New Brunswick

No 'misgivings' about vaccine safety: Russell weighs in on reports of flu shot reactions

New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health is weighing in after reports of adverse reactions to the flu shot. Dr. Jennifer Russell says she has no misgivings about the safety of any vaccine 'at this point in time.'

Providers aware of hold on affected batch, but any reactions would have shown up by now, top doctor says

Dr. Jennifer Russell says she has no concerns about the safety of any vaccines at this point, but notes that anybody who gets a vaccine at any time should be on the lookout for any kind of reactions. (Ed Hunter/CBC file)

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says she thinks all flu shot providers in the province are aware of a hold order on a batch of vaccine that has been linked to three adverse reactions in the province.

One person developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, one person had transverse myelitis and one person had Bell's palsy within six days of getting a shot of Flulaval Tetra lot KX9F7, distributed by GlaxoSmithKline.

Much of the affected batch was distributed and administered in early to mid-October, said Dr. Jennifer Russell. And anyone who received a shot from the affected batch would have developed an adverse reaction by now if they were going to.

"I don't have any misgivings about the safety of any vaccines at this point in time," she said.

Russell added, however, that anybody who gets a vaccine at any time should be on the lookout for any kind of reactions after the fact.

All adverse reactions are tracked at the national level, she said.

The batch of the flu vaccine linked to three cases of adverse reactions was distributed to multiple providers in three zones, Dr. Jennifer Russell said Monday. (CBC file)

Batch went to flu shot providers in three zones

The provincial Health Department can track exactly where the batch was distributed.

Russell said in this case it went to multiple flu shot providers in three different zones.

She did not provide specific details. A spokesperson for the Health Department said it went to "all regions of the province."

Russell said she did some research on adverse vaccine reactions about a year and a half ago as the province considered mandatory vaccine legislation.

Across the country there are an average of 1,500 adverse events per year, she said. About 10 per cent of those reactions are serious.

Roughly 32 of them follow flu shots.

And one-third of those are neurological.

All of this information is available online, she said, from Health Canada.

Public health declined to give any updates or more specific information about the people who experienced the adverse effects. 

Russell said there were a total of 556,000 doses in the affected lot distributed across the country.

Montreal-based microbiologist Dr. Caroline Quach says more information is needed from New Brunswick on the reported adverse flu-shot-reaction cases. (Amélie Philibert/Université de Montréal)

Too soon to say if vaccine caused reactions

Doctors say it's too soon to say whether the health conditions were caused by the vaccine.

Many different viruses could be to blame, said Dr. Caroline Quach, a Montreal-based microbiologist.

"I think we need more information from New Brunswick" on the cases reported, Quach said.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said they will follow up with provinces and territories to determine what action to take.

A more in-depth investigation into the safety of this vaccine will be launched, a Health Canada spokesperson said in an email.

A notice has been sent to all health care providers. Those who still have doses from the batch in question in stock will no longer administer these vaccines until the situation can be further investigated.

Benoit Morin of the Quebec pharmacists association said he appreciates that some people might find the situation alarming, but he actually finds it reassuring.

"It highlights the safeguards in the vaccine system," said Morin.

"If something unusual happens there's a red flag so we can look into it further."

The provinces all have different mechanisms, he noted.

In Quebec, for example, Bell's palsy cases are not even part of the adverse effect checklist for flu shots.

He noted that Quebec received about 10,000 doses of the affected batch and no adverse reactions were reported there.

"The flag isn't red enough for a national recall," Morin said.

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