H1N1 Vaccine - Facts, Myths and My Take on the Issues
Questions, Queries and Sleepless Nights
Please Note: This article is the opinion and conjecture of the author only. It should not in any way be construed as medical advice, nor should it substitute for a discussion and informative referral by a medical professional. Please discuss all medical decisions with your physician before proceeding.
I am, by nature, an asker. I ask questions, of everyone. In particular when it comes to my health or the health of my family. I have left the occassional physician over the years not because I, in any way, felt them to be incompetent, but because I didn't feel they were willing to fully consider my various queries. I am also a natural worrier. I worry. Period. About everything. I've learned to keep it in check over the years, but many, MANY issues keep me up at night still. So, when the issue of a new H1N1 vaccine came up and I knew it was up to me to decide whether or not my children would receive it, I panicked. Then I researched. Then I panicked some more. More research, more conversations, more stressful nights. Finally, I reached a decision. I was going to vaccinate my children. I was going to ask my husband to get vaccinated (he is a volunteer EMT, and falls into one of the "risk groups"), and, when the vaccine was offered to the general public, I was going to get vaccinated. What follows are the facts that helped me to reach that decision. Perhaps some will help you to draw your own conclusions with one or two less sleepless nights than I had myself.
In this section, I will list a brief summary of my findings. This is an accumulation of knowledge from various websites, phone calls, and conversations. After endless days of searching, I can no longer substantiate each finding with a specific resourse. However, I will list below several of the websites that I found to be helpful. I will refrain from listing the ones that I found to be ridiculous, frightening, absurd or downright fanciful (and there were many!)
Novel H1N1 (also referred to as Swine Flu and H1N1) is a flu virus. Much like seasonal flu it is spread by moisture droplets in the air and direct contact. So far, novel H1N1 has not proven to be as virulent or deadly as experts had originally feared. However, it is spreading across the country and is highly contagious. It has caused deaths in both adults and children. Keep in mind that the seasonal flu causes illness, hospitalization and death in children and adults every year. (Below I will include links to the CDC's website if you would like specific numbers and percentages.) Although the novel H1N1 virus has proven to be less dramatic than the first news broadcasts would have had us believe, we are seeing a higher number of cases already than we usually see during peak flu season. Novel H1N1 can cause particular strain on the respiratory system, which is why people with asthma and other underlying conditions have been recommended as priority groups for vaccination. (Please note that anyone with any type of health condition should speak with their physician before any vaccination.)
The H1N1 vaccine is made in the same way that seasonal flu vaccine is made. I have read in several locations that, had H1N1 made its presence known earlier in the spring, the strain would have been included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Because it was too late for inclusion, it is recommended that each person recieve 2 flu vaccines this year. One for seasonal flu and one for H1N1. (Young children will require 2 doses of H1N1 spaced about 30 days apart.)
There is currently a shortage of H1N1 vaccine as manufacturers struggle to safely create the vaccine in time for the annual flu season. Therefore, the government has issued a statement that certain groups should receive the vaccine first. They have focused on groups that are at the highest risk for complications (pregnant women and those with certain underlying health conditions) and those in highly communicable areas (school age children.) According to the CDC, once more vaccine is available, the restrictions will be lifted and anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.
The health risks are similar to those associated with the seasonal flu vaccine.
The vaccine is available in shot form and in a nasal spray. The nasal spray is not approved for very young children or for pregnant woment.
The vaccine is currently available at many registered locations (in theory... more about this later).
You can contact your primary care physician or your local or state health department to inquire about vaccination locations.
You would not believe some of the things I have read while researching the H1N1 vaccine. Or, if you've ever attempted to sort fact from fiction via the intertnet, maybe you would. One of the first articles I came across had a headline that implied, nay, announced, that the swine flu vaccine was an attempt at depopulation by the Obama administration. Apparently a "high level Republican" had divulged this information. Now, I'm not going to get into political affiliation. I think this one was insulting to both parties, not to mention to my intelligence. I also read that one could acquire h1n1 from eating pork. This is NOT true. Being that the virus was originally called "swine flu," I can, at least see where the confusion may have arisen on this one.
When it comes to the most outrageous untruths, I think I can safely state that, in my humble opinion, we can all assume that our government is not out to kill us with vaccinations, and we can still indulge in our Sunday morning bacon.
Some of the other issues fall into more of a grey area. I'll try to address the 3 I came across most commonly.
"I already got my seasonal flu vaccine. I don't need an h1n1 vaccine."
This is not true. The seasonal flu vaccine and the h1n1 vaccine are two different vaccines with protection from different strains of flu. You need both to be fully protected from the flu this winter.
"The h1n1 vaccine will make me sick."
Like with all vaccines, there is a slight risk of side effects from the novel h1n1 vaccine. The risks are no higher than the risks associated with the seasonal flu vaccine.
"The h1n1 vaccine contains harmful additives."
