As the nation prepares for a massive vaccination campaign to protect the most vulnerable people from the swine flu virus, scientists are preparing to combat public fears over the vaccine. Scientists worry that the public (or at least the activists who are convinced, against all scientific evidence, that vaccines cause autism and other diseases) will misinterpret coincidental deaths as side effects of the vaccine.
As soon as swine flu vaccinations start next month, some people getting them will drop dead of heart attacks or strokes, some children will have seizures and some pregnant women will miscarry…. “There are about 2,400 miscarriages a day in the U.S…. You’ll see things that would have happened anyway. But the vaccine doesn’t cause miscarriages. It also doesn’t cause auto accidents, but they happen” [The New York Times], says Jay Butler of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC is particularly focused on convincing pregnant women of the vaccine’s safety. A recent study in The Lancet reported strikingly high rates of death and of complications like pneumonia in pregnant women with H1N1 influenza. Pregnancy meant a fourfold risk of hospitalization, sometimes with a tragic outcome [The New York Times]. Experts note that pregnant women often avoid medications out of fear of harming the fetus, but say that these women should be among the first to get vaccinated for swine flu, and should swiftly start antiviral medications if they come down with the virus. To date, the virus has killed 28 pregnant women in the United States.
In parts of the country where the outbreak is in full swing, some hospitals are getting creative, and have opened drive-through and drive-up tent clinics to screen and treat patients. The idea behind these efforts is to keep coughing, feverish people out of regular emergency rooms, where they can infect heart attack victims and other very sick patients [AP]. Doctors can quickly identify the small percentage of people who are sick enough to be admitted and hand out medication to those who need it without swamping emergency rooms.
The hospitals are right to look for ways to increase efficiency, because a new report from the CDC estimates that swine flu cases could overload U.S. hospitals. Fifteen states could run out of hospital beds and 12 more could fill 75 percent of their beds with swine flu sufferers if 35 percent of Americans catch the virus in coming weeks…. “Our point in doing this is not to cry Chicken Little but really to point out the potential even a mild pandemic can have and how readily that can overwhelm the healthcare delivery system,” [said] Jeffrey Levi, director of Trust for America’s Health, which sponsored the report [Reuters].
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