Minister: Report by UWI Prof on influenza vaccination is fear-mongering

With cases of influenza expected to increase this Carnival season, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says he is disheartened by an article written by University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Prof Stephan Gift that condemns influenza vaccination.

Asked to respond to the concerns raised by Gift, Dean and the Faculty of Engineering, that vaccines do not work well and could cause serious health risks, Deyalsingh dubbed it as fear-mongering.

Speaking to the media at the Rochard Road Health Centre in Barrackpore yesterday, Deyalsingh said that vaccinations had been proven worldwide to be effective.

He urged those against vaccination to research the situations in England, the United States and Australia, where people were dying because they could not get flu vaccines.

Citing a case from England that happened a few years ago, he said there was fear-mongering that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccines caused autism.

Following a study, the doctor who made the claim was found to be lying about his research. But the fear that it caused led to an upsurge in cases of mumps, rubella and measles.

“We in Trinidad have 70,000 doses of flu vaccines available free of charge. It is because of this, we had no deaths due to seasonal flu last year. But I am so saddened that an intellectual can jump on the fear-mongering of vaccines to discourage people from getting their vaccines and we will be having a very robust response to Dr Gift,” Deyalsingh said.

Also responding to Gift’s article, the T&T Medical Association said it consulted with various stakeholders, including the Caribbean Public Health Agency; UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences and the Paediatric Society of T&T on the issue.

It said that cases of influenza are expected to intensify during and after the carnival season with the influx of tourists from countries where the virus is entering the seasonal peak of its circulation.

“It is well documented that vaccinations for influenza and other vaccine-preventable diseases are safe, well tolerated and effective in the vast majority of the population.

Vaccine adverse effects are rare and the article in question fails to quantify how improbable and infrequent these side effects are, focusing instead on the potential range of rare events.”

The TTMA warned that influenza contributes to significant morbidity and mortality, especially among children, the elderly, diabetics and immune-compromised persons.

“The old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ holds water for approved immunisation programmes, inclusive of the influenza vaccine and data regarding the safety of these vaccination programmes are available from reputable sources, including the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).”

The TTMA said that the ministry’s vaccination policy targets vulnerable groups while the Expanded Programme on Immunisation collects data on adverse events, possibly attributable to vaccination.

It said that the current vaccine, GC-flu, has been purchased and distributed by the World Health Organisation since 2012, with no adverse issues or deaths attributed to its use in our population. USA, LLC