Hard News by Russell Brown

Sick As

Was it wise to continue the meningococcal B immunisation programme through the cold and flu season? Anecdotal evidence suggests that adverse responses to the vaccine have been both more significant and more widespread than the Ministry of Health has indicated.

After his first shot, our sturdy 14 year-old son was off school for three days with bad mouth ulcers and an arm too sore to lift. Our babysiiter ended up in hospital with dehydration. Our boy's second shot came in advance of a flu infection (or possibly before flu symptoms were manifest) and as a result, he's currently as sick as he's been in his life. I really can't see him having his third shot - even though it would seem to be essential for full protection.

This doesn't seem to be an isolated issue. Public Address reader Phil Taylor emailed to say that his eight year old son had been sick since his first shot two weeks ago, displaying many of the symptoms listed in MoH releases on the vaccination programme, adding that "I rang his school in Mt Eden today and 50 kids are sick." Pt Chevalier primary has 100 kids off.

There's a Herald report noting "unprecedented" absences from flu infections. It may be that this winter's flu strain is a particularly nasty one - but it still raises significant questions about whether this is a good time to be pursuing the MeNZB vaccination cycle.

Let me make it clear: I'm not an immunisation conspiracist and I think the wilder claims about this programme can be dispelled by simply reading the literature. This paper from the New Zealand Medical Journal has useful background information, and explains, among other things, the need for three doses, and the findings of local trials.

Properly managed, the adverse reactions to the vaccine don't seem to present a serious health risk. But the anecdotal experience right now suggests that short-term reactions are at the limit of parental acceptability.

At the least, the bland, vague suggestions about potential adverse reactions in the standard consumer advice should be fleshed out. If you dig around the ministry's website you can find the Medsafe data sheet that actually includes the numbers of adverse reactions in the local trials: among them, that 54% of infant displayed "impaired sleeping" and 44% "unusual crying"; 26% of adults suffered headaches; 13% of infants suffered vomiting; 95% of adults suffered pain around the injection site. (There has been no sign of the very rare severe reactions noted in response to a different but related vaccine in Norway.) I just think you have to give people more detailed information, even at the risk of some of them declining the programme.

And just to brighten your day, signs of human-to-human transmission of avian flu are pretty scary. The Chinese government has also denied reports of human deaths from bird flu in a far-flung western province - unfortunately, Chinese government denials are a little hard to really feel comfortable with.

Brilliant stroke of insight! Staging a car race somewhere that actually looks like a race track! And one in West Auckland too! And, of course, a little PR win for the government, which asked Air Force command to think again about allowing the V8 Supercar series to be staged at Whenuapai airbase. The stipulation is that the base must be able to revert to air force use within 24 hours in the event of a "significant emergency" - so, assuming the Indonesians don't invade, it looks like a goer.

Video from Norm: the Reverend Creighton Lovelace of the First Southern Retard Church explains on MSNBC why he put up a billboard declaring that "the Koran needs to be flushed."

The Texas state law attempting to ban gay marriage contains some appropriately numbskulled wording that could be read as also banning heterosexual marriage. Morons.

John Rennie at SciAm Perspectives casts an eye over a recent UK Independent story on possible health risks related to one strain of GM corn. What he might have added was that the coverage of GM issues by the Independent's environmental editor Geoffrey Lean is so reliably hysterical (and often wrong-headed) that it's very difficult to tell if and when he might actually have a point.

And that will do. I've faced facts and handed over my prized bNet Awards tickets to Fiona - I think I'd last about 10 minutes before my head started pounding - so I'll be rugged up warm with the flu today and tonight. I find the symptoms oddly interesting (it's two or three winters since I had a proper flu) but, frankly, I'm a bit over it now. I hear whisky is good, though …