Monday, July 13, 2009

Everyone in Britain will soon get untested vaccine against swine flu

This seems amazingly precipitous. The reasoning is clearly that MOST people will be OK and damn the minority. I think I would rather take my chances with the flu rather than risk Guillain-Barré syndrome

The NHS is preparing to vaccinate the entire population against swine flu after the disease claimed the life of its first healthy British patient. A new vaccine is expected to arrive in Britain in the next few weeks and could be fast-tracked through regulatory approval in five days. As many as 20m people could be inoculated this year. Ministers have secured up to 90m doses, and the rest of the population is likely to be offered vaccinations next year.

A man from Essex was confirmed on Friday as the first person without underlying health problems to have died from the virus. The health department said most people with the virus had only mild symptoms.

Peter Holden, the British Medical Association’s lead negotiator on swine flu, said GPs’ surgeries were ready for one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years. “If this virus does [mutate], it can get a lot more nasty, and the idea is to give people immunity. But the sheer logistics of dealing with 60m people can’t be underestimated,” he said. The health department said a vaccination programme would be drawn up based on expert advice.

The path of a popular medicine from the laboratory to the chemist or doctor’s surgery can involve years of clinical trials on a select group of patients. When the new vaccine for swine flu arrives in Britain, regulators said this weekend, it could be approved for use in just five days.

Regulators at the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) said the fast-tracked procedure has involved clinical trials of a “mock-up” vaccine similar to the one that will be used for the biggest mass vaccination programme in generations. It will be introduced into the general population while regulators continue to carry out simultaneous clinical trials.

The first patients in the queue for the jab - being supplied to the UK by GSK and Baxter Healthcare - may understandably be a little nervous at any possible side effects. A mass vaccination campaign against swine flu in America was halted in the 1970s after some people suffered Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system.

However, regulators said fast-tracking would not be at the expense of patient safety. “The vaccines are authorised with a detailed risk management plan,” the EMEA said. “There is quite a body of evidence regarding safety on the trials of the mock-up, and the actual vaccine could be assessed in five days.”

The UK government has ordered enough vaccine to cover the entire population. GPs are being told to prepare for a nationwide vaccination campaign. Dr Peter Holden, the British Medical Association’s lead negotiator on swine flu, who has been attending Department of Health meetings on the outbreak, said GPs’ surgeries were prepared for one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years.

He said although swine flu was not causing serious illness in patients, health officials were eager to start a mass vaccination campaign, starting first on priority groups. First, the jabs would reduce the chances of a shortage of hospital beds because of people suffering from swine flu. Second, it would reduce the effect on the economy by ensuring workers were protected from the virus. “The high-risk groups will be done at GPs’ surgeries. People are still making decisions over this, but we want to get cracking before we get a second wave, which is traditionally far more virulent.”

Holden said it was likely the elderly would be given their seasonal flu jab as well as the swine flu vaccination. The new vaccine is likely to require two doses.

Details of the inoculation plans emerged after the death of a patient, reportedly a middle-aged man, at a hospital in the Basildon area of Essex. The victim had no underlying health problems, but officials say there is no evidence the swine flu virus had mutated into a more dangerous strain.

Holden said it would be the biggest campaign in response to an outbreak since mass vaccination against smallpox in 1962. He said surgeries would be aiming to inoculate about 30 people an hour in a “military-style operation”. The Department of Health said it had still not finalised which groups would be vaccinated first, but children, frontline health workers, people with underlying illnesses and the elderly are likely to take priority.

The European Commission is also identifying population groups which it believes should get priority. It is keen to ensure that countries such as the UK, which had ordered supplies of the vaccine in advance, do not cause inequities in treatment elsewhere in Europe. It warned health ministers in a note circulated last month that if the vaccines were more readily available in some countries it could cause “vaccine tourism/shopping in other member states”.

About 15 people have died of swine flu in Britain, but most of those infected get only mild symptoms. According to the latest figures from the Health Protection Agency, the UK has had 9,718 confirmed cases of the disease.


How Much Fish For Health?

I don't think that the health benefits of fish eating are established beyond reasonable doubt and the health risks seem to be entirely theoretical -- but the approach below is better balanced than most

This week we launched, the only online seafood calculator that quantifies both the health risks and benefits of a diet rich in seafood. Fed up with fishy activists like Greenpeace (a group more concerned with “saving” the fish than with your health) and Jeremy Piven (who, let’s face it, is just trying to save his own hide), we analyzed USDA nutritional information and worked with registered dieticians to explore both sides of the fish equation. And guess what? Seafood scored high marks across the board. puts conflicting information about seafood and health into a useful context (finally!) by displaying the nutritional content of the top ten most popular seafood species—the positive impact of fish consumption as well as the hypothetical risks from trace amounts of mercury.

Here’s an example: A 130-pound woman who enjoys canned light tuna would need to eat 123 ounces (7.7 pounds) of it every week in order to risk any negative health impact from mercury. But in just one 6-ounce serving, she gets all of the protein and selenium she needs for the day, as well as high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, potassium, and iron. All of those health benefits clearly outweigh the miniscule amount of mercury detectable in that can of tuna (as well as activists’ scaremongering).

As we’re telling reporters today:

“The Internet is full of doom-and-gloom seafood calculators that only tell half the story. We’re trying to bring some balance to the discussion. The entire medical literature contains zero cases of fetal mercury poisoning related to fish consumption in the United States. But it’s full of evidence that fish is a health food.”

This message is crucial given how successful anti-seafood activists have been in scaring people away from such a healthy and important dietary staple. In our recently updated “Tuna Meltdown” report, we found that more than a quarter-million underprivileged American children were born at risk of having abnormally low IQs between 2000 and 2006, just because their low-income mothers were afraid to eat fish during their pregnancies.


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