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Just the Vax, Ma'am

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Just the Vax, Ma'am

Some thoughts on the flu vaccine


Aubrey Updike was 27 years old when she came down with mild flu symptoms; mostly she was achy and tired. But after a week, she became delirious and her husband rushed her to the hospital, where she would stay for the next four months. Six times her lungs collapsed, she had a near-fatal seizure, and spent five weeks in coma. When she went in to the hospital she was almost seven months pregnant. Before she got out, she learned her baby had died. Six months after that, she was still recovering physically and mentally.

Jamie Updike was 29 weeks pregnant when she went to the hospital with flu symptoms, but her story went the other way. Her baby Jack was born two months premature, and she got to hold him just once before she herself died from a virus that many still call “just the flu.”

Joey Holt, age 7, was sent home from school with a fever on a Monday. He seemed to get better but on Thursday he took a turn for the worse, and died later that day.

Max Gomez was five years old and fine on Friday, but dead on Monday. Conner Hainer-Zavarell was 7 months old when he died. Andrea Canet, a 28-year-old from Nampa, Idaho, also died from last year’s H1N1 swine flu.

People die every year from the flu, of course, but what was striking about the A/H1N1 swine flu that swept the globe last year was its affinity for a new target­­—the young. Instead of causing severe illness mostly in those over the age of 65, as generally happens with the seasonal flu, last year’s virus was much riskier for children, young adults and pregnant women.

According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota more than 85 percent of the deaths from A/H1N1 were in people younger than age 60; the mean age of those who died was 37.4, compared with a mean age of those who die from seasonal flu of 76.

Which is why the CDC is recommending the flu vaccine for all age groups this year.

This year’s flu vaccine combines antigens for A/H1N1, A/H3N3 and the B/Brisbane virus.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the 2010/2011 flu vaccine, so a few points to keep in mind.

If you are concerned about getting a flu vaccine containing thimerosal (a preservative), note that you can request that the flu vaccine you receive be thimerosal-free. It is worth noting that when thimerosal is included in the flu vaccine, it is present in the form of ethyl mercury, in the amount of 25 micrograms of mercury per 0.5 mL dose. Compare that with the  38.4 micrograms of methyl mercury contained in just two ounces of tuna fish.

If you’re concerned about the inclusion of squalene as an adjuvant in the flu vaccine, don’t be. It is not (and never has been) an ingredient in the flu vaccine.

If you’re concerned that receiving the flu vaccine might make you more susceptible to getting the flu, don’t be. The Canadian study commonly referenced in regard to this myth involved the 2008 seasonal flu vaccine (not the vaccine currently available) and the jury is still out on that one. A total of seven studies gave mixed results: two studies showed an increased risk of getting H1N1 after receiving the 2008 vaccine, four showed no difference, and two studies showed those who received the 2008 flu vaccine had a ­lower risk of contracting the H1N1 flu.

If you’re concerned about possible side effects from the flu vaccine, understand your risk profile. If you’re allergic to eggs (vaccines are currently grown in eggs) or if you have a fever, or if you’ve previously had a bad reaction to a vaccine, then you should not vaccinate yourself against the flu this year. If those constraints do not apply, then understand that the risk of a bad reaction to a flu vaccine is vanishingly small. Quite simply, vaccines are more heavily tested for safety than nearly anything else we eat, drink, or inject in medicine. 


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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

health, flu, H1N1, swine flu, vaccines

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