Should I get the new H1N1 vaccine?
Are there any downsides or risks associated with the new swine flu vaccine? With many people asking that question, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions - along with some less frequently asked ones. This article will help the reader to make an informed decision about the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated.
Just in time for the flu season, the H1N1 vaccine has started to ship around the world. With mixed messages and conflicting advice running rampant, many people find themselves unsure as to whether or not they should get vaccinated. The swine flu has claimed more than 5,000 lives as of early October, but the vaccine itself is not without risk. We have summarized the necessary facts and commonly asked question regarding the H1N1 vaccine. Should I get the H1N1 vaccine?
Are all vaccines created equal?
No. There are two types of H1N1 vaccines: the old-fashioned needle-injection and the nasal spray. The injection, often refered to as a "shot", contains fragments of the killed H1N1 inflenza virus. The nasal spray, which most children would surely prefer, actually contains a weakened virus.
Does it matter which one I get?
Yes. While the nasal spray may be preferable to children over an old-fashioned injection, experts warn that certain group of people should avoid the nasal spray. Young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened or compromised immune systems are advised against getting the nasal spray. The spray, which actually contains a weakened but living virus, could potentially be strong enough to result in serious health complications.
Are they safe?
We're not really sure. Officials at the National Institute of Health claim there are "no serious side effects," aside from redness and swelling at the site of injection - but we have been digging a bit deeper and found other facts to be aware of. A source at the NIH admitted that the vaccine(s) were one of the fastest human vaccines in development, according to CBS correspondent Sharyl Atkinson. In order to get these vaccines to market so quickly, the United States government granted "liability protection" to swine flu vaccine manufacturers. This protection allowed the drug companies to fast-track production by adding unlicensed components, some of which have been shown to cause autoimmunity in animals. In other words, you might be taking a vaccine has been licensed without normal safety regulations - and if you suffer adverse reactions, the drug manufacturer is immune from legal liability.
Aside from being rushed-to-market, are there any unsafe ingredients I should know about?
Some shots will contain the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, which some believe to be harmful to children. The CDC claims there is no evidence of this. However, a US Congressional Report on Mercury in Medicine, released in 2003, claimed that there is a link between thimerosal and the development of autism, along with other brain development disorders. Additionally, some vaccines use squalene, an immune adjuvent that causes the immune system to react in a powerful and unnatural way. The purpose is to reduce the amount of vaccine needed per dose. The American Journal of Pathology published a study in 2000 which cited a possible link between adjuvants and arthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases. Critics claim the use of adjuvants was another unsafe result of the vaccine being rushed out the door.
Are they safe for my children?
Again, we don't know. Many of these vaccines were tested on a few hundred healthy children. It is unclear how children with certain allergies or health conditions might react, as they haven't been thoroughly tested.
What if I'm pregnant?
Pregnant women are 6 times as likely to die if they are infected with the swine flu, so most experts advise pregnant women to take the vaccine. Pregnant women should only take the injection, not the nasal spray.
What does the CDC say?
The CDC lists 5 group of people who should get the H1N1 vaccine:
1) Pregnant women
2) Caregivers and people who come into contact with children younger than 6 months of age
3) Everyone between 6 months and 24 years old
4) People between 25 and 64 years old who have existing medical conditions
5) Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
So what's the bottom line? Should I take it or not?
Well, the World Health Organisation claims that 30-50% of people infected with influenza have mild or no symptoms at all. On the other hand, serious health complications, including death, have been occuring in 1% of swine flu patients. If you fall into one of the 5 groups advised by the CDC, you should probably give stronger consideration to getting vaccinated. But everyone's situation is different. There's a risk associated with getting the vaccine, and there's a risk associated with not getting it. Our advice is to educate yourself as much as possible and make an informed decision, based on your age, your medical history, and the general strength of your immune system.