This article is by Natasha Bita, who just won a Walkley journalism prize for her series on flu vaccine dangers in The Australian.
UPDATE: The public’s responses to her story “Virus in the System.” It is astounding that after the widely publicized problems with last year’s childhood flu vaccine, the Health Minister (a lawyer) has the temerity to force 3 more vaccines on Australia’s children–or have their parents forfeit $2100.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s ‘Big Brother’ approach has even the AMA squirming … and pointing out that Australia’s drug regulatory agency is entirely funded by pharmaceutical user fees, which equates with lax regulation:
DOCTORS demanded more monitoring of vaccine side-effects yesterday after the federal government announced penalties for families who fail to immunise their children.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said the government must introduce “active surveillance” to monitor side effects instead of relying on doctors and patients to report problems through “passive surveillance”.
Last year, health authorities took weeks to suspend a flu vaccine that caused febrile fits in children.
“For a vaccine, you are taking healthy people and trying to keep them healthy so surveillance of the side effects is doubly important,” Dr Hambleton said.
“We need to maintain confidence in the program. We can’t just say to people, ‘Don’t worry, it’s safe’. “
Health Minister Nicola Roxon has added three vaccines — meningococcal C, pneumococcal and chicken pox — to the national immunisation program from July 2013. From July next year, families will miss out on $2100 in family tax benefit Part A payments unless they immunise their children with every vaccine on the government’s list.
Dr Hambleton said doctors strongly supported immunisation to protect children against life-threatening illness.
But he called for taxpayer funding of Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is entirely funded by user-pays charges on the pharmaceutical industry.
He said the TGA needed to work “better and quicker” to ensure prescribing advice to doctors always included the most up-to-date data on clinical trials and side effects.
“We have to make sure regulators do their job,” Dr Hambleton said.
“We do rely on the TGA for good quality, independent advice.
“Everything the TGA does is in the public interest so it should be publicly funded to do the extra work and notify the public of any changes that do come up. If it can’t do what it needs to do, we need to ask why.”
The Australian revealed yesterday that drug giant CSL had changed its prescribing information for next year’s flu vaccine, to warn doctors that two toddlers had to be hospitalised during clinical trials of Fluvax in 2006.
The previous prescribing information for doctors had stated there were “no reports of adverse serious events”. The TGA admitted that CSL had told it about the side effects in 2006.
Dr Hambleton said yesterday doctors might have blown the whistle on last year’s Fluvax fits earlier had they been aware of the data that was left out of last year’s prescribing information.