What’s going around? A lot of myths about the H1N1 virus!
We’ve all been inundated with a lot of information regarding the H1N1 flu (also referred to as swine flu), and it can be hard to know what to believe. I must admit, even I have found it confusing to sift through all the headlines and the hype. And, of course, there are all those e-mails floating around warning of government conspiracies, pharmaceutical greediness and toxic ingredients!
1. Will there be a mandatory vaccination for the H1N1 virus? I’ve had several patients come to me, worried that their children will be forced to have the H1N1 vaccine. Well, don’t worry! I have personally spoken to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and he assured me that this simply would not happen; the government will NOT force anyone to be vaccinated. I think this rumor got started because there have been some PRIVATE hospitals requiring their critical care staff to be vaccinated.
2. Should we really worry about H1N1? I’ll admit, in the past, I haven’t been too concerned about getting the seasonal flu as it was mainly a problem for the elderly. I didn’t see many of my patients coming down with serious cases of flu, and it was easy to predict which of my patients were at risk for flu complications, so we simply vaccinated those kids.
The H1N1 flu virus is different! It’s hitting kids a lot harder than any flu I’ve seen before. The number of children that have already died from H1N1 is almost the same as those who die during entire flu season. And we haven’t even started the usual flu season yet! Also, half of the children that have died did not have underlying health conditions. In other words, we have no way to predict which kids will develop serious problems from the H1N1 flu.
Sure, most people will have mild flu illness for a few days and then get better, but you can’t ignore that close to 90,000 people could die from H1N1 this year! This flu it hitting harder and earlier than most flu viruses in the past, and I’m worried that it could possibly get much worse during the rest of the winter. Hopefully all the hand washing and vaccinating advice will help prevent this from happening.
3. How do we know a new vaccine is safe? When I first heard they were working at creating a vaccine for H1N1, I was one of the skeptics that doubted this new vaccine could be safety tested so quickly. As it turns out, the H1N1 vaccine isn’t a completely new vaccine. It is actually just like the updated flu shots that are produced every year.
Each year, the CDC decides which strains of the flu to include in that year’s flu shot. The strains change every year because the virus is always mutating and changing. In terms of the H1N1 vaccine, all the main ingredients of the vaccine remain the same. The possible side effects and the safety profile also remain the same. So, the H1N1 vaccine is essentially just another flu shot.
In fact, if H1N1 had hit just a few months earlier, we could have simply included that strain in this year’s normal flu shot and there wouldn’t be all this controversy. Over the past decade, we have given hundreds of millions of flu shots, and we have a ton of safety data that we can apply to each year’s flu shot, including the H1N1 flu shot.
4. Does this vaccine contain mercury? Mercury can be used as a preservative in the multi-dose vials of all the flu shots, including the H1N1 vaccine. Mercury is NOT in the single-use vials of the shots or the nasal spray vaccine.
Over the last decade, mercury has caused a great deal of concern for parents. The main concern used to be that a baby would get a small dose in EACH of the numerous vaccines they received and that would add up to a dose that was higher that what is considered safe. Luckily, mercury has been removed from all the other shots that kids get, so the small dose they might get in the flu shot is much less worrisome. Parents who wish to avoid any mercury can ask for the H1N1 vaccine from a single-use vial or use the nasal spray.
5. Does the H1N1 vaccine contain adjuvants? It really annoys me that some of the e-mails going around warn that the flu vaccines contain dangerous adjuvants like squalene and aluminum. These ingredients are NOT in any of the seasonal flu shots or H1N1 flu shots available in the United States!
An adjuvant is an ingredient that is added to a vaccine to help generate a stronger immune response to the vaccine, which helps prevent disease. The use of adjuvants in vaccines has been carefully studied in Europe, Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO), and no safety concerns were found.
One extra point here: the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Web site states that since there is no safety data on the use of adjuvanted vaccines in pregnant women, Canada is ordering several million doses of NON-adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine. And, by the way, squalene is also found in olive oil, so maybe it isn’t as scary as some people think.
6. The swine flu vaccine in 1976 caused a lot of health problems, so do I need to worry about this one? Yes, the 1976 vaccine caused an unfortunate number of health problems, including a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The 1976 vaccine was very different than today’s H1N1 vaccine, both in the strain of the virus used and in the manufacturing process. The vaccine we use today does not cause these same problems.