No proof to link shots to stillbirths

Ella Lee

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that swine flu vaccination will cause a higher incidence of stillbirths or miscarriages, the government-appointed expert group said yesterday after a meeting to investigate adverse incidents of the programme.

The Centre for Health Protection said it would take time for public confidence to be restored in the vaccination programme. The number of people receiving the shots fell further to 1,060 yesterday, compared with more than 10,000 at the peak since the programme started last month. This brings the number of people vaccinated to 151,481.

Only two pregnant women received the shots yesterday.

The number plunged following a series of reports of adverse incidents after vaccination. The centre reported earlier that two women, aged 37 and 33, suffered stillbirths about three weeks after receiving the shots. Five other women in early pregnancy had miscarriages.

A member of the expert group, Dr Law Chi-lim, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, said there were on average two to four stillbirths per 1,000 late pregnancies. 'We have two stillbirths out of 1,300 pregnant women who took the swine flu vaccine. The ratio is within the normal range. There is no evidence to show the vaccination can cause a higher incidence of stillbirths,' he said.

He said the risk of miscarriage was more than 20 per cent during the first month of pregnancy. Some doctors are reluctant to vaccinate women in their first three months of pregnancy because of a higher risk of natural miscarriage.

The government has bought three million swine flu vaccines and its target is to inoculate more than two million high-risk people. Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said there was no plan to sell or donate unused vaccines.

Asked if the programme was a failure, the controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, said: 'It is up to the public to judge. Our task is to get more high-risk people to receive the vaccine, and whether we succeed or fail is a matter of public judgment.'

The centre also confirmed that a private doctor had suffered Guillian-Barr? Syndrome after being vaccinated. But it could not establish the link between his condition and the vaccination. Doctors are still evaluating the condition of a 91-year-old man, who suffered lower limb weakness.