Bradfield Resident

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Posts Tagged ‘Professor Robert Booy’

Wed 26 Aug 09 | Sunrise (Channel 7) | Swine flu vaccine safe?

Posted by bradfieldresident on 27 August 2009

Sunrise Video Segment

On Wednesday morning there was a segment on Channel 7’s Sunrise program about the swine flu vaccine ordered by the Australian Government. Sunrise host Melissa Doyle spoke with Professor Robert Booy.

Video: Swine flu vaccine safe?

During the segment, there are several clips showing what appears to be the actual vaccine produced by CSL Biotherapies. One of these clips is a closeup of a vial of vaccine, from which can be made out, as the vial is rotated:

Panvax® H1N1 Vaccine (split ..

H1N1 Pandemic influenza
Multi-dose vial

Each 0.5 mL dose contains:
sub-units of A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) …
15 µg haemagglutinin,
0.01% w/v Thiomersal, as preservative

For intramuscular injection

Store at 2°C to 8°C. Do not freeze

10 mL

Interesting details here are that it is a multi-dose vial, and that it contains Thiomersal as a preservative (the agent to counter contamination when the vial is used multiple times for multiple people). Thiomersal, otherwise known as Thimerosal, is about 49.6% mercury by weight, which means each 0.5 mL shot of this vaccine is likely to contain around 25 µg of mercury, or around the amount supposedly found in “8 ounces” (around 220g) of commercially fished fish (see Mercury in Vaccines).

Injecting a substance directly into the bloodstream is certainly different to ingesting that substance, but it is not clear if this small amount of mercury (which apparently metabolises as ethylmercury, not the “more dangerous” methylmercury), on its own, is of particular concern. In the US, children are subjected to a barrage of vaccines – dozens, in fact – so whilst a single dose is perhaps not a lot, one should consider the effects of bioaccumulation of a large number of doses (as well as exposure to mercury from other sources, including food and the environment).

What other potentially (or known-to-be) harmful substances, besides this mercury, is in the vaccine?

Meanwhile, Business Spectator carried a story from Reuters on Tuesday (CSL starts US swine flu vaccine trial), which states

“The clinical trials of CSL’s candidate vaccine will be the first to use a thimerosal-free formulation of the H1N1 vaccine antigen.”

Some people object to the use of thimerosal, which is a mercury-based preservative. US health officials say there is no evidence to support persistent beliefs that thimerosal causes autism, but companies have removed it from most vaccines anyway.

It is possible (if not likely) that, supposing this story is not mistaken about the trial vaccine not containing “thimerosal”, that this particular vaccine is packaged in single-dose vials. It raises the question as to why a no-thimerosal vaccine could not be used for the Australian supply. Of course it is possible that the order fulfillment to both the US and Australia could be different to the vaccine(s) tested in each country – raising an even further risk of the vaccine eventually used being different to the vaccine tested in each location.

Thimerosal was apparently banned in Russia from children’s vaccines nearly 30 years ago, after a Russian study found ethylmercury exposure led to brain damage, and thimerosal is apparently also banned in Denmark, Austria, Great Britain and the Scandanavian countries (source: The great thimerosal cover-up: Mercury, vaccines, autism and your child’s health).

Segment Transcript

(Transcript by Bradfield Resident; report errors/omissions to

Time (indicated on video) at start of segment: 7:12am.

Melissa Doyle: Well is the swine flu vaccine safe? More than half of GP’s surveyed in the UK will refuse it for themselves, because trials have been rushed [1]. Now, our government has ordered 21 million doses of the vaccine. They’ll be given to 4 million at-risk people first, next month. Well so far 132 people have died from swine flu in Australia – that’s compared to 50 deaths in a normal flu season [2] – and we are being warned that a second wave of infections could hit by Christmas. Well, infectious diseases expert, Professor Robert Booy, joins us now, he’s from Westmead Children’s Hospital. Good morning to you.

Panvax® H1N1 Vaccine packaging

Panvax® H1N1 Vaccine packaging

Professor Robert Booy: Good morning.

Mel: The testing of the swine flu vaccine: has a not enough been done? Has it been rushed through?

Booy: Not at all. We’ve got experience with making a vaccine exactly the same as this for 40 years [3], and every year we have about a 5 month period in which we change from one type to another because the strain has changed a little bit. Same thing this year: we’ve had 5 months [4], we’ve made a new vaccine, so it’s hardly any different to what we normally do [5].

