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Flu vaccine link to MS 'cannot be ruled out'

A causal link between influenza vaccine and the onset of multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barre syndrome 'cannot be ruled out', concludes a US Government-funded inquiry.

The inquiry, conducted by the US Institute of Medicine on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control, blamed a dearth of evidence for its failure to reach a firm conclusion.

Inquiry chair Professor Marie McCormick, professor of maternal and child health at the University of Harvard, said the possibility that flu vaccines could cause neurological complications 'must be given serious consideration'. She added: 'We would advise increased surveillance of adverse events associated with the vaccine in children, particularly neurological problems.'

But she stressed that the benefits of mass flu immunisation outweighed any risks.

She told Pulse: 'It is important that the possible risks are weighed appropriately against the burden of illness and death associated with flu. The current immunisation policy in the UK should continue.'

Concern over a possible link between flu vaccine and Guillain-Barre syndrome has persisted since 1976 when swine influenza vaccine used in the US was blamed for a surge in cases of the paralysing condition. Subsequent studies have also suggested a possible link to other demyelinating diseases such as MS.

The inquiry report confirmed a probable causal link between the 1976 vaccine and GBS and said it was impossible to 'accept or rule out a causal relationship' between vaccines used in subsequent years and the onset of GBS.

It also could not rule out the possibility that flu vaccine may trigger the onset of MS although it said the evidence suggested the vaccine did not trigger relapses in patients already diagnosed.

Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the Cochrane Vaccine Field in Rome and a former UK GP, said: 'This will scare patients unnecessarily. The trouble with IoM reports is that they are descriptive reviews of the evidence ­ in other words yesterday's methods.'

RCGP immunisation spok-esman Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, refuted any link between MS and influenza vaccine and said the risk of acquiring GBS from the flu jab was 'one in a

million'.

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