Estimating background rates of Guillain-Barré Syndrome in Ontario in order to respond to safety concerns during pandemic H1N1/09 immunization campaign
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BACKGROUND: The province of Ontario, Canada initiated mass immunization clinics with adjuvanted pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine in October 2009. Due to the scale of the campaign, temporal associations with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and vaccination were expected. The objectives of this analysis were to estimate the number of background GBS cases expected to occur in the projected vaccinated population and to estimate the number of additional GBS cases which would be expected if an association with vaccination existed. The number of influenza-associated GBS cases was also determined. METHODS: Baseline incidence rates of GBS were determined from published Canadian studies and applied to projected vaccine coverage data to estimate the expected number of GBS cases in the vaccinated population. Assuming an association with vaccine existed, the number of additional cases of GBS expected was determined by applying the rates observed during the 1976 Swine Flu and 1992/1994 seasonal influenza campaigns in the United States. The number of influenza-associated GBS cases expected to occur during the vaccination campaign was determined based on risk estimates of GBS after influenza infection and provincial influenza infection rates using a combination of laboratory-confirmed cases and data from a seroprevalence study. RESULTS: The overall provincial vaccine coverage was estimated to be between 32% and 38%. Assuming 38% coverage, between 6 and 13 background cases of GBS were expected within this projected vaccinated cohort (assuming 32% coverage yielded between 5-11 background cases). An additional 6 or 42 cases would be expected if an association between GBS and influenza vaccine was observed (assuming 32% coverage yielded 5 or 35 additional cases); while up to 31 influenza-associated GBS cases could be expected to occur. In comparison, during the same period, only 7 cases of GBS were reported among vaccinated persons. CONCLUSIONS: Our analyses do not suggest an increased number of GBS cases due to the vaccine. Awareness of expected rates of GBS is crucial when assessing adverse events following influenza immunization. Furthermore, since individuals with influenza infection are also at risk of developing GBS, they must be considered in such analyses, particularly if the vaccine campaign and disease are occurring concurrently.
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