Some vaccines contain adjuvents that heighten immune response. The h1n1 vaccine does not contain adjuvents. Some doses of the h1n1 vaccine do contain the preservative thimerosal. There has been some concern about thimerosal in the past. The CDC, FDA and American Academy of Pediatrics all stand behind the safety of thimerosal as a preservative in vaccines. If this is a particular concern to you, I encourage you to research more about thimerosal. Some of the links below include discussions on the safety of thimerosal. As it pertains to this discussion, the nasal spray form of h1n1 vaccine does not contain this preservative. The shots are being produced in two forms: single dose vials and multi dose vials. Some of the multi dose vials contain preservatives (like thimerosal) to prevent bacterial growth inbetween administered doses.
After reviewing all of this information, I realized that this wasn't about me. It was about making the right decision for my family. Like most decisions we parents take on, this is what makes them difficult. I wasn't even eligible for the first round of vaccine. I wasn't in a priority group. My two sons and my husband were. The 4 year old and 15 month old, obviously were not going to make this choice for themselves. My husband, though fully capable, intelligent and as decisive as I (ahem - let's be honest, if you've made it this far, you realize I've set the bar for decision making pretty low), would certainly be influenced by my decision for the boys. After all, I am the self proclaimed "asker," researcher and "worrier."
I tried to think about my family. My eldest son who brings home everything that goes around his daycare. My youngest, the little guy that has been suffering with a cold and double ear infection for more than a month and who has already been prescribed inhalers and a nebulizer for home use because of related respiratory issues. I dismissed the most extreme of the articles I'd come across and re-read the old reliables - articles from the MayoClinic, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the American Academy of Pediatrics. Then I re-read some of the opponents, just enough to make me consider the cons, but not enough to keep me up at night (any more than usual.)
After much reading, much research, and many cups of coffee, my concern for my youngest sons' reaction to a flu that could put his tiny lungs at risk, as well as some very practical worries about sick leave and some exhausting thoughts about any type of flu running its way through the four members of my household, I came to the decision I announced in section one.
This decision is obviously one that you must weigh yourself. I hope this article and the links below might help you on your way. Please read this and any other resources you choose to use (and I hope you do use more than mine alone) in good health.
- CDC 2009 H1N1 Flu
The CDC's website on the H1N1 flu situation. You can view cases by state, read how to protect your family and find information on vaccine locations.
- AAP - Swine Flu
American Academy of Pediatrics information on h1n1, including priority groups.
Information on seasonal and novel h1n1 flu.
- Why You May Not Get H1N1 Vaccine and How to Protect Yourself
A wonderful explanation of the facts about H1N1 and some ways you can protect yourself and your family if vaccination is not available.
- Welcome to the Vaccine Education Center | The Children\'s Hospital of Philadelphia
Vaccine Education CenterThe Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia educates parents and healthcare providers about vaccines and immunizations. We provide videos, informational tear sheets, and information on every vaccine
- :: Vaccinate Your Baby ::
Some information on h1n1. Excellent resource (pro-vaccination) for information on vaccine safety. Includes discussions on thimerosal.
- H1N1 in PA Home
Pennsylvania Department of Health's official H1N1 information resource. For more information call 1-877-724-3258
As a side note, I wanted to discuss the novel h1n1 vaccine availability. From the beginning of vaccine discussion last spring, no one was sure about how many vaccines would be available, or when. Production seems to have happened faster than expected, but not yet in mass quantity. Availability is sporadic. High in some areas, limited in others. I have had my sons on a waiting list in my area for weeks. Their pediatrician did not get any vaccine, my family doctor has ordered it, but received no word on its arrival. On the other hand, I have read accounts of folks that have walked into urgent care clinics and received a shot with no line, no waiting, and no check to see if they were or were not in a priority group.
If you want to receive the shot, or have it administered to a family member, I offer you these suggestions:
Call your primary care physician.
Call your local health department.
Call your state health department.
Search for urgent care facilities in your area.
Keep a close eye on websites for all of the above.
If any of the above offer a waiting list, or an email notification, get signed up.
If you hear of a place offering shots, don't wait. Call asap.
I consider all of the above good steps, and have taken them myself. However, I also will tell you what I keep telling myself. Don't panic. Don't lose sleep. The government sites claim that all who want a vaccine will get one, and this, like any flu can be prevented with good hygeine and staying, healthy, alert and well rested. Night after night of tossing and turning will only wear you down. For goodness sake, grab some hand sanitizer and don't be your own worst enemy!
Both my children (and my husband) have now had dose 1 of their H1N1 vaccines. My older son received the nasal spray, and my youngest and my husband received the shot form. It has been almost 2 weeks, and I am happy to report that none of them have had any negative side effects. Vaccine availability in my area is still limited, and the children must wait 30 days before receiving their second dose. I am currently (still) searching for vaccine locations so they can get the second vaccination and be fully protected. It is my hope that by the time the 30 days has passed, vaccine restrictions will have been lifted so I can get the vaccine as well.
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