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    H1N1 Vaccine: Examining Benefits Vs. Risk For Individuals
    By Erin Richards | October 13th 2009 12:03 PM | 27 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Erin

    I am a current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. I write for Neon Tommy, a digital news website, as a science...

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    The CDC has released 3.4 million doses of the H1N1,or swine flu,vaccine, which will be distributed throughout the 50 states. More than 251 million doses of the vaccine will be administered to patients throughout flu season. 

    Although the panic factor surrounding the potential threat of a swine flu pandemic is
    high, lethal cases of H1N1 have been relatively low. Out of the almost 30,000 cases of swine flu that have been reported, most cases are mild. As of early September 127 people in the U.S. had died of swine flu.   Pat El-Hinnawy, H1N1 Public Affairs Specialist for the FDA, says "So far, [the H1N1 virus] has not shown a very high virulence or a very high mutation rate. For most of the people who get it, it's not a very severe set of symptoms." 

    Photo credit: flickr user treehouse1977

    That's causing some experts to question the necessity of getting vaccinated. Dr. Arthur
    Douville, a neurologist from Los Gatos, California, asked, "How widely should we vaccinate against an influenza virus that is relatively modest in its effects, and which the exact extent of the pandemic we can't really predict?" Good question. When it comes to public health, there's a fine line between harm and safety. 

    Swine flu is not a new virus. In 1976 there was a spread of infections of the same virus and the government set a large vaccination program in motion. Millions of Americans were vaccinated, but many suffered adverse events such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  GBS is a neurological disorder where nerve damage can result in paralysis and loss of muscle function, potentially causing death. The vaccination program was abandoned after three months. 

    CDC developed PCR diagnostic test to detect novel H1N1 virus.  (photo by Greg Sykes, ATCC)

    Vaccination technology has come a long way since the late 70's, as Dr. Jonathon Fielding, a public health officer for the County of Los Angeles, points out. "We have been making vaccines for 33 years since then. I think the rate of complications of vaccine administration is very very small, and the benefits are so great compared to the very small risk." 

    Today's H1N1 vaccine is identical to the seasonal influenza vaccine distributed every year, except that instead of injecting the flu virus, H1N1 is injected. Both the FDA and CDC say the risks are similar to those associated with getting a vaccine for the common flu.  Arleen Porcell-Pharr, a Public Affairs Specialist for the CDC, says "We expect the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine to have a similar safety profile as seasonal flu vaccines, which have very good safety track records."  

    Samantha Ellinwood, a 1st year medical student at UC Davis believes strongly in her decision to get vaccinated, not only because her school requires it, but because she sees it as part of her obligation as a member of the health-care profession. "Honestly, the risks involved are a lot
    lower in getting the vaccine than not getting it," she said. "I am in a position where I could get a lot of people sick, especially people who are immune compromised. It's important for people like me to get vaccinated."

    However not everyone is so confident in the safety of the new vaccine for every member of society. Dr. Douville said that he is telling some patients not to get vaccinated.  "If you already have demonstrated that you have some risk of getting a Guillain-Barre like illness, then maybe we shouldn't take that risk. It depends on the risk of the disease. So far, H1N1 is relatively modest risk."

    Some critics say the new vaccine has not been thoroughly tested. There is currently a study on the H1N1 vaccine going on in Denver, CO that has yet to publish results.  Jeffry John Aufderheide, who works for VacTruth, a watchdog group, says it's too early to be widely distributing the vaccine. "The trials didn't even start until last week and they are already calling it safe. How are they able to say something is safe without testing it?" 

    The CDC is confident in the safety of the H1N1 vaccine because it is very similar to the vaccine for the common flu, which has proven not to be dangerous to the majority of the population. The CDC currently recommends that pregnant women, caregivers, healthcare and medical personnel, be among the first to receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. Additionally recommended for vaccination
    are all people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years as well as people ages 25 to 65 with health conditions associated with medical complications from influenza. The inoculation also comes in the form of a nasal spray, which can be risky for pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions. 


    A first-year med student and a member of a "watchdog group"? Seems like the author could have found more credible sources if her intent was to discourage immunization. After reading this article one wonders what reasoning was used?

    I sure could use some reliable information.

