Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Flu jabs for rare illnesses

GOOD HEALTH A group for the afflicted patients says the move sets a precedent, but officials tied their decision to SARS and said it may not apply indefinitely

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is offering people with rare disorders free flu vaccines this winter for the first time, according to the Taiwan Foundation for Rare Disorders.

The foundation described the move as progress in the government's patient-care policies, but the CDC said that the vaccinations this year were to prevent disease in light of the possible resurgence of SARS and that they could not be guaranteed for patients with rare disorders in the future.

"On average, patients of rare disorders go to hospital at least once a month. With the coming flu season and the added SARS complication, it is especially important that these patients are well protected," said Lin Yea-ling (林雅玲), acting chief of the medical services division at the foundation.

The flu vaccine cannot prevent people from getting SARS, although a flu epidemic would make diagnosing SARS cases more complicated.

Lin explained that patients of several rare disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple pterygium syndrome, Di George's Syndrome and most metabolic disorders, are especially vulnerable to the effects of influenza.

"Di George's Syndrome, for example, will cause cardiac, facial, immune and parathyroid anomalies," Lin added.

"Most of these patients have a weaker immune system than most. In addition, illnesses such as the flu can set off other more serious medical problems for these patients, especially in the area of cardiovascular and respiratory complications," Lin said.

Jessica Huang (洪聖惠), a public relations officer at the foundation, said, "In actuality, a pharmaceutical company had already offered to donate free vaccines for patients of rare disorders, but the foundation decided that it was important that the government take up this responsibility."

The foundation said that this year's vaccine administering was a precedent for future flu vaccine policies.

"Once it's been done once, it can be done again," Huang said.

The government, however, said that its vaccine policies were geared toward reaching high-risk groups, which didn't necessarily include those with rare disorders.

Shih Wen-yi (施文儀), deputy general director of the CDC, explained why rare-disorder patients were not guaranteed vaccines next year.

"Our main goal is to prevent an infectious outbreak. As such, we gave vaccine shots to groups that have the most impact on outbreak control. The rare-disorder patients were given vaccines since there were leftover vaccines this year," Shih said.

"For example, in addition to vaccinating the elderly, we also vaccinated health care workers and flight attendants this year in anticipation of a SARS resurgence," Shih said.

"The elderly, those over the age of 65, are given first priority for the vaccines because they are a high-risk group for the flu which can lead to death for the elderly," Shih said.

Yen Tse-chieh (顏哲傑), a CDC official, agreed, saying, "Age is just a more efficient way of categorizing those who get vaccines. If a rare-disorder patient is over 65, he or she is also included in the elderly categorization."

"With age divisions, you just look at their identification card. It can be pretty difficult to administer vaccines for rare-disorder patients. You'd have to confirm the disorder before giving the vaccine," Yen said.

The Taiwan Foundation for Rare Disorders agreed that vaccinating rare-disorder patients was more difficult than it was for most.

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