I think it would be a mistake, especially if you are a parent, to not get the H1N1 vaccine for you and your children. I actually think “dumb” is the correct word, as in, “It would be really dumb not to get it,” but I’ll stick with “mistake” in keeping with my general intellectual optimism with other people. There are many great points for why you should get it, points which demonstrate that you or your child’s health is at much greater risk from the disease than it is from the vaccine. So where is all this fear coming from, and why are people not investigating the matter further?
With only 11 million out of 40 million estimated doses actually delivered so far, chances are this question doesn’t need to be answered right away. There simply isn’t enough vaccine to go around yet. This, it seems, is because it takes longer than expected to produce the vaccine. Meanwhile, a lot of time has been given to those who say it’s a bad idea, and lot of people are listening.
I’ve seen a few parents now asking for advice on Facebook on whether or not they should get the vaccine for themselves and their children. I think, unfortunatley, they’re getting more of a poll then a real answer. Four against, Three in favor…they nays have it! I’m going to try to sort through some of this, but my simple answer (after my own investigation) is, “Yes, getting it is the smart decision.” In a brief piece he wrote for the New Yorker, Michael Specter talks about the disease, the vaccine, and the fear that is leading people to decide against getting it, and I’ll be taking a few of his points in my own commentary.
Let me start by saying that I believe that, especially as a parent, fear, skepticism, and caution are perfectly natural, appropriate when considering how best to preserve the health of your child. This is what a smart animal does. Something that is uncertain seems scary, so we fight it or run from it. This, more often than not, keeps us safe from dangerous animals and cliffs and hot things, etc. However, as humans, we have the gift of rational thought, and the benifit of then being able to study and examine something to see if it really is dangerous. I think a lot of people are missing this second step, and are confusing mob fear with rational investigation. Hearing, “This isn’t safe,” from lots of people, isn’t the same as looking into it. As yourself: What is a vaccine? How is it tested? How is it effective? What makes it safe? What are the risks? Is this vaccine different from others, if so, how? These are the real questions.
So let’s look at what’s causing the fear:
We have this vaccine which can help prevent the contraction of H1N1. A vaccine works by giving the body a small, weakened dose of the disease, or a completely dead version. Your body’s immune system then has the opportunity to safely examine the disease and build up antibodies, which are convenient little chemicals that will identify and destroy any new introductions of the disease without the risk of your body becoming overwhelmed and actually sick.
The biggest questions I’ve seen about this vaccine’s safety comes in two forms. 1) This vaccine has been rushed and not tested to be 100% safe and 2) vaccines in general aren’t very safe and can cause more problems then they are worth.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) lists this vaccine as being as safe as the normal, yearly influenza vaccine. It has it’s potential risks. If you’re already sick, have underlying chronic conditions or are alergic, then this may not be the shot for you. If you are healthy, incidences of problematic side-effects are extremely rare. Most side effects are a little tenderness where you got the shot, or some redness, the kinds of side effects that they have to list for the point of professionalism, but aren’t actually interesting enough to warrant a conversation.
This being said, if you trust the normal flu-shot, you shouldn’t be afraid of the H1N1 vaccine. It was made and tested in the same rigerous fashion as the normal flu vaccine. THE SAME WAY. It is super interesting to note that, had development of this vaccine began just a few months earlier than it did, there would be no separate shot; it would just be included in the normal, annual Flu-shot. You wouldn’t even have to wonder about some special, second shot, and is it safe. You would just have to decide if this is the year to get the flu-shot. This is further testament to this shot being, in the scope of vaccines, no big deal.
So what if you just don’t trust vaccines? I can’t help you as much here. Vaccines are developed because the disease is worse than the vaccine. So you have to judge which would be worse, the side effects of the vaccine or the disease.
The regular flu kills about 30,000 Americans a year according to what I’ve been reading on the CDC site. The H1N1 is especially worrisome because it is highly contagious and, unlike the normal flu, is especially bad for kids and young adults up to the ages of 24. Pregnant mothers are at an even greater risk having of complications from the disease.
Let’s look at that again, and try to quash out any other unwarrented fears mixed in there. A potentially fatal disease, which is easy to catch, and which tends to hurt kids and young adults and moms is running around America. There is a shot which gives you your best chance on not catching it, short of living in a cabin with no visitors in Montana, though this then leads to the risk of becoming a bomber of some sort. The shot is as safe as the normal flu vaccine. The shot does not contain the infamous adjuvants, chemicals which are present in other vaccines already, which some claim it does or could contain. So, why not get it?
This leads us to another possible rationalization. “I don’t trust the government,” or, “I don’t trust science.” People, and parents especially, seem to get all weird and self righteous with this one. “Well, I sure as heck don’t trust the government to tell me what’s good for my kids.” I don’t really get this one. I think skeptisism towards government is perfectly healthy, but that, with any fear, it’s wrong to stop and not investigate things further. I”m assuming that people mean they don’t trust that an agency sponsored by the government to make a safe vaccine. (If you just think the government is out to get you, I wont try to argue you out of it, and ask that you not attend my next dinner party, as I’ll be inviting a number of FBI folk to tend bar.)
If this were a vaccine for aids I’d say, “Heck yes, let’s think about this a bit more.” Now there’s a disease that’s tough to kill. That would be, truly, a new vaccine, and I’d want to know a lot more about it. As it is, H1N1, though relatively new in the national scope of conversation, poses about the same threat as the normal flu, and its vaccine is produced in the exact same way, with no untested novelties.
As with any health matter, talk to your health provider, and make your own decision. Please check out the H1N1 site for the CDC. They will be the most up to date.
Meanwhile, seriously, why not get it? This isn’t rhetorical, I’m curious to know what you’ve read or heard that is making you think against it. People who have warned against it have shown very uncredible evidence whereas supporters, ie, CDC, WebMD, and every hospital I work with, have strong evidence to back up the vaccines safety and effectiveness. But don’t worry about that. If you’ve heard that shots are bad, cause autism (doctors now agree that they don’t), will make your kid sick anyway, or whatever, I’d like to hear it. Maybe you just think the disease wont come to you. You might be right, but that’s not the fearful parent I know and love. The smart person I’m talking about is gonna understand what the risks are, and run in the right direction.