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BSI response to death of Martin Gore following yellow fever vaccine

11 January 2019

The Times today reported on the sad news of the death of cancer biologist Professor Martin Gore, which occurred soon after he had a vaccination against yellow fever.  In response to this story, the British Society for Immunology has issued the following statement.

Professor Peter Openshaw, past President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“I was very sad to learn about the death of Professor Martin Gore.  He was a leader in the field of cancer biology and made a huge contribution to research in this area and the treatment of many thousands of patients.  My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.

“Yellow fever is a serious viral disease that is found in the tropics and spread by mosquito bite. The vaccine for yellow fever has been available for many years and multiple studies have been conducted into its safety and effectiveness. While overall risk of serious side-effects remains very low (at about 1 in 100,000 of vaccine recipients), it seems that people aged over 60 have a three to four-fold increased risk of experiencing these serious effects compared with younger people. However, this estimate is based on very few reported adverse events.

“This risk has to be balanced against the risk of contracting yellow fever if you are travelling to an infected area – a nasty disease with a high mortality rate. A recent publication in The Lancet concluded that the risk of contracting yellow fever in endemic areas is higher than the risk of experiencing serious side-effects from the vaccine.  The NHS advises that all people over the age of 60 talk to their doctor before getting this vaccine, and that the best way to avoid the serious complications that may follow yellow fever infection is not to travel to parts of the world that put you at risk.

“The details of the illness that led to Professor Gore’s death have not been made public and it is important to remember that everything that happens after a vaccine is given should not be attributed to the vaccine. In the UK, the MHRA is the body charged with looking into adverse side-effects reported from vaccines. They will undoubtedly conduct a proper analysis of this case to ensure it was caused by the vaccine rather than an incidental unconnected cause, such as sepsis.”