Fourteen cases of adverse reactions have been reported by Chinese health authorities as the world's first mass H1N1 vaccination program got underway.
Students who will join the National Day parade are among the country's first batch of receivers of H1N1 vaccinations. [China Daily]
About 39,000 residents in Beijing had been vaccinated by Tuesday afternoon.
Four of the adverse reactions might be related to the vaccine, which registered one adverse reaction out of every 10 recipients during the clinical trial, similar to that of the seasonal flu shot, Liang Xiaofeng, director of the immunization center under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said yesterday.
The side effects have all been mild, including pain, nausea, shortness of breath and fever, he said. "We are still investigating the exact causes."
The allergic reactions can be caused by many factors, such as the individual's constitution, physiological impacts, pre-existing conditions and the quality of the vaccine, according to Liang.
"The 14 cases with side effects had nothing to do with vaccine quality," he emphasized.
"The safety of the vaccine still has to be tested in mass-inoculation programs," Shin Young Soo, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said Monday in Hong Kong.
"When vaccinating millions and millions of people, there is some possibility of serious side effects," Shin said. These include paralysis and neurological damage.
As tens of millions of people in China are expected to contract the virus in the fall and winter, the government plans to prepare enough vaccine for 100 million by the end of 2009, said Deng Haihua, head of the press office of the Ministry of Health.
Starting Monday, Beijing will vaccinate around 100,000 students performing in the National Day celebration on Oct 1. Industry sources told China Daily the military might have received the shots even earlier. Nationwide, the vaccination will start after the National Day holiday, said Liang.
He also said there was still uncertainty about the safety of vaccinations for "sensitive groups" such as pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Notably, people with egg allergies, those running a fever or children younger than 3 should not be vaccinated, experts say.
"Exact inoculation plans will be decided by local health authorities based on their specific situation, then approved by the Health Ministry," he said.
The inoculation is free and voluntary, the ministry said. The priority groups for vaccination are people at key public service posts, students, teachers and those with chronic diseases. Last week, 100 medical workers of the hospital affiliated with the Armed Police in Jiangxi province were vaccinated. Vaccines have been delivered to most of the major military zones, he said.
The potentially deadly virus has sickened more than 13,200 people on the mainland, with no deaths, according to a Ministry of Health tally.
"Due to the colossal territory of the country and limitations of the surveillance system, there must be more unreported cases," said Feng Zijian, head of the emergency response department at the CDC.