By Debora MacKenzie
Australia blames a flu vaccine for child convulsions
As the northern hemisphere braces itself for the flu season, and for the first time the US recommends flu vaccination for everyone over 6 months of age, Australia has confirmed that its main seasonal flu vaccine, Fluvax, caused convulsions in 99 children, all of whom recovered. Fluvax is made by the Australian firm CSL.
Last March, Australia started vaccinating ahead of the southern hemisphere’s flu season. All the drug firms’ vaccines contained three killed strains of flu, one of which was last year’s pandemic strain [Swine flu]
In early April, reports came in of children with fever and convulsions following vaccination. On 22 April Australia suspended flu vaccination for children under 5. In late July, vaccination resumed with other makers’ vaccines, but not CSL’s Fluvax.
Fevers and convulsions
Last week the Australian Department of Health and Ageing reported that flu vaccination was “causally related” to fever and convulsions in 99 Australian children this year. Of those, 74 had no other possible cause, and Fluvax had been given to all 66 of those where the vaccine’s name was known, CSL says it is trying to identify the problem.
Fever is an occasional side effect in children given flu vaccines, and about 1.4 per 10,000 people vaccinated have seizures. High fever can cause seizures in 2 to 4 per cent of otherwise normal children 3 years and under, though no one is sure why. Fluvax caused seizures 50 times as often as would be expected with a vaccine.
In an analysis published in the journal Eurosurveillance, Heath Kelly, head of epidemiology at the state infectious diseases laboratory in Melbourne, calculates that Fluvax might have been worse than flu
Children usually recover completely from fever-related seizures, though there can be brain damage in rare cases.