VACCINE ROUNDUP: News on Flu, Anthrax Drugs
Providing healthy adult workers with flu vaccines does not save money, according to CDC researchers. A study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association found that although the vaccine prevents many cases of the flu, it may not provide an overall economic benefit, as the cost of the vaccine and employees' time while receiving the drug outweighs the cost of influenza treatment, Reuters/Arizona Republic reports. CDC researchers followed Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Company employees for two years, administering flu vaccines to half of the participants and a placebo to the other half. The vaccine failed to ward off the flu virus in 1997-1998, but in the second season of the study, 1998-1999, the vaccine matched the common flu strain and facilitated a 32% reduction in flu-like illness among those who received the vaccine. Ten percent of the employees who received placebo shots developed the flu, compared to only 1% of those who got the vaccine. Moreover, the vaccine group had 42% fewer physician visits and 32% fewer work days lost to illness. However, after performing a cost analysis, Dr. Carolyn Buxton Bridges of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases said that "because the influenza rates were low and the (resulting) costs were low, the average cost of vaccine ... in the vaccine group was $11.32 greater than the average cost of illness alone in the placebo group. Vaccination of this population did not result in a net cost savings from a societal perspective." Bridges concluded that "if large populations are to be vaccinated against [the] flu, saving money should not be the reason" (Reuters/Arizona Republic, 10/3).
Save Vaccines for Day Care Children
A study in the same issue of JAMA found that providing day care children with vaccines prevents the spread of the illness to school-age siblings -- and consequently heads off overuse of antibiotics, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. CDC researchers, led by Dr. Eugene Hurwitz, examined children under age five, a group that frequently spends time in day care and is at high risk for the flu, with about 50% developing the flu each year. Researchers followed 127 children in San Diego day care centers, ages two to five, giving a flu vaccine to half. The team focused on the vaccination's impact on families and found an 80% reduction in "potential flu cases" among the vaccinated children's school-age siblings. In addition, those families experienced greater than 70% reduction in school absences, absences from work to care for sick children, doctor visits, earaches and antibiotics prescribed (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/3).
Anthrax Vaccine Not Linked to Illness
In other vaccine news, the FDA told Congress yesterday that "no clear patterns" have emerged in illness said to be related to the anthrax vaccine administered to the military, despite more than 1,500 reports of adverse reactions, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. Mark Elengold, FDA deputy director, made the announcement after a four-hour congressional hearing at which a "string of witnesses" attributed the vaccine to a myriad of "diseases or the deaths of loved ones." Elengold said, "There are no clear patterns emerging at this time. The reports on anthrax vaccine received thus far do not raise any specific concerns about the safety of the vaccine." He added that two years of "intensive study of complaints" have yielded "no unexpected events and no disease syndromes associated with the anthrax vaccine," noting that the squalene molecule, a potential cause of Gulf War illnesses, occurred in the vaccine in quantities "no greater than might occur naturally in the body." Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), House Government Reform Committee chair, urged further hearings to encourage the military to either abandon the anthrax vaccine program or make it voluntary. Burton also "warned" Pentagon officials against discouraging military personnel from reporting adverse reactions and offered confidentiality to any service member who comes forward ( AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/3).