts of interest.

“The most striking outcome is that we have over-stated the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine. That has had a very dampening effect on the development of new vaccines.”

“It is important to state: we support using flu vaccine in all age groups. Even among the over 65s although it is of limited benefit it is still a benefit. We surely have overstated the level of protection but it still offers some protection.”

Douglas Fleming, of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Influenza Monitoring Unit in Birmingham, said: “No vaccines are perfect. Last year’s flu vaccine was a bad match with the circulating strains. Its effectiveness varies from year to year and with different age groups. Amongst the elderly it is widely recognised that its effectiveness decreases. Better vaccines are needed for this reason particularly. It has been over-hyped by many people.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said evidence on the effectiveness of the vaccine had been reviewed within the last year. “There is no doubt that the flu programme saves lives. We strongly encourage scientists and the vaccine industry in their efforts to develop new and more effective flu vaccines and do not agree that these efforts are being discouraged. Each year thousands of people die after catching flu and we urge everyone that is in an at risk group to get the vaccine.”

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/scientists-urge-ministers-tell-truth-on-overhyped-flu-vaccine-8336184.html#

700,000 travellers ‘at risk of typhoid due to dud jab’

More than 700,000 people who thought they were protected against typhoid may be vulnerable to the disease, because of a dud batches of a vaccine.

16 batches of the Typhim Vi vaccine for typhoid have been found to contain doses that have 'reduced potency' to fight the bacterial infection.

16 batches of the Typhim Vi vaccine for typhoid have been found to contain doses that have ‘reduced potency’ to fight the bacterial infection. Photo: ALAMY

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Stephen Adams

By , Medical Correspondent

5:46PM BST 08 Oct 2012

Manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur MSD has recalled 16 batches of its Typhim Vi vaccine – some 88 per cent of its stock – after tests found some of it was too weak.

The “reduced potency” shots could have been given to anyone immunised since January 2011.

The firm last night emphasised that defective doses of the vaccine itself were not dangerous.

However, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates drugs, said it could mean up to 729,606 had received weak vaccine.

This would mean they were more exposed to the bacterial infection that causes typhoid, than they thought.

An MHRA spokesman said: “This recall is due to concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccine in some syringes distributed from 7 January 2011 following filling problems in the manufacturing process.

“Therefore some patients who have been vaccinated with Typhim Vi may not be fully protected against the disease.

“If you received this vaccine and have recently returned from abroad, and are unwell, you should contact your doctor.”

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread through contaminated food and water. It is rare in Britain but common throughout the tropics and sub-tropics.

Infections can cause intestinal bleeding, heart problems, pneumonia, seizures and swelling of the brain. If not treated with antibiotics, it can be fatal.

The vaccine is available free on the NHS for those travelling to high risk areas, or can be purchased through private clinics.

A spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur said the company decided to recall the batches after discovering that too many had reduced potency.

He said the cause of the problem had been identified, “but there will be a shortage” in coming months.

“We are hoping to get supplies back to normal by early 2013,” he said.

“We understand the difficulties this recall may cause for our customers and people relying upon our vaccines. We would like to offer our most sincere apologies for the inconveniences incurred.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Typhoid is rare in this country and is usually associated with travel to countries where sanitation is inadequate.

“The vaccine is still available and we are working with manufacturers to help ensure that current supply problems are resolved as soon as possible.

“People who have recently been immunised should seek medical advice about precautions to take whilst abroad to minimise the risk of infection, in case the vaccine has not provided full protection.”

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said: “Provisional data from 2011 to September 2012 do not suggest that there has been a spike in cases of Typhoid since January 2011 when the problem with the vaccine dates back to.

“Normal typhoid vaccine is 50-80 per cent effective travellers are advised to practise strict food, water and personal hygiene precautions even if vaccinated.”

 

Heroin users warned after second anthrax death

Hospitals and walk-in clinics across the UK warned to expect further cases after second drug user dies in Blackpool

Amelia Hill guardian.co.uk, Monday 10 September 2012 12.35 EDT

Anthrax bacteria

Anthrax bacteria: drug users may become infected when injecting, smoking or snorting heroin contaminated with spores. Photograph: Smc Images/Getty Images

A second person has died from an anthrax infection after injecting heroin, causing health experts to warn hospitals and walk-in clinics across the UK to expect more cases.

