Deputy health minister says no need for panic over influenza

John Bunyan
Lee said that the fatality rate for influenza infections was lower than that of motor vehicle accidents in the country. — Picture by Farhan Najib

IPOH, Jan 17 — Influenza infections are rarely fatal and Malaysians need not be alarmed despite suspected deaths from the illness, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said today.

Dr Lee said there was no need to rush for vaccinations in response.

He said that the fatality rate for influenza infections was lower than that of motor vehicle accidents in the country.

“Based on the previous influenza A (H1N1) pandemic in 2009, the fatality rate of influenza is less than 1 in 10,000. The fatality rate in the highest risk group is about 1.5 per 10,000 influenza patients.

“This is even lower than the risk of motor vehicle accident death per year, which is 2.6 per 10,000 as recorded in 201,” he told a press conference after visiting the Bijih Timah Health Clinic here.

Dr Lee said that most patients with influenza recover spontaneously without antiviral treatment and develop immunity after recovery.

“We know that when people are infected, they fall sick and become fatigued. But that doesn’t mean all the influenza infected patients need the vaccine. Only those who are older, have chronic sickness or cancer need the vaccine,” he said.

Dr Lee also pointed out that flu vaccine production is a complicated process because the influenza virus changes frequently.

“Vaccines given last year may not be useful this year. Hence the pharmaceutical companies do not keep a very large stock of vaccines.

“Pharmaceutical companies normally produce vaccines in response to outbreaks or in accordance to the World Health Organisation’s advice yearly based on the likely influenza type for the year,” he said.

“Production of vaccines takes about six months. Therefore, there is usually a lag period between influenza epidemic and availability of vaccines, but this is normal,” he said.

Dr Lee also said that the vaccine was not a controlled medicine, meaning the price was up to market forces.

“There is no monopoly in terms of supply. There are several companies that supply the vaccines and the private clinics and hospitals can choose which company that offers influenza vaccine with lower prices,” he said.

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