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Australia Begins Nationwide Drive To Inoculate With Untested Vaccines

Australia has begun a nationwide vaccination drive for the H1N1 virus in an attempt to combat a possible outbreak of the disease.

The campaign, which began on Wednesday, is Australia's biggest mass vaccination and comes just a week after China became the first country to start using a vaccine to combat H1N1.

Australia's campaign will start with those most at risk in the pandemic, including health-care workers, pregnant women and the chronically ill.

Nicola Roxon, the country's health minister, said that 5.5 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered across the country, enough to vaccinate about 30 per cent of the population.

"While the new H1N1 virus causes a mild illness in most people, it can have a devastating hard edge," she said.

"It is important that people take this disease seriously and protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated."

Vaccination fears

Many have expressed concern about the vaccine's safety and the vaccination itself.

"I think people are just causing all sorts of problems to a very valid vaccination programme," said Alan Hampson,Influenza Specialist Group chairman.

There are also fears it could lead to cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease than can lead to paralysis.

However, Alan Hampson, chairman of the Influenza Specialist Group, dismissed fears over side effects from the vaccination scheme.

"The fears that have been raised about the vaccine, I think, are quite unfounded," he told Al Jazeera from Melbourne.

"Guillain-Barre syndrome has not been seen in any significant way since that time [1976] with influenza vaccines.

"I think people are just causing all sorts of problems to a very valid vaccination programme."

Australia has ordered 21 million does of the flu vaccine from CSL Ltd, a pharmaceutical company.

The CSL Group has a major facility in Australia and have come under fire for lack of testing on the vaccine scheduled to be used on the Australian population.

CSL Vaccine Packages’ Inserts Ingredients and Warnings:

CSL Influenza A-H1N1 2009 Vaccine Package
Insert Based On 2007 Approval for Afluria
(PDF)

CSL 2009 Latest Afluria Package Insert
(PDF)

Costly campaign

Roxon also defended the vaccination programme, saying she was "very satisfied ... this vaccine is strong and effective".

"It is far safer to get this than it is to get swine flu," she said.

Children under 10 cannot yet be vaccinated, but paediatric trials of the vaccine continue.

More than 4,600 Australians have been hospitalised and 172 people have died from H1N1 flu.

Australia's vaccination campaign is estimated to cost the equivalent of $87.95 million.

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