Concerns over the safety of the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine, and the speed at which it was brought to market continue, as it becomes available to the general public amidst a massive campaign to inoculate Americans and lessen the impact of the pandemic.
Health care workers in particular are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. This group is consistently low in its participation in seasonal flu vaccine programs. Should the pandemic affect a large number of health care workers, the system could easily become overwhelmed, putting us all in danger. Consequently, some health care systems are requiring their employees to get the vaccine, resulting in a backlash and a call for freedom of choice. There is no mandate requiring individual Americans to get the vaccine against their wishes.
With distrust of the federal government running high and rumors and conspiracy theories swirling about the safety of the vaccine, just how many Americans will seek to get the vaccine is anybody’s guess. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that particular high-risk groups receive the H1N1 vaccine as soon as possible:
* pregnant women
* people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months old
* health care and emergency medical services personnel
* persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old
* people 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will work with state and local health officials to monitor and investigate any unusual reactions to the vaccine, but it is expected to be as safe as the seasonal flu vaccines that have a very high safety track record. Common side effects are generally mild and include tenderness or swelling at the injection site. Life threatening reactions are rare.
The injection does not contain a live virus, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The nasal spray does contain a weakened live virus.
The CDC website reports that, “in 1976, an earlier type of swine flu vaccine was associated with cases of a severe paralytic illness called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) at a rate of approximately 1 case of GBS per 100,000 persons vaccinated. Some studies done since 1976 have shown a small risk of GBS in persons who received the seasonal influenza vaccine. This risk is estimated to be no more than 1 case of GBS per 1 million persons vaccinated. Pregnant women should tell the person giving the shots if they have ever had GBS.”
The FDA describes the H1N1 vaccine as being manufactured using the same “approved processes used to produce the seasonal influenza vaccines.”
At this time, 27 states are reporting widespread H1N1 activity, and 60 children have died of H1N1 since April 2009. The decision is ours to make, taking into account the potential risks and benefits of the vaccine versus the reality of the swine flu pandemic itself.
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Photo: Centers for Disease Control