Friday, September 25, 2009

Swine Flu and "The Canadian Problem"

TV, radio, and newspapers in Canada are abuzz with the lastest studies on swine flu. According to "preliminary reports" your chances of getting swine flu are increased if you get/got? the regular flu shot. This is prompting Canadian public health officials to recommend holding off on the regular flu shot until after you get the swine flu shot ... which won't be available until November.

The so-called "preliminary data" doesn't make any sense as public health experts on Effect measure point out: Once more on the vaccine question.

The confusion isn't helped by ambiguous reporting such as this from Canadian Press: Study linking flu shots, swine flu raises concern abroad, prompt changes at home.
The data, referred to as "the Canadian problem" by some scientists outside this country, are reported to link getting a flu shot last year with double the risk of contracting swine flu this year.

The link, if real, is to mild disease. One person who has seen the study says it seems to suggest that those who got a seasonal flu shot were less likely to develop severe disease if they became infected than those who hadn't received the shot.
Say what?

Nobody else is reporting a connection between this year's swine flu and whether or not you got a flu shot last year. Part of the problem is that Canadian health officials might be basing decisions on a flawed study. That's unacceptable.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation is that the actual study may not be available for some time. According to Canadian Press ...

Drawn from a series of studies from British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario, the work is led by Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and Dr. Gaston De Serres of Laval University.

They have submitted the paper to an unnamed scientific journal and are therefore constrained about what they can say about the work. Journals bar would-be authors from discussing their results before they are published.

"For me, it's very important that we respect the peer-review process as good scientists. Because the implications ... are important," Skowronski said in an interview Wednesday.

"And if there are methodologic flaws, we need to be assured that every stone was turned over to make sure what we're reporting is valid."
This is unethical behavior at many levels. First, journals have no right to block access to essential information that's needed to make public health decisions in the middle of a pandemic. That journal should be identified and forced to defend it's policy. Second, no reputable scientists should agree to such an embargo in the first place. Third, if the journal and the scientists enter into a deal to remain silent then how come we know about this study? It sounds like the authors may want to have their cake and eat it too.


  1. It looks to me like the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control needs to revamp its employment contracts, policies and/or practices. A public body like that should not be allowing its employees to agree to such embargoes where the information is time sensitive and public health is at stake.

    Not excusing the actions of Skowronski and de Serres in agreeing to go under the Cone of Silence.

  2. re:Mike
    The peer review process is there for a reason. It is to make sure the studies were done in a way that does not skew data. If the peer review process says that the methodology is flawed the paper is rejected (which happens at a pretty high rate). If they had reported this and it turned out to be wrong, you would be furious, saying the BCCDC needs to revamp it contracts to avoid publishing data that has not be proven. You can't have you cake and eat it too. It is grossly irresponsible of the Canadian Press to be reporting anything from any lab that has not been through the peer review process.

  3. I agree with Brian.

    Btw, is there any kind of precedent for this kind of side effect from a vaccine? It sounds kind of fishy to me.