Three People Dead And One Seriously Ill After Taking Novartis Flu Vaccine

Two batches of a Novartis flu vaccine is currently being investigated in Italy after three people have died within 48 hours of taking the shots, according to a report by Bloomberg. One 68-year-old man and two women, 87 and 79, reportedly died earlier this month shortly after having the adjuvanted Fluad vaccine.

The European country’s drug regulating body confirmed today that it is suspending further distribution of a type of flu vaccine manufactured by Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company Novartis, after three deaths have been tallied shortly after the shots were administered. A fourth person — a 92-year-old man — experienced a “serious adverse event” after taking the same shot.

In a statement, the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency says the suspension of the particular batches of flu vaccines serves as a precaution while further investigations on the deaths is currently being held.

In an email to Bloomberg, Novartis maintained that the batches sent to Italy, numbered 142701 and 143301, were “in conformity with all production and quality standards.” So far, there hasn’t been an established causal link between the three deaths — which happened in Sicily and Molise — and the particular type of vaccine.

Despite the suspension, the Italian Medicines Agency says vaccines are a “precious resource and irreplaceable for the prevention of seasonal flu.”

According to the Telegraph, the Fluad vaccine has been approved for distribution in 1997. However, the United States and the United Kingdom do not use the Fluad vaccine in their governmental vaccination programs.

The recent deaths and their alleged link to the Novartis flu vaccine is not a reflection of the overall effectiveness and safety of inoculation. The CDC reports that there are two factors involved in determining how truly effective a vaccine is.

“At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community.”

Although flu vaccines do not work the same for everyone who receives them, the CDC says that they are the best medical tool we have to prevent illnesses common during wintry seasons. According to CNN’s Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an estimated 79,000 flu hospitalizations and 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses have been prevented by vaccines during the 2013 influenza season.

Despite Italy’s preventive suspensions on the two batches of the Fluad flu vaccine, the local government still urges local residents to “have faith in vaccines.”

[Image from Novartis AG/Flickr]