    The point of the article was not to condemn or discourage vaccination, it was only to make people aware of the risks and benefits of the vaccination. The public needs to be aware of the severity of swine flu (which is moderate in the majority of cases) and the risks of adverse events. Credible sources include experts from the FDA, CDC and LA County Public Health Office, and a neurologist. The vaccine watchdog and first year med student were to give some perspective on other poeple's reactions and feelings about the vaccine. That is how you conduct journalism, by providing a number of viewpoints, not just the "official" or expert, but by presenting all sides. Perhaps you should pay a little more attention to the actual sources, instead of the one you may disagree with.
    I did worry that the vaccine may be unsafe so I didn't get vaccinated. Every year, there are heavily-advertised prescription meds being recalled due to some horrific side effect. Did anyone conduct studies on the risks of this vaccine?

    You can sign up to get e-mail and SMS alerts when the H1N1 vaccine is available in your area at



    There is a really great website that makes finding the H1N1 and flu vaccines right in your neighborhood if you're not sure where to look or are having trouble finding them.


    Your article first states that the "Out of the almost 30,000 cases of swine flu that have been reported, most cases are mild." Now you report that has elevated to moderate: "the severity of swine flu (which is moderate in the majority of cases)". Again, I wonder where you are taking this story.

    I respect the fact that you want to write a balanced story, but perhaps with a little more research you would have found a more credible and informative group of sources. I did not necessarily disagree with the source's viewpoints, I was criticizing your choices in selecting them, as it left us with little useful information. While it is common to conduct journalism by finding 'man on the street' sources, I had expected more useful and credible information from a science blog.

    Perhaps you should take my comments as constructive criticism and do a follow up story that actually gives more substantive information about the risks and benefits of vaccination.

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    <![endif]-->The influenza vaccine is an annual vaccine to protect against the highly variable influenza virus. Each injected seasonal influenza vaccine contains three influenza viruses: one A (H3N2) virus, one regular seasonal A (H1N1) virus (not the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus), and one B virus. There is also a risk of the h1n1 vaccine causing GBS, or Guillain Barre Syndrome, which is a deterioration of the lining of nerve cells, a serious auto immune condition.  The odds of contracting GBS are about a million to one with the h1n1 vaccine.  There are h1n1 vaccine risks as there are risks to any vaccinations, but it still is worth same day loans to immunize those at high risk.
    Thanks for an interesting article. I have been put on our company's H1N1 task force to promote awareness about the Swine Flu. Our goal is to make sure people are aware of their options to protect themselves as well as to avoid "knee-jerk" reactions out of panic. Our current stand on vaccination is that people should be aware of the facts and decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated or not. Beyond that, we focus on preventing the spread of disease in general by reminding people to wash their hands often with soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitisers, avoid anyone who appears to be sick or stay home if they feel sick, cover their coughs and sneezes, dispose of used tissues properly, and use disinfectant cleaners on surfaces that multiple people come into contact with.
    Getting a vaccination is all well and good, but people who do get vaccinated should be aware that they are still capable of spreading the virus to others if they fail to follow the above simple precautions. You know the old saying about an Ounce of Prevention....

    I saw a fascinating talk by the president of the IOM comparing the 1970's outbreak with today's. His thesis - I found it pretty fascinating - was that the 1970's campaign to vaccinate everyone against the outbreak was a disaster b/c of its decision-making process. From the start, he noted that the plan was presented to Carter as either go or no-go. Carter OK'd it, and between then and the target date to develop a vaccine - a number of months - no new cases of swine flu were found.

    The point is that decision-making - particularly in the mid- to long-term future - needs to be informed by on-going developments. In the 70's, the gov't responded to the initial swine flu scare, but at the initial scare proved invalidated, they failed to adjust their plan.

    Fineburg notes that the current outbreak is more dangerous than the previous one in that - while efforts for a vaccine were underway - the bug has indeed spread and taken lives.

    At the same time, I'd still think that the weakness of the bug and its low mutation rate should be considered in current policy. It's easy to say that prevention is key, but such efforts need to be checked against the facts. Any course of action always has consequences. There is a human and monetary toll from simply producing the vaccine and giving it out. More important is the public play on fear, which can always back-fire in the long run despite being a sure-fire way to get certain mandates funded.
    My daughter and myself are both newborn ICU nurses. We were strongly urged to get H1N1 vaccine. My daughter Angie began having right and arm numbness 5 days after the vaccine. I have had no problem. We are concerned. Her limbs are either numb or have a tingling sensation. Could this be related to the vaccination and if so, what is our next step?

