Unless I discover other evidence to the contrary, my research so far says my children should get the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine. There are risks with the H1N1 vaccine, as there are with any vaccine, but the risks of getting swine flu appear to be greater. Here are a few pieces of information weighing on my decision:
-Swine flu attacks pregnant women and people born after 1976 far more often than it attacks older people, and it is more severe for that younger crowd. About 28 pregnant American women have died of swine flu.
-Swine flu vaccine is a killed vaccine so you can’t get the flu from it.
-You apparently only need one shot, which protects you in a week to 10 days.
-There may be a remote chance of a very severe side effect called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is an attack on the nervous system. The rate may be about 1 in one hundred thousand people, and it can lead to death.
-Some people could have a severe allergic reaction, including Bell’s (facial) palsy, fainting, and fever, but this is likely to be rare.
-Swine flu has been relatively mild for most people, but has required hospitalization in intensive care for others. Four thousand have died worldwide in the last six months.
-Tamiflu and Relenza are effective at curbing the symptoms and severity of swine flu. (I have three doses of Tamiflu in my medicine cabinet).
-Here’s the one that worries me: Swine flu may be able to swap its genes with bird flu (H5N1 flu A strain), which still infects some people in Asia due to their contact with chickens. Bird flu has a fatality rate that is fairly high, although I doubt it’s as high as the 60 percent many internet articles report. (Other articles say the method of calculating deaths is flawed). Bird flu doesn’t seem to spread easily from person to person (you need to have direct contact with poultry), but if it swaps genes with swine flu it may become very infectious. I don’t know how remote this possibility is.
-Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after using it.
-Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. You may also use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
-Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, to avoid getting infected by germs.
-Avoid close contact with sick people.
This is all casual research on my part. I have yet to put Silveira on the task. The internet is loaded with claims and counterclaims about the severity of swine flu, bird flu, and regular flu. I could be off-base on some of this stuff. If so, someone please correct me.
Interestingly, I’m doing my research while reading Jared Diamond’s book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” which is, in part, an account of the way various human populations have been replaced over the millennia by means of infectious germs. With the help of modern vaccines, we have a chance to stop this brutal historical process of Nature.
A year from now, we may look back on this flu season and say it was much ado about nothing. But that will be Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Right now there is a decision to be made: Do I run the risk of my kids getting swine flu that could develop into something serious at a time when the country’s health system is liable to overburdened due to an H1N1 pandemic, or do I protect them with a vaccine that could have some rare but serious side effects?
I’m opting for the vaccine, and I’m grateful the U.S. is apparently going to have enough of it. Some third world countries will not. I just hope the vaccine gets here before the swine flu does.