The death comes three weeks after another heroin user died after contracting the disease from what is assumed to be a batch of contaminated heroin.

Both fatalities were in Blackpool but two further cases of infection have been reported in Scotland and Wales since early June.

The deaths are part of a European-wide outbreak of anthrax among people who inject drugs: there have been 10 cases across Germany, Denmark and France in recent months.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction have issued warnings that heroin users in Europe are at risk of exposure to anthrax and warned  there may be further cases.

“Anthrax can be cured with antibiotics, if treatment is started early. It is therefore important for medical professionals to know the signs and symptoms to look for, so that there will be no delays in providing treatment,” said Dr Fortune Ncube, an expert in blood-borne viruses with the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

“It’s likely that further cases among people who inject heroin will be identified as part of the ongoing outbreak in EU countries,” he added. “The Department of Health has alerted the NHS of the possibility of people who inject drugs presenting to emergency departments and walk-in clinics, with symptoms suggestive of anthrax.”

Local drug services throughout the UK have been alerted and the National Treatment Agency has circulated posters and leaflets about anthrax contamination aimed at heroin users.

Drug users may become infected with anthrax when heroin is contaminated with anthrax spores. This could be a source of infection if injected, smoked or snorted.

Ncube said there was no safe route for consuming heroin or other drugs that may be contaminated with anthrax spores.

“The HPA is warning people who use heroin that they could be risking anthrax infection,” he said Ncube. “We urge all heroin users to seek urgent medical advice if they experience signs of infection such as redness or excessive swelling at or near an injection site, or other symptoms of general illness such a high temperature, chills, severe headaches or breathing difficulties. Early treatment with antibiotics is essential for a successful recovery.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/10/heroin-users-warned-anthrax-death

Anthrax cellular entry point uncovered

Discovering the anthrax-Mac-1 gateway is a milestone in the ongoing efforts to protect humans from bioterrorism and bio-warfare

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The long-sought-after biological “gateway” that anthrax uses to enter healthy cells has been uncovered by microbiologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Anthrax spores enter the cell through something called Mac-1, a receptor that sits on the surface of certain cells.

This is the first study to uncover exactly how the bacteria get inside cells to begin with, the UAB researchers said. Previous studies have shown what happens after anthrax spores enter the body and wreak havoc.

Unraveling the anthrax-Mac-1 gateway is a milestone in the ongoing efforts to protect humans from bioterrorism and biological warfare, the UAB microbiologists said. Such a discovery will speed the development of new drugs and vaccines to fight or prevent anthrax infection, and advance the understanding of bacterial infection.

The findings are published in the online version of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will soon appear in a print edition.

“We know anthrax infection can occur in wild and domestic animals, but in humans this disease is extremely rare and very dangerous. It is a bioweapon,” said John Kearney, Ph.D., a professor in the UAB Department of Microbiology and co-author on the study. “This study reveals the biological paradigm that makes the anthrax spore clever enough to target the Mac-1 receptor, and use this entry point to boost its lethality.”

Bacillus anthracis infection occurs in three forms: cutaneous (skin), inhalation and through swallowing spores. The skin infection is the most common type and can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed rapidly.

The more serious form is inhalation anthrax, which was diagnosed in a few adults during the anthrax scare after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States.

In the UAB study, researchers worked under strict bio-safe conditions to infect cultures of cells and laboratory-bred mice with a strain of anthrax often used in research.

Infection rates and other observations were significant enough to convince the microbiologists anthrax relies on Mac-1 to do its damage inside healthy cells.

“By showing how anthrax spores recognize Mac-1 receptors, this discovery points toward a precise entry point which B. anthracis uses to proliferate and trigger lethal consequences,” said Claudia Oliva, Ph.D., and Melissa Swiecki, Ph.D., both researchers in the UAB Department of Microbiology and co-lead authors on the study.

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Funding support for the study came from the National Institutes of Health

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