Remember The Headline "4 Die From H1N1 Vaccine"? How About the Follow-up?

I’m sure most China expats and locals remember — and often quote — last month’s “news” that four Chinese people had died after getting the H1N1 vaccine. I felt that initial story was very misleading, as it provided zero evidence of a connection and stoked nationwide fears when most likely the deaths were coincidental, not causal. And indeed, the Ministry of Health last week did announce that all 4 deaths were not from the vaccine. But how many of you actually heard that update? Not many, I fear…

Not many heard about the follow-up because it wasn’t blasted across the top of each newspaper or TV broadcast like the initial report. I didn’t even know about it until a colleague emailed me the story. From People’s Daily Online, December 9th:

State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) reaffirmed that the A/H1N1 vaccine is safe.

The SFDA held a routine press conference on December 8.

In the conference, spokesperson Yan Jiangying reaffirmed in terms of the safety of the A/H1N1 vaccine that the Ministry of Health had specially explained the four death cases. The cases occurred after the patients were vaccinated, but they were not directly related to the vaccine. So far, no allergic response to the A/H1N1 vaccine has been found, and the vaccine is safe and effective. Although the SFDA finished the vaccine’s examination and approval in a short period of time, the standards were not degraded and the procedures were not reduced.

This information on H1N1’s safety profile is consistent with the safety profile in all other countries. (Sorry, I’m trying to find the original link but don’t see it yet.) But my point remains that the original headlines did a lot of damage in reinforcing people’s unfounded concerns regarding the vaccine’s safety. And this follow-up correction didn’t get nearly the same press, so most people probably still think the vaccine “kills people”. It’s a real shame when public health authorities do their utmost to educate the public, yet one headline can undo all their progress. Anyway, at least the news is good — the H1N1 vaccine in China, similar to all other countries, has a safety profile similar to the normal seasonal flu vaccine. I’ve discussed its safety in previous posts, along with specific numbers from the CDC and other agencies.

Pregnant Women Soon To Get H1N1 Vaccine

In other good news, China last week also announced plans to vaccinate women against H1N1. This is in line with World Health Organization and other world agencies. Their official statistics also mirror those of other countries, which I’ve mentioned before, that pregnant women are a high-risk group due to a higher mortality (14% of all deaths in China). Some highlights:

…China is preparing an inoculation plan for all pregnant women, who make up nearly 14 percent of the total number of reported deaths from the A/H1N1 flu on the mainland. Nearly 8 percent of pregnant women have severe cases of H1N1, according to the Ministry of Health yesterday. Forty-six pregnant women have thus far died because of the flu.

No clear evidence has so far shown that the vaccine harms both the pregnant mother and her baby, according to international studies…

Feng Zijian, director of the emergency response department of the CDC told China Daily that the majority of pregnant victims had been carrying their babies for six months or more. In several cases, the babies survived the infection.

Vivian Tan, press officer of the WHO Beijing Office, said given that the profile of the pandemic flu vaccine is similar to that of the seasonal flu vaccine, many countries have started vaccinating pregnant women as part of the vaccination campaign against H1N1.

“WHO recommends that pregnant women get the shot,” she said.

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