Flu immunization clinics on hold

So Saskatchewan is placing the flu clinics on hold while Health Canada investigates the efficacy of the immunization made by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis.

I had two immediate thoughts when I heard this.

The first was concern, as I had already received my shot. Once I learned that adverse reactions were not the issue I realized that this hold doesn’t affect how I feel about getting vaccines — if there is an immunization available to protect me from something, then I’ll likely be signing up to get it.

My second thought was I wonder if this has anything to do with the delays that were being experienced by Novartis as they worked to get this shot through the various safety and quality tests about a month ago. At the time it was downplayed by both the company (well, obviously) and health officials and the story went largely unnoticed. It could be that they are not at all related, because the vaccine did have to be approved by Health Canada before it was rolled out, but at some point Novartis was experiencing some troubles (however small) with this vaccine.

It’s not completely surprising that influenza vaccines cause troubles for the companies that make them. Unlike most vaccines that have years of work poured into them, the flu shot has to be created new every year as researchers work to provide protection against the strains of vaccine that are expected to be problematic in the next year.

If you’ve been reading about the vaccine and wondering what “clumping of virus particles” means, I’ll try to explain as I understand it.

Each vaccine contains protein that helps the non-infectious virus tell the immune system to work. If those proteins are clumping to each other, they aren’t attaching to the immune cells in the human body and therefore not telling the body what the virus looks like. The immune response, or the ability for the body to recognize a virus, is the key in being protected if people come into contact with the real virus during the flu season.

Currently Health Canada doesn’t know what the clumping means, and so far it’s only been seen in Europe, but they want to test to make sure it’s still working properly. As the medical health officer in Saskatchewan said, they are looking to see if the clumping is simply a harmless observation or if it means the vaccine is less effective.

At this point the vaccines are on hold, they are still in cold chain (meaning they are being kept at the ready) and the hold is not a recall or anything like that. Best case scenario, the vaccines are working perfectly and clinics can continue using it in a week or so.

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