Medical experts yesterday warned against hasty human swine flu vaccinations in Hong Kong, as a similar programme in 1976 killed 32 people in the United States and left 400 paralysed. The warning came before a meeting of the Centre for Health Protection's scientific committee tomorrow to discuss who should receive the new swine flu vaccines first. The committee will also discuss whether seasonal flu vaccines and pneumococcal vaccines should be given before the winter flu peak. In 1976, the US introduced a national influenza campaign to immunise its 220 million population to prepare for a swine flu pandemic. But the H1N1 vaccine used at the time was found to be linked with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease in which the body damages its own nerve cells, resulting in muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. The programme was suspended after 40 million people were inoculated. At least 400 people suffered from the syndrome, 32 of whom died. A committee member said the government should gather more safety data on the new human vaccines before introducing any large-scale inoculation. The member said that if the human swine flu continued to appear mild, Hong Kong should not rush to use the new vaccines. 'There is always a risk that a similar incident like the one in 1976 may be repeated,' the member said, adding that further safety tests would take at least six months. 'If the government waits for a further date, it means the vaccination programme should not be introduced until next summer. But, of course, if the outbreak becomes very serious by winter, the government has to make a risk-and-benefits assessment.' Another committee member agreed that the safety issue should be carefully addressed. 'No vaccine or drug is 100 per cent safe. There is a risk [in] using the new vaccines, but there is also a risk in doing nothing.' University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung called for a government taskforce to study the safety of the new vaccines, saying the Department of Health had lost its credibility in drug safety after a series of incidents. He said Hong Kong should no longer blindly follow the standards of the US Food and Drug Administration or the European Union in approving the new vaccines. 'The government should stock up enough new vaccines for about 30 to 40 per cent of the population and then conduct its own safety test. If Hong Kong has no expertise or facilities for vaccine testing, it should collaborate with the mainland,' he said. Professor Ho said an investigation of the 1976 blunder showed that the risk of the syndrome among those aged between 35 and 49 was the highest. 'The age factor should be considered in deciding who should get the new vaccine.' Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok told the Legislative Council's health services panel yesterday that the government would make a decision by next month on the use of the new swine flu vaccines. He said the city would have a better assessment of the new virus if it had more than 20 cases.