Czechs get mixed signals about benefits of flu vaccine

Concerns regarding a possible swine flu epidemic in the Czech Republic have taken a new turn. Fears that there would not be enough vaccines for people at risk have been replaced by concerns about the possible side effects of the new flu jab. In addition to that, a Canadian study released last week suggests that across the board vaccination against the seasonal flu could only make matters worse.

Just this week GPs around the country started vaccinating people against seasonal flu and the health authorities advised as many people as possible to get the seasonal flu jab this year on the grounds that it would help their body deal with the swine flu as well, should they contract it. Now the results of a Canadian study published by the WHO suggest that people who get the seasonal flu jab could be putting themselves at higher risk of getting swine flu than those who don’t. The country’s chief hygiene officer Michael Vít told journalists on Thursday that while the Czech Republic was not underestimating the results of the study, it could be misleading. The matter is under intensive debate by EU experts and for the time being the Czech health authorities are standing by their recommendation for people to get vaccinated. Not so the Czech Association of Patients, which says – don’t do it. Its president Luboš Olejár says he gets dozens of calls from people who can’t make up their minds what to do.

"The Canadian study has shown that vaccinations against seasonal flu not only put a person at greater risk of contracting swine flu but those who do get it have it in a more severe form – higher fevers, more complications and so on. We advise people not to get a flu jab this year, but rather boost their immunity by having a balanced diet, taking vitamin supplements and avoiding crowded places if it is at all possible."

Luboš Olejár
Dr. Olejár says that while he discourages people from getting the seasonal flu vaccine he believes that high risk groups should get the one against swine flu. However even on that point medical experts differ. Many doctors are reportedly determined to refuse the jab because they fear possible side effects. Vaccination of high risk groups is to start in November and the Czech Doctors Chamber is being bombarded by calls for advice. It says openly that it has no advice to give at present and due to mixed views on the subject may not be in a position to offer reliable advice when the time comes for people to decide. With either vaccine, it seems that people will have to make up their own minds about what they want to do and accept responsibility for their decision.