28 March 2004
Source: Stuff National News
By DONNA CHISHOLM
The Education Ministry is offering staff free garlic and echinacea tablets to ward off winter ills - but immunisation experts say it's a waste of public money and have called on health officials to intervene.
She says the offer was made again this week despite the centre advising the ministry last year there was no evidence the pills could prevent flu and only weak evidence it could shorten a cold if taken after symptoms appeared.
The ministry confirmed the pills were offered this winter but a spokeswoman said she did not know if taxpayers were footing the bill.
The spokeswoman said the ministry offered the vaccine "in the interests of staff wellbeing. For those staff who don't want a flu shot and prefer alternative ways of caring for themselves through the winter, the ministry offers garlic and echinacea tablets".
Turner says there are potential health risks with garlic and echinacea - which were anti-clotting agents and should not be taken by people having surgery. Doctors recommend the remedies be stopped two weeks before surgery.
"We don't think ministry staff are being advised of these risks. People seem to think that because these things are `natural' that they are risk-free."
While echinacea was known to have some effect on the immune system, no one was clear how it worked.
The centre has asked the Health Ministry to intervene.