Western Australia Minister for Health Kim Hames
Review Finds Vaccination Program Suspension ‘Right Decision’
Victor P Taffa
The way information about vaccinations is recorded and collected would undergo a major overhaul in Western Australia following a review of the suspension of the State Government’s free childhood seasonal influenza vaccination program.
Health Minister Kim Hames tabled in State Parliament a review by Professor Bryant Stokes into the handling of the suspension of the State-based program, which provided free influenza vaccinations to children aged under five.
Dr. Hames said the review found the decision to suspend the program was correct and further analysis, both in WA and nationally, confirmed there was a particular problem with the CSL vaccine, Fluvax, which accounted for the majority of vaccines delivered in the age group.
The program was suspended by Dr. Hames on April 22 when it was discovered the rate of febrile convulsions caused by the vaccine was nine-times higher than usual, up from one per 1,000 children to nine per 1,000 children.
“This review found my decision to suspend the program as soon as we knew there were more side-effects than usual were the right one. However, the report has also highlighted deficiencies in current reporting mechanisms for vaccine adverse events in WA and nationally.” the Minister said.
“The system is confusing both for the public and for vaccination providers. The overall system response could have been quicker.”
Dr. Hames said the report vindicated doctors and parents who had attempted to raise the alarm before April 22, but had found the reporting systems too cumbersome.
“A febrile convulsion is very frightening and I understand how frustrating it must have been for parents with ill children to try and report the vaccination side-effects. This has shown that although WA picked up this problem earlier than any other State and reacted appropriately, it could have been done better.” the Minister said.
The report recommended:
- Developing a simpler process for general practitioners and other immunisation providers to more speedily report vaccine side-effects and other notifiable conditions, such as food poisoning;
- Improving the system of State-wide alerts to vaccination providers;
- Further improving the quality of information provided to the general public on vaccine benefits and side effects, so that parents can continue to make informed choices.
“I accept the findings of the review, and have instructed the Department of Health to progress these recommendations.” the Minister said.
Dr. Hames said copies of the review had already been sent to the Federal Health Minister, and the review would be tabled at the next Australian Health Ministers’ Conference to assist in developing a more integrated national system.
The free seasonal influenza vaccination program for under-fives in WA has recommenced, using the Vaxigrip and Influvac products which have been found to be safe in this age group.
National investigations into the cause of the side effects in the CSL products Fluvax and Fluvax Junior are continuing.
“I would like to thank Professor Stokes and his team for the high-quality work on this review that will lead to real improvements in our health system.” the Minister said.