Mel: So why then are these doctors in the UK – half of them saying they don’t wanna take it, because to us, sort of mere mortals – we(‘ve) have no medical knowledge – and if a doctor says, “I don’t wanna take it,” then, of course, we’re gonna go, “oh, my gosh.”

Booy: Well, there’s a wrong perception out there that the disease is mild. When people actually see the, the duality, the double-truth, that there’s a lot of people get it mildly, but we cannot predict that small number, but an important small number, who will get it severely, and it’s not just in people with an underlying medic.. medical condition. So, people need to get better informed, including doctors. [6]

Panvax® H1N1 Vaccine vial closeup showing label

Panvax® H1N1 Vaccine vial closeup showing label

Mel: So how do you.. what, what are we gonna to do, I mean, if people are worried and they hear this – and particularly if pregnant women are at risk – and if you’re pregnant you don’t, I mean, you know, most women skip coffee and alcohol, so you’re hardly gonna go and have a vaccine that might have a risk.

Booy: Well, ah, this, ah, virus is a threat not only to the pregnant mother but also to the baby, and so when pregnant mums think about that, not only their health but their baby’s health, they’ll think, well, “this is something worth having.” [7]

Mel: Well then, if I spin it ’round, what’s the worst that can happen; if you have the vaccine, and, if there are some problems with it, that it’s not a hundred percent safe – I’m not saying it isn’t, but – what’s the worst that can happen to you? What are some of the risks or the side-effects that you might get?

Booy: Sure. Well it’s fairly common to get a sore arm, some swelling and redness, but the rare things that can happen, probably in the order of one in a million, is you can get a form of paralysis, where the, the hands and the legs stop working, and you usually recover from that but not always. So that’s one thing that people worry about, but that’s a one-in-a-million risk, compared with the one-in-a-thousand risk or greater of getting a very serious side-effect from the disease. [8]

Mel: So, I guess, just to conclude on that, where do we go, I mean if we’re hearing stats out of the UK of doctors saying, at this stage, “no,” how do we make an informed decision if the vaccine’s about to come on the market in a couple of weeks?

Booy: Well everyone should research this for themselves, seek the very best information…

Mel: But where from? Where from? I mean, with all due respect, I’ve got no idea. Where would I start? [9]

Booy: Well, I, I work at the National Centre for Immunisation Research, we have a website; the Government Department of Health has a very good website; there are websites in the United States that are providing very up-to-the-date information; the Center for Diseases Control – all of those are very worthwhile places to go to. [Finishes smiling] [10]

Mel: Okay, so they’re all being a little unnecessarily worried. Quick question before we finish: [11] a piggery in southern Queensland has been placed under quarantine, um, they’re saying that the pigs’ve – that the disease is spreading through pigs. So, does this mean then that there is any risk at all to us eating pork?

Booy: (yeah) The way that pork is presented, the way that we get pork from the shop, there’s absolutely no risk. It’s actually the pigs who are at risk from us, ‘coz so many of us are infected, and so few of them have been infected, so they’re the ones who should be worried.

Mel: Okay, so you’re telling me this morning, “pork’s safe, the vaccine’s safe, it’s all gonna be okay?”

Booy: Well, I think so, I mean all vaccines have risks, and you have to weigh those things up, but the risks from the vaccine are far less than the risks from the disease. [12]

Mel: Alright. Professor, thank-you so much for that; ‘ppreciate your time this morning.

Notes and comments

[1] Results of a Healthcare Republic poll released on Monday showed 29% of the 216 (UK?) GPs who responded said they “would not opt to receive the swine flu vaccine”, and 29% were not sure if they would. Today Healthcare Republic reported on a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong of “over 8,500 doctors, nurses and allied health professionals working in Hong Kong”, which found that “only 47.9% of respondents said that they would be willing to be vaccinated against swine flu.”

[2] It is not clear where the “50 deaths in a normal flu season” statistic comes from. According to the Australian influenza report for 18-24 July from the Department of Health and Ageing,

There are difficulties estimating the number of deaths due to influenza in Australia. Deaths coded as being due to laboratory confirmed influenza are known to underestimate the true number. Influenza may not be listed on the death certificate if it wasn’t recognised as the underlying cause. Coding of pneumonia and influenza provides an additional measure, although this will overestimate the number of deaths, as it will include other causes of pneumonia.

