Saturday, October 24, 2009

Germans Unhappy with Alternative Swine Flu Vaccine for Politicians/Spiegel

From Spiegel Online comes this story about how the German government and army ordered adjuvant-free vaccine for themselves, but adjuvanted Pandemrix (containing ASO3) for the rest of Germany. Excerpts follow:
Damage control is the name of the game in Berlin on Monday as politicians rush to deny that they are receiving a better, safer swine flu vaccine than ordinary Germans. The first of 50 million doses arrived in Germany on Monday. One might think that the arrival in Germany of the first of 50 million doses of swine flu vaccine on Monday might be cause for celebration. But with news breaking over the weekend that top government officials in Berlin will be injected with an alternative vaccine -- one widely seen as safer -- a debate about an alleged two-class medical system has erupted.
SPIEGEL over the weekend reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel, a number of her ministers and other government officials would receive a vaccine manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Baxter -- the same vaccine that the German military opted for, as was reported last week.
The controversy centers on an additive included in the vaccine manufactured by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. The additive includes an inactive strain of the entire flu virus as opposed to virus fragments. [Not accurate: see GSK's informational FAQ on Pandemrix, which contains ASO3. GSK tells us that ASO3 is proprietary and contains vitamin E, omitting information on its additional constituents. An inactive strain of the entire virus is not one of them, but squalene is included--Nass] Critics say the additive can increase the risk of side effects from the flu vaccine such as fevers and headaches.
Supporters counter that the additive is safe, and its use allows the drug manufacturer to quickly produce more doses of the vaccine. The SPIEGEL story mentioned that the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine, with the additive, has undergone more testing than the Baxter version.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told SPIEGEL that the Baxter vaccine had been ordered for all ministries and other agencies as well as for the employees of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, the authority responsible for approving vaccines.

The Green Party's health expert Biggi Bender said that the separate vaccines amount to "big risk for the people, little risk for the government. This type of second-class medicine cannot be allowed to exist in a democracy."

Leading physicians also complained about the planned vaccination. The head of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University of Bonn, Martin Exner, said: "The fact that politicians and top civil servants in ministries will be vaccinated with a vaccine other than the people is a terrible sign. Today politicians must take what they recommend."

The UK has seen an increase in cases in recent weeks. As a result, the country has purchased 60 million doses of Pandemrix.

The weekend scandal has drowned out a second debate which has been raging in recent weeks in the US and which has also found resonance here in Germany: whether such a massive vaccination program is necessary in the first place. Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, chairman of the Drug Commission of the German Medical Association, has called the planned vaccination campaign a "scandal." "The health authorities have fallen for a campaign from the pharmaceutical companies, who simply want to earn money with an alleged threat," he told SPIEGEL.

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