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Deaths following swine flu immunization not linked to vaccine, the WHO says

November 19, 2009 |  9:01 am

Pig There have been about 40 deaths worldwide among people who have recently been vaccinated against pandemic H1N1 influenza, but there is no evidence the deaths are related to the vaccine, officials from the World Health Organization said today. At least 65 million people have been vaccinated, and it is inevitable that there will be some deaths among such a large group, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, director for the Initiative for Vaccine Research at the WHO. Although some investigations are still ongoing, she said at a news conference in Geneva, "results of the completed investigations reported to WHO have ruled out that the pandemic vaccine is the cause of death."

She said fewer than a dozen suspected cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome have been reported following vaccination. "Only a few of these Guillain-Barre cases may be linked to the pandemic vaccine," she said. "Illness has been transient and patients have recovered." Guillain-Barre has been a particular concern because many cases occurred during the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, although none were definitively linked to the vaccine. That has led to the belief in some quarters that the vaccine is worse than the illness.

Kieny said that at least 80 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed to 16 countries, and at least 65 million have been administered so far. Those figures may be conservative, however, "because immunization campaigns are underway now in 40 countries. Overall, she said, the WHO has received reports of one adverse event for every 10,000 doses of vaccine. Among those reports, five out of 100 have been for serious events, for an overall rate of five serious events for every 1 million vaccinations. Many of those events were allergic reactions among people with unsuspected allergies to eggs.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II