19 May 2017- MEDIA RELEASE
2017 Influenza vaccine safety confirmed by Australian-first vaccine safety surveillance system
AusVaxSafety introduces active safety surveillance of vaccines across the country to provide real-time monitoring and boost confidence in immunisation
New data released by the AusVaxSafety program have shown the 2017 influenza vaccines to be safe, with no significant, unexpected or unusual reactions experienced by the close to 40,000 adults and children who have been vaccinated and participated in the program to date. It is now flu season and this system tells us the vaccines available this year are safe.
The results of a recent poll of Australian parents found that almost 9 in 10 parents (88 per cent) are unsure about the safety of the flu vaccine. Our data, straight from parents whose children have been vaccinated, tells us the 2017 influenza vaccines are safe.
For the first time in Australia, AusVaxSafety, a ground-breaking national vaccine surveillance system, is now monitoring, in real-time, the effects of vaccines on Australians of all ages in over 150 ‘sentinel’ sites across the country. These include general practices (GPs), Aboriginal Medical Services, immunisation clinics and hospital clinics. Led by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), this cutting-edge system actively monitors vaccine safety and aims to increase public confidence in immunisation.
The AusVaxSafety system utilises de-identified information provided directly by the people who receive the vaccines (or their parent or carer). The majority of responses are sought via an SMS sent from the patient’s immunisation clinic or GP using the automated SmartVax or Vaxtracker software at around 3 days after a vaccination. This form of active vaccine safety surveillance has not been implemented on this scale in Australia or internationally before.
The Deputy Director of NCIRS and paediatric infectious disease consultant, Associate Professor Kristine Macartney, has said, “Influenza is a serious disease in people of all ages and is the leading cause of hospitalisation due to a vaccine-preventable disease in Australian children under 5 years. The Australian government recommends everyone from 6 months old be vaccinated against influenza.”
“This robust vaccine safety surveillance mechanism is an active way of making sure vaccines perform as safely as we expect them to, and also serves as an early warning system for any unexpected outcomes. We are delighted to see such positive and encouraging feedback about AusVaxSafety. On average, we have a 70% response rate within 3 to 4 days of sending an SMS which is fantastic to see”, she added.
“Vaccine-preventable diseases can impact us all, resulting in numerous doctor's visits, hospitalisations and premature deaths. With AusVaxSafety now established, the community can feel confident that an active system is in place to monitor vaccines”, said Karen Orr, Clinical Nurse Consultant specialising in immunisation and paediatrics at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney.
15 May 2017 - NSW Doctor article - Advances in vaccination safety
Australia’s landmark system to monitor adverse reactions is increasing patients’ confidence in the safety of vaccines
Click here to read the article
AusVaxSafety, which actively monitors the safety of vaccines using SMS-feedback and email from recently vaccinated children and adults, is helping to ensure public confidence in taking up vaccination.
AusVaxSafety is a collaborative initiative led by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.
Currently established in 130 sentinel immunisation providers across all states and territories, AusVaxSafety will expand to more than 200 sites in 2017. General practices, hospital and community-based clinics, and Aboriginal Medical Services are participant partners.
The idea for the monitoring system was sparked in 2010, after a number of children suffered fever and febrile convulsions after receiving one brand of the flu vaccine (Fluvax and Fluvax Junior). There have been no safety concerns with the use of other brands of flu vaccine in children.
Despite withdrawing that brand of vaccine, many parents lost confidence in the flu vaccination. Research conducted by Professor Christopher Blyth of the Telethon Kids Institute revealed that in Western Australia, vaccine uptake was substantially reduced in the following 2 years.
These reactions prompted different groups across the country to develop a way to monitor adverse reactions to vaccinations, particularly in children.
Traditionally, it’s been left up to parents (or patients themselves) to report adverse reactions to a vaccination to their GP. This passive reporting system then relied on GPs to make a report to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
In light of the events of 2010, several medical professionals identified the need for a more proactive reporting system that recorded how vaccination was performing across the population in real-time.
Dr Alan Leeb, a GP in Western Australia, set up a system called SmartVax that uses text messaging and clinical data extracted from existing medical practice management software to actively contact patients who have received a vaccination, to enquire whether they had experienced any adverse reactions.
Meanwhile Professor Mike Gold set up another active monitoring system in South Australia, and a similar system called Vaxtracker was established in NSW by Professor David Durrheim.
Recognising the value in monitoring vaccine safety, the Australian Government called for tenders to conduct surveillance of influenza vaccination in children aged under 5 for the next 3 years.
NCIRS won the tender. Now, using SmartVax as the main data collection tool in general practice, AusVaxSafety receives and analyses de-identified data from all states and territories and reports this to the Department of Health and TGA. AusVaxSafety currently monitors the safety of influenza vaccine in all ages (during the influenza season), pertussis vaccines in toddlers and young children, and zoster vaccine in adults.
SmartVax is a software program, designed to actively monitor the safety of all vaccines given in general practice and vaccination clinics via SMS and smartphone technology. When a practice uses SmartVax, an automated text message is sent to patients 3 days after their vaccination asking whether they experienced a reaction. Patients who respond ‘yes’ are sent a question about the severity of the reaction, and a survey. Many states and territories offer specialist vaccine adverse events clinics for patients who experience a reaction. Patients who experience a significant reaction can be referred by their GP to specialist vaccine adverse events clinics. For more information, contact the NSW Immunisation Specialist Service (NSWISS) on 1800 679 477.
SmartVax is completely free for practices. It is fully automated, and integrates with existing patient management systems. To get your practice involved, contact SmartVax via the website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the NCIRS, “Patients respond extremely well to SmartVax and participation rates are high. As well as informing national vaccine safety monitoring, the use of SmartVax in practices helps GPs with their duty of care following vaccination.”
NCIRS provides reports regularly to the Department of Health, TGA and vaccine safety experts and clinicians throughout Australia. Any safety concerns are reviewed by the NCIRS Expert Leadership Group, and there are mechanisms in place to follow-up safety concerns through more detailed data analysis and clinical follow-up of patients.