GP texts to follow up flu jab

Angela Pownall
Follow-up: Doctors use texts to check flu-jab re-actions. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

A Perth doctor has set up a pioneering system to monitor bad reactions to immunisations using text messages, which aims to avoid a repeat of WA's 2010 flu vaccine crisis that affected hundreds of children.

Alan Leeb, principal GP at Illawarra Medical Centre in Ballajura, devised the Smartvax system, which texts a patient or parent of a child who has had a vaccination to ask if they have had a reaction to the jab.

If the patient or parent replies yes to the text message, medical centre staff call them to ascertain the severity of the reaction.

The Smartvax system is believed to be the first to actively monitor vaccinations in Australia, if not globally, and Dr Leeb hopes to roll it out to other surgeries nationwide.

The 2010 adverse reactions led to the suspension of WA's free flu vaccine program for under-fives after a month.

Fifty-five children with febrile convulsions went to emergency departments after having the vaccination and 196 children had milder side effects including fever and vomiting.

Dr Leeb said 350 children under five were given the free flu vaccine in his practice during April of that year.

"We just had no idea that all this was happening behind us," Dr Leeb said. "We were vaccinating them in the day, then they were going to hospital at night. It was a huge wake-up call for us.

"So we surveyed every single patient that we vaccinated and we found we had a huge reaction rate. Eighteen of our kids ended up in hospital, three had seizures, so we looked at this and thought there has got to be a better way."

Dr Leeb said the crisis highlighted there was only passive reporting of adverse reactions, often weeks or months down the track, while more people were being given the same vaccine.

"I think the processes have improved since that time but there's no active surveillance of vaccination," he said. "I looked at this and thought 'gee, you know we've got young babies coming to our practice and this is core general practice'."

The results of Dr Leeb's Smartvax system are published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.

Over 19 months, 98 per cent of the 3281 patients who were vaccinated at Illawarra Medical Centre were sent a text message asking whether they had had a reaction.

More than 72 per cent responded to the text, 80 per cent of them within two hours.