The myths about the H1N1 vaccine may be spreading more rapidly than the virus itself. Along with the annual suspicions about inoculations come new fears that are also unjustified. Public health officials are urging that specific groups be given priority as supplies of the new vaccine arrive in communities: pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency personnel, people ages 25 to 64 with medical conditions that could be exacerbated by the flu and all people ages 6 to 24.
That last group is important, because children congregate in group settings, like schools, that facilitate the spread of the flu. Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that 53 percent of people hospitalized with H1N1 have been younger than 24. But an Associated Press poll conducted in the first week of October found that more than 38 percent of parents won’t be giving permission for their children to be inoculated at school.
The reasons are varied, but many are based on misinformation. Whether it’s pass-along e-mails, anecdotes from family and friends or uninformed warnings from celebrities like Bill Maher, many people have become convinced that prevention is worse than the disease. Let’s examine some of the myths and rumors:
The vaccine was rushed and wasn’t tested. The vaccine has gained approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The CDC reports there have been no safety shortcuts, which is one reason the vaccine isn’t widely available yet. The first testing of the vaccine was on 3,000 volunteers at eight university laboratories, according to the Chicago Tribune, and the five companies manufacturing the vaccine have also conducted testing.
The vaccine gives you the flu. The injections are derived from killed virus. The nasal mist does contain the live virus, but it’s been altered so that it cannot survive the body’s temperature. There might be mild side effects but nothing as bad as the flu itself.
The vaccine contains squalene, which has been implicated in Gulf War syndrome. Squalene is an adjuvant, which can be used to improve the immune system’s response to a vaccine. But the FDA’s Web site lists the ingredients in the H1N1 vaccine, and there is no squalene or any other adjuvant. Besides, no firm connection between squalene and Gulf War syndrome has been established.
The vaccine can cause autism. A preservative called thimerosal has long been suspected of causing this disorder, but a 2004 Institutes of Medicine report rejected the idea. Nonetheless, thimerosal-free versions of the vaccine have been manufactured for pediatric use, so wary parents can ask for that.
Please check the Web sites of the CDC and local public health agencies before making a decision about immunization. It would be a shame if the viral spread of misinformation added to the suffering.