Immunization against H1N1: separating fact from fantasy

Vaccine_thriveWhen H1N1 emerged this spring I will admit that I panicked. Oliver, with his scarred lungs and damaged heart, has suffered terribly with respiratory illnesses that cause colds for us healthy people. Twice he has been hospitalized with influenza pneumonia and twice we were very lucky.

I have long been obsessed with hand sanitizer (dates back to my infectious diseases fellowship when a shook hands with some who I realized afterwards had active secondary syphilis on his hands, a story in of itself), so I doubled my efforts. I think my husband thought I was drinking the stuff because we were going through it so quickly. However, despite my cleanliness I caught H1N1. Yup, in the first wave. Clearly hand hygiene only gets you so far. It was horrible. 6 days in bed that felt  like and eternity of sweats and muscle pains so bad I felt as if I had been on the losing end of a match with Mike Tyson. But that feeling paled in comparison to my worry about Oliver. He took Tamiflu as prophylaxis and we all held our breaths, hoped, and prayed. We were lucky.

My kids were among the first in line for H1N1 vaccination. Victor could get the nasal spray, but Oliver, because of his bad lungs, could not. His screams of “I HATE SHOTS” were no doubt heard throughout greater San Francisco.

What has amazed me most about this flu season is the misinformation. The claims that the H1N1 vaccine is somehow different and “less safe” than the typical season influenza. The claims that the flu “isn’t so bad.” And then of course, the claims that the flu vaccine causes autism and any number of untold human miseries.

I have thought a lot about the people who propagate these harmful untruths. How do they benefit? Perhaps they are looking for a unifying factor on which to lay the blame for their health problems? Some of course have built their business empire around  these harmful ideas.

I know what it is like to have children with serious medical issues, but I do not believe there was a bogeyman lurking in the shadows with a poisoned stick. Prematurity, like autism, is multifactorial and studies have show that vaccination is not one of those factors.

So here are the facts. Plain and simple:

  • 171 children have died so far in 2009 from H1N1. This is much higher than typically seen from season influenza, so H1N1 is an epidemic.
  • The seasonal flu vaccine is very effective at reducing death and hospitalization from seasonal influenza and the antibody response from the H1N1 vaccine seems as robust. So, there is every reason to believe that the H1N1 vaccine will be as effective.
  • The nasal spray (flu mist) is as good as the shot; however, if your child has asthma or chronic lung disease it can irritate the airways because it is a live virus. Kids with lung problems must have the shot.
  • The H1N1 vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine. Think of them like raspberry pie and blackberry pie. Exact same ingredients made the same way, just different berries.
  • H1N1 is not some trumped up government conspiracy. People die from the flu all the time. Influenza, both season and H1N1, is a very serious infection.
  • The flu vaccines, both season and H1N1, are very safe. People who are trying to tell you otherwise are have an agenda that does NOT include the welfare of your children.

It is true that many people will not get sick from influenza. Viruses don’t infect every single person, but the risk of complications with H1N1 infection are higher. I think this graph from the CDC of pediatric deaths due to influenza that compares the last 3 flu seasons to this year says it all (pink and yellow are H1N1 and green and blue are seasonal flu).


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17 Responses to Immunization against H1N1: separating fact from fantasy

  1. forex robot says:

    nice post. thanks.

  2. Jude Arandia says:

    My brother got infected with H1N1 or Swine Flu in Mexico. He got a mild fever and luckily he did not die.

  3. If you look at the pandemic of 1977, when H1N1 or Swine Flu re-emerged after a 20 year absence, there is no shift in age-related mortality pattern. The 1977 “pandemic” is, of course, not considered a true pandemic by experts today, for reasons that are not entierely consistent. It certainly was an antigenic shift and not an antigenic drift. As far as I have been able to follow the current events, the most significant factor seems to have been that most people, who were severely affected, were people with other medical conditions.

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  5. this site says:

    It is my opinion swine flu is just a conspiracy controlled the government. Many of my other collegues believe it was designed to control the population, but I think it was hyped by the media who were influenced by the corporations who were the ones that sold the vaccines to the various world governments.

  6. Ally says:

    i remember being scared of getting infected by H1N1 during the height of the pandemic. at least two of my classmates got infected by H1N1.

  7. Hi There, I read your blog and wanted to thank you. I found it very interesting. Looking forward to more. Thanks for sharing!

  8. How did they come up with those numbers, since they stopped tracking it in July? “In late July, the CDC abruptly advised states to stop testing for H1N1 flu, and stopped counting individual cases.”

  9. Jennifer Gunter says:

    You are incorrect. All patients admitted to the hospital with flu like symptoms are still tested for H1N1.


  10. I understand why she some feel that autism is a gift, but I doubt they felt that way growing up, and I doubt that all of the parents who have autistic children at the other of the spectrum feel that way. It’s a gift only when one makes it into one. A good lesson that to learn is not to be so hasty to give up on a child at such a young age. It seems like doctors categorize autistic children very young, and that sets the tone for the rest of their lives. As far as we’ve come, there is still much that medical science does not understand and cannot explain about autistic children, or many other things for that matter.

  11. Beth Neering says:

    At least a hundred persons in our city have been infected with the H1N1 virus. I was very scared to get infected with this disease during the pandemic~.”

  12. Randy Palmer says:

    Man oh man, here in southeast Michigan the H1N1 was in influx. A lot of new stories, but nothing to serious. To me it is still up in the air how serious this whole thing was.

  13. H1N1 in reality is not that very deadly at all, it is just a nuisance disease`”:

  14. Jennifer Gunter says:

    I am sure the families of the more than 10,000 people if the US who died from H1N1 would disagree with you. There were also more than 200,000 hospitalizations, a great marker of disease severity. You have been misinformed.

    Dr. Gunter

  15. H1N1 is not so deadly at all but it really scared the hell out of us ~

  16. Jennifer Gunter says:

    You are wrong about H1N1 not being deadly. About 150 children died from it in the 2009-2010 flu season.

  17. Archibald says:

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