    Of course you want to be careful about taking medical advice from this site. Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do, unless you have a prior history of bad reactions to flu vaccine.
    It's conceivable that what you describe could be related to the vaccine - so the next step should be to have your daughter see her physician.
    Report adverse effects of the vaccine with the FDA, you can do it online at the FDA vaccinations website.
    Two years back i was infected by GB Syndrome as an after effect of a Viral fever. I got 5 day Vaccination for Typhoid, every thing went well....... after one week my both arms and limbs got a numb feeling...and i thought its gonna be alright....but everything went more worse and i cant hold pen....button my shirt......and i got admitted to hospital again as an emergency case....where they diagnosed iam suffering from GB syndrome.... it took almost one month to recover from this syndrome.

    Today's H1N1 vaccine is identical to the seasonal influenza vaccine distributed every year, except that instead of injecting the flu virus, H1N1 is injected.

    Could you please explain what this means? Thanks.

    Depending on whose figures you use, the death rate for H1n1 is either .4% of those infected or .02%. Hey folks, you've got a far greater risk of suffucating in a crowded elevator when some jerk passes gas!!

    Everyone should take a look at Jane Buergermeister's new ebook: http://www.theflucase.com

    Thanks for the interesting and useful article here. This discussion is well known for me. There are two sides: ones who say that vaccination is a must and others who say that it is not necessary at all. I must say that I agree with the first side. Maybe it is because the story which I had survived. My kid felt some strep throat symptoms few months ago so we have visited the hospital as soon as possible. The diagnose was threatening - swine flu. I was really afraid about the consequences. First two days was quite dangerous because he felt various bad symptoms, however thank GOD after few days all the symptoms wen away and my child was healthy again. After this one I am not skeptical about this flu anymore. Moreover I think that he caught the virus at school. That's because many children are going to school even if they are ill. That's because of not responsible parents. Now I strongly believe that all children must get their swine flu vaccinations. It is the only way to protect all of them. There is written that ONLY over 100 people have died from swine flu. But I wouldn't say like that. I think that 100 innocent people is quite a big number. Moreover I think that these numbers are not 100% correct. So I would say if you have a chance to get a swine flu shot - do that. For yourself and for your relatives. Let's hope that in the nearest future we won't have to face swine flu or other types of flu anymore. Thanks for the nice article one more time and keep publishing them in the future too.
    May I just point out that the H1N1 vaccine contains mercury, something that should never be put into your body in the first place. I think that many people overlook the horrible contents that the vaccine actualy has. Try google-ing "H1N1 vaccine ingredients" and see what everyone else has to say. Unless you are someone who is older or with a weakened immune system, you should NOT be getting this vaccine. If you want more cases on the risks associated with the vaccine, check out: http://remixxworld.blogspot.com/2009/11/adverse-reactions-to-h1n1-swine-...

    I am not sure you understand how it works.   
    contains mercury, something that should never be put into your body in the first place
    Virtually no aspect of our existence is possible without getting mercury.   The recent volcano in Iceland spewed all kinds of mercury into the atmosphere, which then goes into oceans and algae and phytoplankton, etc.  

    What you mean is that there was once concern that ethyl/methyl mercury might be accumulating due to vaccines, etc.   But studies have shown that the body rids itself of thimerosal (the mercury-containing preservative) 10X faster than it rids itself of the mercury you get eating fish at dinner.

    You should be lobbying against Santeria, the Cuban ritual, and CFL bulbs instead of vaccines.  We know the mercury in those can hurt you.
    that makes no sense - if your claim is mercury is in the vaccine and bad for you - then people with weakened immune systems would be less able to tolerate the shot - not more

    never mind that there isn't mercury in it - and as much as I like blogs - they aren't evidence, they are opinions

    This is indeed good to know a lot about the swine flu virus & its vaccine. This has created a lot of panic these days but now the condition is under control. shingles contagious is another disease where chances of spread is more. So it needs to be taken care of.

    This is really innovative to know about the swine flu vaccines. They are the need of today just like that in those who have http://www.checkpneumoniasymptoms.com . Swine flu is caused by H1N1 virus with carrier being pigs. So one must avoid all t he modes of infection like contact with infected patients & also avoid contact with pigs.

    I live in Elizabethtown, KY (42701). Can I get just the H1N1 vaccine and not the regular flu shot in my area? If so, when and where?
    Thank you.

    In UK, they have announced that because of overstocking the H1N1 vaccine, it will be added to the regular winter Flu jabs given to pensioners and other vulnerable people I won't be getting mine! Aitch