Vaccinating Against H1N1 is the Right Choice
Oct 20, 2009
By Mark Sawyer, MD
According to a recent Associate Press-GfK poll, more than a third of parents do not want to vaccinate their children against H1N1. Some seem to think the virus isn’t that serious, while others are more concerned with the danger of potential side effects than that of the flu itself. As a pediatrician, the results of this poll are more than alarming, they’re downright scary.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have done an excellent job of informing the public of both the dangers of H1N1 and the value of the now available vaccine. The media has done their part too, assuring parents that adverse events will occur this year that are totally unrelated to the vaccine. Yet parents are still concerned about vaccinating their children. While many patients are lining up for the vaccine, I am spending a great deal of time each day trying to explain the safety and importance of the vaccine to parents who are skeptical.
I relay to them that the H1N1 vaccine really isn’t that different from the seasonal flu shots we give every year. Vaccine manufacturers use the same process and ingredients to develop the vaccines; the only difference is the virus strains. We change flu vaccine strains every year. H1N1 vaccine has also been tested in the same way as regular seasonal vaccine is every year. No shortcuts have been taken. The safety profiles of both vaccines are the same, meaning that the likelihood of unknown, serious side effects from the H1N1 vaccine is very, very low.
Many parents have heard about the 1976 swine flu outbreak, and the alleged link between the 1976 flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome. That link was never proven, however, and has not been seen since with more than 30 years worth of flu vaccines. I should also clarify that despite first reports of H1N1 as “swine flu,” it is in fact very different from the 1976 virus and therefore requires a very different vaccine.
Unlike seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus is disproportionately affecting children and pregnant women. It is therefore critical that these groups get vaccinated for protection against this illness. The CDC has reported more than 70 deaths among children nationwide already, and these deaths are occurring in children of all ages. I have seen previously healthy children in my hospital on ventilators because of H1N1 infection. A hospital in Austin, TX has setup outdoor tents to handle the high number of patients reporting to the ER with flu-like symptoms. We have the means to prevent unnecessary deaths among our families.
The vaccine is predictable. H1N1 is not.
H1N1 is spreading quickly and it’s only October, four months away from the peak of flu season. Why not protect your family, especially children and young adults, against this new, dangerous form of influenza?
Mark Sawyer, MD, works in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego and is Professor, Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine
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