The top public health official at the World Health Organization is urging countries to stop using the swine flu vaccine for other purposes and says they must offer a safer, alternative shot.
The remarks Thursday by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus come ahead of a vote at the Geneva-based agency on the merits of using a CDC-recommended booster to treat the flu that made its way into parts of the country last winter.
“When you buy a drug, you buy a drug, not a toy,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva.
Ghebreyesus said his agency decided there were “significant limitations” with the previously approved vaccine for boosting defenses against the influenza virus. He said it can cause severe reactions.
“Unfair. Unethical. It’s immoral to market a vaccine that could cause harm. Because the vaccination is not protected, and so if any harm were to happen, it would be a far bigger liability than selling the original flu vaccine.”
CDC recommended midseason flu vaccine as insurance and to spur up to 20 million more doses of vaccine to prevent what was a severe outbreak last year in the US. During the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009-2010, U.S. officials advised healthcare workers to get vaccinated.
The CDC stepped in last winter when the flu hit hard in the US, in part because it feared the regular flu season would be so severe that a shot could be out of stock and serious flu outbreaks would continue.
While the CDC was aware of possible complications from the second version of the H1N1 vaccine, it had no data or experience with it.
It notes that health systems may be more vigilant if shots are unsafe, but could also suffer if a school or community wasn’t equipped to cope with a severe flu outbreak.
A New York emergency room physician told the federal government last year that he had to refer in a patient with the second version of the vaccine who got a severe reaction.
“Vaccines are not toys. No one uses them to buy toys,” Tedros said.