In April of this year, HealthDay News began to highlight a potential link between those who received a traditional seasonal flu vaccine and an increased risk for contracting the H1N1 flu–also known as swine flu. Swine flu fears created near-panic reactions last year as the general public was urged to find a vaccine because health officials feared outbreaks of pandemic proportions. A series of four studies was conducted to test this theory and was published in the Canadian journal PLoS Medicine. Although the results are impressive, the studies do not prove fully that seasonal flu vaccine poses any more risk for H1N1.
The first study looked at an ongoing monitoring system that analyzed the number of people who had been vaccinated with seasonal flu vaccine who were later diagnosed with H1N1. Researchers found that those who took a seasonal shot were 68% more likely to develop H1N1 than those who did not. The remaining three studies were conducted in a case-control format in Ontario and Quebec in conjunction with a transmission study. These remaining studies showed that seasonal flu vaccine rates upped the chances of developing swine flu by rates between 1.4 and 5.0 times. The results of this study are simply a theory–and researchers cite that other common factors among vaccine recipients could be just as much to blame as the shot itself. Research conductors at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control feels that the results are still significant and could point to underlying biological reactions between current and pre-existing strains of the flu which could explain a variety of topics including reaction symptoms, and risk for future infection.
World Health Organization officials have also made the determination that for every year following the 2009 season, influenza vaccines should include the H1N1 component to prevent what they call “pandemic flu” with an all-in-one shot. This year’s flu vaccine is being marketed as a three-in-one vaccination that is touted to prevent the most common strains as well as the swine flu. Despite the marketing efforts of the government and pharmaceutical companies, flu vaccination rates are lower than hoped for. In fact, only 35% of health care workers–a high risk population–have consented to the vaccine this year and the general public is following suit for a variety of reasons. Some feel that the side effects are disruptive to daily tasks, or they have had a significant reaction in years past. Others say they are hoping to build a “natural immunity” and prevent the illness without the shot.
The Centers for Disease Control currently recommends vaccination for everyone ages 6 months and over and especially in those with chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, or organ transplants. The very old and the very young are included in these numbers. Every year in the U.S. alone over 12,000 people die from complications related to influenza. Perhaps more people would be willing to take the vaccine if they felt its safety had been improved and the rates of reactions like fatigue, weakness and fever to name a few could be reduced.
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