Illnesses halt vaccine for under-5s

By Martin Johnston

New Zealand's Health Ministry has told doctors not to give the Fluvax brand of vaccine to children under 5. Photo / Christchurch Star
New Zealand's Health Ministry has told doctors not to give the Fluvax brand of vaccine to children under 5. Photo / Christchurch Star

Australian authorities are investigating the death of a Queensland toddler within 12 hours of her receiving a seasonal influenza vaccination.

New Zealand's Health Ministry has told doctors not to give the Fluvax brand of vaccine to children under 5, after the Australian government ordered a halt in that age group because of an unexpectedly high number of cases of fever-related seizures in Western Australia.

Three cases of fever-related seizures in children under 5 following Fluvax injections have been reported to the NZ Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring at Otago University in this flu season.

Dr Pat Tuohy, the ministry's chief adviser on child and youth health, said yesterday all three cases had been hospitalised, but he was not aware of any deaths in New Zealand.

The Government is funding three brands of flu vaccine this flu season. Fluvax supplies are thought to have run low.

Dr Tuohy said doctors should give the Vaxigrip brand to young children.

Queensland's Sunday Mail reported 2-year-old Ashley Jade Epapara was well before she died at home on April 9. Her twin sister Jaime received the flu injection at the same time and is believed to have been vomiting the night before her sister died.

Their father, David Epapara, when asked if the vaccine was involved in Ashley's death, said: "It's very coincidental."

In Western Australia, 22 children have been hospitalised for high fevers and seizures after receiving Fluvax.

Fevers can be caused by many illnesses and are also a common reaction to flu vaccination.

The seizures rarely cause lasting problems, but urgent medical help should be sought if one lasts more than five minutes.

The reasons for Western Australia's spike are not yet clear. One may be that the state, unlike Australia's other states and territories which focused on high-risk individuals, had offered free seasonal flu vaccination to all young children.

This may mean many more young children than usual have been vaccinated in Western Australia.

In New Zealand, free seasonal flu vaccination is available for children from six months to their fifth birthday if they have one of a range of chronic diseases, or if they live in an area of high deprivation and their doctor agrees they need the vaccination.

What to do

If your child has a febrile (fever-related) convulsion:

* Keep calm, they are a common childhood problem.

* Do not put child in bath, or anything in their mouth.

* If convulsion lasts more than five minutes or breathing is laboured, dial 111.

* Get child checked by doctor afterwards to determine cause of fever.

- NZ Herald

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