The median number of annual deaths in Australia, for the years 2001 to 2006, from influenza and pneumonia is 3,089. Forty Australians who died had laboratory diagnosed influenza. In 2007 (the latest year for which data has been released) there were 2,623 deaths attributed to influenza and pneumonia as the underlying cause of death. In 2007, influenza and pneumonia was the 13th leading cause of death in Australia (Source: ABS, Causes of Death 2007). Mortality figures are likely to be an underestimate due to inherent difficulties in assigning causes of death and therefore appropriate ICD codes. ABS mortality data are released two years in arrears.

Cause of death data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics under Diseases of the Respiratory System (J00-J99) for 2007 shows:

Cause of Death and ICD Code Males Females Persons
Influenza and pneumonia (J10-J18) 1160 1463 2623
Influenza due to identified influenza virus (J10) 9 11 20
Influenza, virus not identified (J11) 20 34 54
Bacterial pneumonia, not elsewhere classified (J15) 43 27 70
Pneumonia, organism unspecified (J18) 1070 1374 2444

So it seems the number of deaths due to influenza in 2007 was at least 74 persons (J10+J11), and it is expected this is a significant under-reporting. It is not clear what sort of estimate between this number and the “influenza and pneumonia” total (2623 persons), which is clearly an overestimate. The Sunrise quoted figure of “50”, however, does not appear to be particularly reasonable.

[3] Who does Booy mean by “we” here (Australia? CSL? Vaccine manufacturers generally?), and what does he mean by 40 years experience making exactly the same kind of vaccine? Surely production techniques have changed in 40 years, and one would expect, too, the resulting product.

[4] Which 5 months is Booy referring to here? Is that to the production of a trial vaccine, or to the completion of trials and commencement of general use? When is it starting? According to the CDC (Outbreak of Swine-Origin Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infection – Mexico, March-April 2009), “The first of the 97 patients reported onset of illness (any symptom) on March 17” – that is, the outbreak started in Mexico in mid-March. Supposedly no-one knew about it before then. That was only just 5 months ago this month. At what point had “we” (again, is this Australia, CSL, or the vaccine manufacturers of the world generally) decided to mass-produce a vaccine specially for it? It is believed that the WHO went to pandemic level 6 well before it was made public knowledge, but was not until some time in April.

From CSL’s website (Our expert Dr Michael Greenberg answers questions about the H1N1 Influenza Virus Vaccine), posted at an unknown date:

Three virus isolates taken from infected patients have been sent to CSL:

A/Mexico/4108/2009 E1(4/26/09)
A/California/07/2009 E2(4/26/09)
A/California/08/2009 E2(4/26/09)

These viruses re currently arriving on site for processing. We anticipate further isolates will be sent to us as they become available.

The vial label in the footage shown on Sunrise shows “A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)” which seems to match the second isolate listed on the CSL website, and which suggests the sample is from near the end of April, which would make “5 months” at least the 26th of September 2009. Perhaps this is what is meant.

[5] What is the difference? Why are we so sure that the “usual” vaccine is safe in the first place?

[6] This appears to be a misleading statement. On one hand Booy says “we cannot predict”, but on the other goes on to talk of the prediction of the people “who will get it severely”, insinuating that the “small” number will be somehow drastic (“an important small number”), even though the observed outcomes so far have predominantly been mild, and also, in Australia, predominantly affecting people with underlying medical conditions – alarmist reports have been made elsewhere that cases have been predominately in people without existing underlying medical conditions, which, on the evidence in Australia at least, is distorted hype (if not purely alarmist propaganda).

[7] This appears to be a pure appeal to the emotion of “protecting the baby”, failing to mention flipside that if the vaccine is dangerous for the mother, it is also dangerous for the baby. In fact, it is possibly more dangerous for the baby (as are the examples of caffeine and alcohol).

