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Thursday, 8 April 1965

Senator TURNBULL (TASMANIA) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -

1.   In view of the recent publicity on the use of influenza vaccine as a public health or preventive medicine measure, will the Minister issue an authoritative statement on this subject?

2.   Has the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories given great publicity to the use of its own influenza vaccine simply for commercial reasons? If so, is this not more unethical than the action allegedly taken by certain drug companies so often criticized by the Department of Health?

3.   Is it a fact that mass immunisation for influenza cannot be advocated as a public health measure?

4.   Is immunisation to those at risk not wholly successful?

5.   Does artificial immunisation only give protection for six to twelve months whereas acquired immunisation gives protection for four years?

SenatorMcKELLAR furnished the following reply from 'the Minister for Health:-

1.   The pattern of epidemic influenza is becoming better understood. Every 10 to 15 years there appears to be a major antigenic change, the last having been Asian influenza (type A2) which appeared in 1957. Since then there have been minor changes in the antigenic structure of the A2 virus and these have been accompanied by epidemics of lesser extent at intervals of two or three years.

Type A2 influenza was identified earlier this year in Russia and Czechoslovakia. It would appear that the epidemic has been mild and has attacked children in the main. It is not possible to forecast with any certainty as to whether Australia will be visited by epidemic influenza this year. The Epidemiology Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, however, considers that the likelihood is present because of the fact that the infection already has occurred in the northern hemisphere. Based on the experience in these countries, any such epidemic is not likely to be severe.

The committee considers that vaccination with polyvalent influenza vaccine would be efficacious, particularly in the following groups -

(a)   Those with chronic debilitating diseases (particularly chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mellitus or Addison's disease);

(b)   Pregnant women; and

(c)   Persons over 60.

The National Health and Medical Research Council at its fifty-seventh session last year recommended that children under the age of two years should be included in the above groups. Notwithstanding that this group is at risk, the Epidemiology Committee considers that, because many such children have experienced severe reactions after the vaccine, the existing vaccine should not be used on children of this age group.

The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, in collaboration with the Australian National University, are exploring avenues for the production of a vaccine which will eliminate this danger and it is hoped that a safe vaccine for young children and infants will be available in the near future.

2.   No. The functions of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories are to manufacture and have available for the Australian community immunising vaccines against infectious diseases. When a vaccine is available for a specific disease which has a seasonal incidence, it is necessary to make this information widely known to those who may wish to use the vaccine for protection against a specific disease. This course has regularly been followed by the laboratories in relation to their influenza vaccine.

3.   Mass immunisation for influenza can be advocated as a public health . measure but, in most cases, it is not warranted for various reasons. There are special groups and communities where immunisation should be advocated as a public health measure.

4.   Immunisation with influenza virus vaccine will give about 75 per cent, protection from influenza to those at risk who have been immunised.

5.   Artificial immunisation with influenza virus vaccine gives protection from influenza for at least 12 months. It is assumed that " acquired immunisation " in the honorable senator's questions means naturally acquired immunity. Protective antibodies produced by immunisation are the same as those produced by natural infection and the decline in these protective antibodies is the same in both instances.

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