Editorial: A jab may have saved two lives

Last updated 12:58 19/03/2014

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OPINION: Immunisation is one of "those" issues. Like fluoridation and the merits or otherwise of various dietary fads, there are plenty of armchair experts ready and oh so willing to give advice on its efficacy.

Often this is well-meaning, sometimes it is credible, occasionally it might even have some basis in science. But in an area important up to the point of being a matter of life and death, it is critical that we base our decisions on the best information available.

Daile Eden's story illustrates this in the most heartbreaking of ways.

Not only did the 24-year-old Nelson woman succumb to severe influenza A H1N1 in her Stoke home early last spring, but the unborn daughter she had been pregnant with for 8 months died too.

Ms Eden sought medical help more than once during the week before her death.

She was sent home from hospital four days before her demise but did consult a doctor again on September 19.

That evening she remained unwell and was found dead in bed early the next morning by her mother.

A primary finding by coroner Chris Davenport is that Ms Eden might have survived had she taken an influenza vaccination as offered by a midwife.

Her mother Rewa says she turned it down not because of any fear of injections, but due to concern that the jab might adversely affect the baby she was carrying. The report notes this belief is "very common". It is also very wrong.

If the subsequent publicity helps to raise awareness on an issue that has been controversial and subject to mis-information blitzes that have been extreme, misleading and potentially very harmful, some good might yet come.

No-one would suggest Ms Eden's rejection of immunisation was anything but well-meaning. The tragedy is that in acting in what she assumed to be her unborn child's best interests, two lives were lost.

Though the family still has some obvious questions about her treatment, the coroner apportions no blame to the various doctors who saw her after the midwife advised her to seek expert medical help.

A frustration for the medical authorities is that for many years they have appeared to be on the back foot, defending the safety of immunisation generally from whisper campaigns and a strongly opinionated online commentariat.

There is, tragically, far more evidence for the practical - even critical - value of immunisation than for those conspiracy theories opposing it.

Medical wisdom is based on the premise that existing evidence on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines supports current policies of mass public immunisation.

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Rather than being "captured by drug companies" as some of the "anti" brigade would have it, health authorities are simply seeking to keep the community safe and healthy by reducing outbreaks of preventable diseases. Another flu season looms. The debate is topical.

- Nelson

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