[8] Booy has only pretended to answer the question. Firstly, he did not answer what is the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is death. In the US in 1976, “about 500 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), resulting in death from severe pulmonary complications for 25 people, were probably caused by an immunopathological reaction to the 1976 [swine flu] vaccine” (source: 1976 swine flu outbreak). Secondly, aside from the really minor effects (a sore arm) and that one supposedly one-in-a-million chance bad effect, he didn’t mention anything. Are these really the only side-effects caused by (flu) vaccines? What happens if you encounter the real flu before your “immunisation” has taken effect? For that matter, how long should that take? If people need to have two shots, what is the situation between shots?

[9] Reality check: according to her profile, Melissa Doyle is a university-educated journalist, has been a news anchor for a Prime televisions 6pm news and a political correspondent for Seven Network, among other roles. She is likely surrounded by people who have direct access to news feeds, politicians, scientists and all sorts of public figures, and yet she has “no idea” how to find information… This is the point where you should realise you are watching an infomercial, and this is just part of the script. The two main possibilities here are that Melissa Doyle is a completely incompetent airhead (does not journalism require an ability to source information?), or she is playing the fool to manipulate the audience.

[10] Here is the part where you are basically told who to trust. Of course the first port of call is to the website for one of Booy’s own organisations. Observe that grants into the hundreds of thousands of dollars are awarded for research that Booy conducts, so it cannot be said that he does not have a financial motive in the whole vaccination / immunisation story. It should be noted here that vaccination and immunisation are not the same thing – vaccines are administered ostensibly to provide immunisation, but vaccines do not provide “immunity” from disease. They have in the past been used to actually spread disease, and still do today. See, for example, Mutant Polio Virus Spreads in Nigeria, 14 August 2009:

Nigeria and most other poor nations use an oral polio vaccine because it’s cheaper, easier, and protects entire communities.

But it is made from a live polio virus – albeit weakened – which carries a small risk of causing polio for every million or so doses given. In even rarer instances, the virus in the vaccine can mutate into a deadlier version that ignites new outbreaks.

The vaccine used in the United States and other Western nations is given in shots, which use a killed virus that cannot cause polio.

So when WHO officials discovered a polio outbreak in Nigeria was sparked by the polio vaccine itself, they assumed it would be easier to stop than a natural “wild” virus.

They were wrong.

In 2007, health experts reported that amid Nigeria’s ongoing outbreak of wild polio viruses, 69 children had also been paralyzed in a new outbreak caused by the mutation of a vaccine’s virus.

Back then, WHO said the vaccine-linked outbreak would be swiftly overcome – yet two years later, cases continue to mount. They have since identified polio cases linked to the vaccine dating back as far as 2005.

This suggestion that vaccines administered by shots are safer is also of concern; earlier this year, Baxter International “accidentally” delivered 72kg of vaccine material “unintentionally” and “unknowingly” contaminated with an extremely deadly, live avian bird influenza virus to some 18 countries across Europe from a Baxter facility in Austria.

[11] After Booy delivers the list of places to look for “trusted” information, Mel here, fairly quietly, dismisses all the audience’s fears about the swine flu vaccine as a little bit of silliness and very quickly moves on to change the subject before the viewer really has a chance to think about it. The gap between the sentences was incredibly short, and shows us that Mel isn’t the incompetent airhead who wouldn’t know where to look for information. The remainder of the segment distracts the audience from thinking about the possible dangers of the flu vaccine to instead have some sympathy for the poor pigs who should be afraid of us making them sick.

[12] Yep, everthing’s gonna be alright. Please do check it for yourself (you do know how to check for yourself, don’t you? I told you where to look just a minute ago). And finishing off, just reminding you that the risks of the disease are much worse than the risks of the vaccine, even though I didn’t really explain what they are.

Seriously, though, please do some personal research. Bradfield Resident doesn’t know the answers, but knows there are a lot of questions. When it comes to the “hard science”, it really is hard (perhaps impossible) to know what to believe, who to trust, how to interpret it and so on. Science, however, is not the only angle you should be researching. Vaccines have a history that involves people, corporations, governments and lots of money. Vaccines being used to cause illness is a very plausible scenario – some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world are pharmecutical companies… They need customers, and lots of them.

Bradfield Resident
Wednesday 26 – Thursday 27 August 2009

Posted in Baxter International, Commentary, CSL Biotherapies, Pandemic A(H1N1)v 2009, Swine Flu 1976, Thimerosal/ Thiomersal/ Thimersol/ Merthiolate, TV, Vaccines | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »