With all this panic and fear-mongering about potential deaths caused by the H1N1 Swine Flu this coming Flu Season, more and more people are considering whether or not to seek out the fast-tracked vaccine. By mid October/ early November, the Government plans to start administering its first batch of the swine-flu vaccine, aiming to vaccinate as many people as possible starting with those considered to be of high priority: seniors, children, and pregnant women. This strategy is what’s commonly referred to as “Herd Immunity,” a form of disease control achieved by inoculating a large portion of the population and thereby halting the spread of the virus to those who are not immunized. Volunteers are only just now starting to test the vaccine this month.
But many recall the “Swine Flu Debacle of 1976,” where the government panicked and pushed for everyone to get vaccinated after only 1 reported death. The anticipated epidemic never really broke out and many people who got vaccinated developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing neuromuscular disorder that killed and/or crippled people both young and old. The 1976 Swine Flu threat was one that never materialized. The vaccine became the true villain.
Yet, the 2009 Swine Flu is different from the debacle of 1976. Today, reports of confirmed cases are widespread and according to the US Centers of Disease, as of August 20th, there have been 522 swine flu related deaths. Of those deaths, many had pre-existing health conditions, but some were relatively young and healthy. As alarming as that may sound, that is quite typical for flu related deaths. The reality is that even the young and healthy can succumb to the seasonal flu.
On average, 35,000 Americans die each year from seasonal flu-related illnesses. So what about the media reporting the prediction of 90,000 Swine Flu Deaths in the US this fall? Even the Centers for Disease Control representatives emphasize that it should not be considered a “prediction,” but rather, a “worst case scenario.” WebMD reports that Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, explained the scenario as not very likely, but that it will help “justify the extensive preparations being made for the fall flu season and in pointing out areas where greater efforts are needed.” In addition, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced, “”We will not know until the middle of flu season how serious this is.”
So the question remains, should you get vaccinated against the Swine Flu? The answer is complicated and varies from individual to individual.
Any time you get a vaccination, you are putting preservatives and additives in your body – some may include diluted forms of aluminum and formaldehyde. More often than not, the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the risks.
With 5 pharmaceutical manufacturers working hard to develop Swine Flu vaccines, each using a variety of ingredients and manufacturing methods, it is hard to know what is being used and why. Will there be a live weakened virus’ in the vaccine? Will there be squalene-containing adjuvants? Will there be a series of shots or just one? Is there an indemnity agreement, as there was in 1976, which protects the pharmaceutical companies if the vaccine proves to be dangerous or, worse, lethal? Can we be reassured that those who receive the vaccine will not contract Guillain Barre Syndrome as many did in 1976?
The answers to those questions are difficult to find in the collection of information surrounding H1N1 vaccine production. Contradictory information and slanted facts make finding truth nearly impossible.
What is clear is that there have been many setbacks in the rush to create a vaccine, from issues of potency and safety to worries about supply and demand. The question of whether the vaccine is as safe as the seasonal flu vaccine (upon which it is based) will be answered in the ongoing clinical trials. In the meantime, we should all refrain from panic, research our facts before we act, and stick to common sense when it comes to personal hygiene.