Seasonal flu shots have caused adverse reactions in 251 children under five in Western Australia, the state’s chief health officer says.

In Western Australia, 55 children suffered convulsions after having the vaccination, and almost 200 others suffered fevers and vomiting, chief health officer Dr Tarun Weeramanthri said.

The vaccination programme was suspended last week when adverse reactions began to appear.

Health authorities are undertaking urgent tests in an effort to understand why the reactions took place. Most of the adverse reactions took place in WA, but reports are now trickling in from SA, QLD and NSW.

In NSW, one child with a fever and rash and one child with a febrile convulsion have been reported to NSW Health. Both children have now fully recovered.

Earlier this month, a child aged 2 from Queensland died 12 hrs after receiving a seasonal flu vaccination, but it is not yet known if the vaccine was implicated. The coroner is investigating.

State authorities are currently working together to compile the spread of the reactions to better characterise the problem.

The Commonwealth’s chief medical officer, Professor Jim Bishop told ABC radio;

“We’ve got to keep this in perspective. We’re looking at an increase in fever causing convulsions in a state and we’ve got to work out if that’s above the baseline.”

Initial speculation was the vaccines may have been a bad batch but this has since been ruled this out, since multiple batches were used. CSL, the manufacturers of Fluvax, said three rival vaccines are available nationwide and that investigators have yet to discover which vaccine was given to the affected children.

Professor Bishop said this year’s batch includes swine flu vaccine, which was subject to thorough testing last year, and two strains of seasonal flu that were only minutely different to previous vaccines to combat slight genetic changes in the virus.

Dr Barr, the deputy director of the World Health Organisation’s influenza centre in Melbourne, said he thought it unlikely that the combination of the different strains in the vaccine would have triggered the reactions.

Dr Barr told ABC Radio that viruses produced and tested in a laboratory, then made into vaccines on a commercial scale, were ”all investigated individually for any particular differences in those viruses which might lead to some of these things we’re seeing currently, such as fever”.

The TGA is currently testing samples of the vaccines used in Western Australia where most of the reactions have occurred.

UPDATE: from the Brisbane Times

An initial autopsy into the death of a Brisbane toddler has found no sign the seasonal flu vaccine was to blame, the state’s chief medical officer has said.

Dr Jeannette Young said a series of further tests would be necessary.

During a press conference this afternoon, Dr Young defended Queensland Health’s handling of the toddler’s case and blamed the private general practitioner who administered the vaccine to the girl for not reporting it, as is required under law.

She has referred the Mt Gravatt doctor to the Medical Tribunal Board.

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