A “perplexing” Canadian study linking the H1N1 virus to seasonal flu shots is throwing the nation’s influenza plans into disarray and straining public faith in the government agencies responsible for protecting Canada’s health.
Distributed for peer review last week, the study confounded infectious-disease experts in suggesting that people vaccinated against seasonal flu are twice as likely to catch swine flu.
The paper is under peer review, and lead researchers Danuta Skowronski of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and Gaston De Serres of Laval University must stay mum until it’s published.
So far, the study’s impact is confined to Canada. Researchers in the United States and Britain have not reported the same phenomenon. Marie-Paule Kieny, the World Health Organization’s director of vaccine research, said last week the Canadian findings were an international anomaly and could constitute a “study bias.”
Met with intense early skepticism both in Canada and abroad, the paper has since convinced several provincial health agencies to announce hasty suspensions of seasonal flu vaccinations, long-held fixtures of public-health planning.
“It has confused things very badly,” said Dr. Ethan Rubinstein, head of adult infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. “And it has certainly cost us credibility from the public because of conflicting recommendations.