Published October 06, 2009
The best way to decrease the amount of circulating AH1N1 flu virus is to vaccinate as many people as possible. This is known as herd immunity.
The current H1N1 though mild, has infected millions and hospitalized more than 10,000 here in the U.S., killing close to 1000, so mass vaccination is warranted.
Unfortunately, once the vaccination program starts, it will be TOO easy to blame ANY deaths on the vaccine. This happened in Great Britain with the HPV Vaccine, where Cervarix is expected to cut deaths from cervical cancer by 650 and 1.4 million women have already been vaccinated, the vast majority with no problems. Yet a single death which was later found to be unrelated to the vaccine caused hysteria.
Though the 1976 swine flu vaccine was linked to several hundred cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome (paralysis) for a pandemic that never happened, this time there is a real pandemic, and the vaccine has been well studied in clinical trials and found to be very safe and has not been linked to GBS.
This vaccine is made the same as the yearly flu vaccine, with hen eggs, and will be just as safe, with the major complication in the vast majority of cases being local irritation around the injection site.
In discussions with senior officials at the CDC I have determined that it is acceptable to give both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 swine flu shot at the same time.
The CDC also recommends H1N1 vaccines even for those who believe they have had the disease. Serological tests to confirm immunity are considered unreliable and are not readily available.
The flu mist inhaled vaccine is being released this week. Since it is using an attenuated (weakened) live virus, it should not be given to pregnant women, those with chronic conditions, or those who are immunocompromised. It has also not been tested in the elderly.
The injectable inactived H1N1swine flu vaccine will start becoming available in two to three weeks. It uses an inactivated (dead) virus, and can NOT give you the flu. It is safe in all except for those with severe egg allergies. It should be given first to health care workers, pregnant women, children, and those with chronic conditions. 250 million doses should be available by sometime in November, and I will be recommending it for all.
Swine flu parties are a bad idea. They are an example of deliberate infection to provoke immunization. Since flu is so easily transmissable, it can easily get beyond the party and spread to someone who is more likely to have a severe outcome, such as a pregnant woman, a young child, or someone with a chronic condition.
The risk of the flu is far greater at this point than the risk of the vaccine. It is still a very mild virus, but must be taken seriously, as flu is tricky, and can kill. Coming out of the southern hemisphere, whose winter just ended, the prevailing strain of H1N1 swine flu is a good match for the vaccine.
For daily updates on the H1N1 swine flu strain, twitter me at marcsiegelmd. I will post my latest articles, updates, and answer questions.
Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News medical contributor and writes a health column for the LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel's new Ebook: Swine Flu; the New Pandemic, will be published in early October. Dr. Siegel is also the author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear"and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic."Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com