UK health officials apologise for pork gelatine blunder

vaccine pork gelatine (Gisela Francisco)

Health officials in the UK county of Leicestershire have apologised for not informing parents that a nasal flu vaccine offered to 70,000 children contained pork gelatine.

Pork is not allowed to be consumed by those of Islamic or Jewish faith, and vegetarians may also raise issue with a vaccine containing animal products. The AstraZeneca Fluenz vaccine was being used as part of a pilot by NHS England to vaccinate pupils in the region aged 4 to 10.

Parents and religious groups argued that people had a right to know what was in the vaccines being given, and that the inclusion of a pork-based substance in the vaccine showed a lack of sensitivity.

However, Dr Tim Davis from NHS England said it wasn't practical for all ingredients to be listed. “Vaccines have a lot of products in them, in very small quantities – but I think we wouldn’t normally expect to list those – otherwise it becomes a very long and complicated document.” He explained that pork gelatine was required as a protein onto which the flu virus can bind. And Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England, said that “Porcine gelatine is permissible as a transformed product, and there is no objection to its use in medicines based on considered opinions of many Muslim clerics.”

What do you think about the use of animal products in vaccines? Should the public be made more aware?

The news comes as a government committee in West Bengal, India, orders a probe into an incident that saw more than a hundred children aged under 5 wrongly receive the Hepatitis B vaccine instead of the oral polio vaccine. The error had apparently been made after the member of staff assigned to collect the polio vaccines from a local government office instead sent her husband to make the collection. While the mix-up doesn't pose any serious health threats to the children, such an error might undermine trust in the public immunisation campaign in India. The country has been officially polio-free since 2011, but such vaccination campaigns are needed to keep polio at bay.

Read more at BBC News and The Telegraph >

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