This Week in Swine Flu: Vaccines Arrive, and Doctors Combat Myths

By Eliza Strickland | October 7, 2009 3:30 pm

swine-flu-newsSwine flu vaccines have arrived! Or more accurately, limited amounts of the first available vaccine, a nasal spray, have been delivered to distribution points around the country, and several states began vaccinating health care workers and young children on Monday. It’s not a moment too soon: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced that flu is now widespread in most of the United States. The infections are “overwhelmingly” pandemic H1N1 influenza, commonly known as swine flu. The flu season generally lasts well into May, so many months of uncertainties lie ahead [Los Angeles Times].

CDC director Thomas Frieden says that so far, vaccine “demand is outstripping supply, but we expect that fairly soon supply will be outstripping demand.” … Over the next two to three weeks, tens of millions of additional doses will become available [Los Angeles Times]. The injectable form of the vaccine will be ready for distribution next week.

Now that the vaccines have been successfully hustled off the assembly lines, the next daunting challenge for public health officials is convincing people to go get vaccinated. Myths and worries about the vaccine have spread on talk radio and anti-vaccine Web sites [The New York Times], with even celebrities like Bill Maher unhelpfully chiming in via Twitter. At a Tuesday press conference, Frieden strongly refuted one of the most commonly voiced concerns: that in rushing the vaccine through production, it wasn’t properly tested for safety.

As Frieden and many others have taken pains to explain, the swine flu vaccine was made and tested in exactly the same way that flu vaccines are always made and tested. Had this strain of flu emerged just a few months earlier, there would not have been any need for two vaccines this year; 2009 H1N1 would simply have been included as one of the components in the annual vaccine [The New Yorker]. Frieden also noted that clinical trials of the new vaccine haven’t shown any serious side effects, and added that he and his children will all get vaccinated.

Frieden also rebutted the common perception that the swine flu virus, technically known as the 2009 H1N1 virus, causes only mild illness. Like seasonal flu, swine flu can give infected people a couple of days of bed-ridden misery, he said, and in some cases can lead to hospitalization and even death–just like seasonal flu. In a typical U.S. flu season, about 35,000 people die from complications.

Scientists will also be watching the virus for changes, as flu viruses frequently mutate to form new strains. H1N1 has been remarkably stable since it began infecting people widely in March and April this year. But experts predict once it has infected a certain proportion of the population — no one knows exactly what proportion — it will start to change…. If the virus “drifts,” the vaccine will have to be reformulated to match, just as with the seasonal flu vaccine. The process takes about six months [Reuters].

Related Content:
80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: Pregnant Women’s Concerns & Hospital Woes
80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: Vaccine Coming Soon, but What Do Parents Think?
80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: Vaccines Approved!, Masks vs. Hand-Washing

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Tim Rigney

    It’s REALLY pissing me off that the Doctors are saying that there’s “no risk” associated with taking this vaccine. It’s JUST simply not true. There is ALWAYS a slight risk associated with any vaccine. Some people are going to *die* because of taking this. It’s “statistical compassion” – many, many more lives will be saved compared to if no one had received it. But – some will die from the vaccine itself. That’s just the way it works when vaccines are given to large numbers of people. For each individual, the risk is negligible, and in my opinion they’re far better off if they get the vaccine. But for the doctors to lie and say there’s “no” risk is irresponsible and unethical. People have a right to have *all* the information and to make this decision themselves.

  • Scottish Wedding Venue

    I would expect that a doctor would advise a patient at the time of administering any vaccine of any risk, based upon the patient. For example, I would expect they would have reservations with extremely young children or older more fragile people …

  • Swine who?

    I say fly over cities with a crop duster and spray us all down with the vaccine. Typhoid Mary didn’t feel like going along with the program either..

  • Em

    Ok, I have to admit I think the crop duster idea is kind of funny. Don’t know if it was intended to be or not, but anyway…

    I’m just a bit confused. I thought that this first batch of vaccines was the nasal spray and it was said that the nasal spray hasn’t been approved for children under 2, pregnant women, and people over 49. On the news yesterday (just glanced at the tv and saw this, so I’m not sure what the whole report was about) I saw some babies and toddlers being given the nasal spray. Maybe I missed the announcement of it’s approval.

    As far as limited supplies go, I’m doing my part and leaving one more vaccine for the rest of you. (ok, for those of you who don’t realize it, I’m joking around). I work in a tiny office and don’t have contact with anyone there, I live in the middle of nowhere, and I have a pretty strong immune system. I’m not too worried about getting the flu, and if I do, well for a week or so this website will have one less jaded pessimist to contend with. You’re welcome!


  • hi

    People are scared of getting the virus, people are scared to get vaccinated.

    China banned pork products from being imported because the AP calls H1N1 swine flu. There’s idiocy everywhere you look related to this flu strain – nothing new…

  • smilinggreenmom

    Our family doctor just told me the other day not to even worry about the vaccine and that they would not even be carrying it. Huh. Well, I am remained undecided on this issue and it really seems like a 50/50 divide on it. I am happy that at least we are taking our Vidazorb chewable probiotics every single day to really give our bodies an immune boost!

  • ahrcanum

    You might be interested in the number of related H1N1 Swine flu lawsuits being filed.

  • schavann

    The whole swine flu thing is ridiculous.
    People have been sick, neighbors, coworkers; it makes no difference whether it’s the common flu or this “omgsuperflu”, people will be afraid because of how we subconsciously react to media. You’d think schools would be giving resistance training against being manipulated.

  • ahrcanum

    lol on omgsuperflu! lol. Public schools get federal funding and have been asked to prepare for months to become vaccination centers. I recall rolling up my sleeve in the hallway years ago for polio, and still have the mark on my arm from the beasts.

  • Swine who?

    Last year 80 or so kids died from flu. Last week 20 did. Get your heads out of the granola and get a flu shot.

    Ahrcanum, sorry about the cigarette burn on your arm. I hope it hurts less than the sores on your legs from the braces you’d have to wear if you had POLIO (a disease that was eradicated because of a vaccine) By the way, you might be safe from flu because of the booster shot you got in 1957 from the last swine flu pandemic. the N1 part of this bug is almost the same. That’s why older people aren’t getting sick as much as children this time.

  • ddd

    in every drug or vaccine there is a little bit of poison. there’s always risk when one introduces a foreign substance into the body. i’m sure the PTBs are simply trying to get people to come in for the piggy-flu shot. at this stage i suspect if there were any terrible side-effects we will not hear about it for months. i will get the shot due to requirements for a treatment i’m obligated to take. it appears the H1N1’s most detrimental effects are on those from two years old to the ripe old age of twenty-four. of course seniors or those with comprised immune systems must consider getting the vaccine. they call us in by yelling soooey!

  • I Like Turtles

    Thx for this it helps me in my health report for school

  • Idell Scalisi

    The American Gov. is killin’ us. Why doesn’t the whole population see that this is going to drive up taxes for everybody and even invent brand new ones for everybody?

  • John@ Vancouver WA Real Estate

    Like many things the medical community offers, there is a risk vs. benefit consideration that any patient must be properly advised of. Back in the late 1970’s when the first “swine flu” vaccine came out my college buddy took it — and quickly became quite ill, and for a few days feared he would become paralyzed. In those days the medical community truly scared the crap out of us by poor testing and lack of candor. Hopefully they are always mindful now to properly disclose the risks and benefits.

  • Hopkinton Real Estate

    This really is one of those cases where it is damned you do damned if you don’t. There are positives and negatives with getting the vaccination. I know there are many people who have become very ill from it.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar