If you've been paying attention to the media, H1N1 vaccines will be available shortly, and the Canadian government is suggesting that everyone between the ages of 6 months and 65 years should be vaccinated against this 'new' flu virus. The Ottawa Citizen has been dedicating pages of coverage to this issue for weeks, if not months, now, and despite all the information I've read, I'm still thoroughly confused.
To start, I'm really unsure about vaccinations in general. When I had my first baby, I vax'ed her on the schedule recommended by our ped., without giving it much thought (doctors know what's best for us, right?). At that time (almost 9 years ago), the chicken pox vaccine was relatively new, and as little as I knew about vaccinations in general, I knew that I wouldn't be signing up for that one. As far as I was concerned then (and now), chicken pox is a right of passage, an inconvenience at worst. I had it when I was a kid, and there was never a history of complications in my family, so no real need for concern.
When my second daughter was born, I started her on the same vaccination schedule, at one of her 'well baby' check-ups, we were seen by our ped's partner who assumed I was going to vax Hannah against chicken pox, I said no, and didn't she go up one side of me and down the other. I was backed into a corner in a little examination room while this doctor repeatedly told me I was a horrible mother, and that my child could die because of my decision not to vaccinate her against chicken pox. How did that appointment end? I'm sorry to say that against my better judgement, I had Hannah vax'ed against chicken pox, the doctor wore me down and I gave in. Since that experience, I've been loathe to take any doctor's advice 'because she knows best'. As a result, Owen and Grace have been given delayed selective vaccinations, though admittedly, I know as little now as I did back then, I just feel better waiting.
No members of our family have ever been given the flu vaccination, much like chicken pox, I think the flu is just one of those things you deal with, it's an inconvenience at worst. We have no underlying health issues, so again, no cause for concern. My mother, on the other hand, gets the flu shot every year, and wouldn't you know it, she's never managed to avoid the flu despite getting the 'magical' flu shot.
So now there's this H1N1 flu strain, and you'd think the sky was falling, judging by all of the media coverage it's been receiving. There are often (so far, unwarranted) parallels drawn between H1N1 and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which killed approximately 50 million people, most victims were young, previously healthy adults. The Canadian government has ordered $400,000,000 worth of vaccinations with the goal of vaccinating the majority of the population against this particular strain of flu, but a lot of people (myself included) are wondering if it's necessary.
I'm not about to roll up my sleeve just because I've been told to, and I would strongly encourage anyone else who's considering it to give pause for thought. So far, H1N1 has contributed to 86 deaths since the Spring, and evidence suggests the H1N1 death rate is similar to the seasonal flu death rate. Fact of the matter is, thousands of people die from seasonal flus every year, despite the fact that flu vaccinations are doled out annually. It would seem the 'science' behind flu vaccinations in general is flawed, it certainly isn't the silver bullet the medical community would have you believe it is.
There is very little known about H1N1. The government doesn't know how many people have already had it and recovered because the only people in Canada tested for the virus are people who have been admitted to the hospital with complications. What about people have have caught it and recovered already? The government doesn't know why some people are able to shake it off more easily than others. There is little known about the true cause of death of those who have succumbed to H1N1, postmortem results suggest that many of those casualties had existing underlying medical issues that may have been a contributing factor.
There is even less known about the effectiveness of the vaccination, which has not been evaluated by Health Canada, rather, they are relying on the results of a small (130 people, if you can believe it) clinical trial in Belgium (trials ran by the manufacturer, I might add). Adding to the unknown is the fact that for the first time ever, a flu vaccination is being paired with adjuvant, which boosts an immune system's response to a vaccine. Basically, it's a way the government can vaccinate more people with less medicine, however, there is uncertainty in terms of whether the adjuvanted vaccine is safe for pregnant women or babies, so there is a small amount of unadjuvanted vaccines available for those groups. So are we to *assume* the adjuvanted version is OK for us to take? Are we supposed to take it, wait, and hope for the best? Lastly, it is reasonable to expect some serious possible side effects, inevitably, some people will have a reaction to the H1N1 vaccination that will be far more severe than suffering through what will likely be a mild case of the flu for most people.
Again today, the Ottawa Citizen has published a lengthy article on why Canadians should not be suspicious of this new vaccine, as well as a testimonial from a doctor who will be vaccinating his own family (the basic tone of that piece was 'doctors know more than you, so you should just listen to us'). Of course, if you consider how the Ottawa Citizen has handled previous virus outbreaks, you'd be right to take what they say with a grain of salt. Remember their coverage of West Nile virus? Every time a dead crow was found, there would be double-page spread. How about the promised Avian flu pandemic? Did anything actually come of that? I would like to see media outlets like the Ottawa Citizen publish the view of doctors who oppose this mass vaccination, there are individuals within the medical profession who disagree with this course of action.
At this point, given the relatively low risk of the flu, the unknowns of the vaccine, and my gut feeling, it's highly unlikely that I'll be vaccinating myself or my children against H1N1. I think that common sense and good hygiene will be far more effective in preventing an outbreak, we've talked to the kids about the importance of hand-washing and coughing into their sleeves, and a recent bout with the flu saw our family staying at home (no work, no daycare or school) longer than normal. If you you have thoughts or links to share, please post them. I think the scariest thing about this decision is that little voice in the back of my head that wonders 'what if?'. I would hate to be wrong about this approach, putting my kids in harms' way. By the same token, I feel like blindly listening to what the media tells me I should do for myself and my family could have equally disturbing consequences.