The past few months I have seen an increased presence of H1N1 in the media. Very recently I was able to read a pair of opinion pieces in our local papers. One I consider acceptable and the other, not worth the read. I understand that the views expressed in each article are opinions and, as such, are not meant to be taken as factual claims. Although it may be considered to be in poor taste to critique someone’s opinion, I feel it is merited because the issue at hand concerns the health and well being of individuals who have read these articles.
First, I’d like to address the article which was written by Andrea Nicholl in the Lloydminster Source Volume 5 Issue 18(October 28, 2009). To her credit, she does give general information that the shot will be available to all Canadians free of charge. Pointing out that there is no cost to the vaccine is also a plus, but the utility ends there. Rhetorical questions such as, “What’s the value?” and “… why didn’t the government make the vaccine mandatory?” could be a display of ignorance on her part, (i.e./ she should do some basic research), or else she is intentionally leaving out information that could help people to make an informed decision about vaccines. Neither situation is good, especially when the rest of the information is clearly one sided. The real kicker is her explaining that she is too “skeptical” to have ever gotten a flu shot, and she will stick to traditional practices. The reality is that vaccines are a traditional prevention method; small pox and polio are almost alien to our generation thanks to vaccines. This fact alone contradicts the “What’s the value?” question. I encourage everyone to look up information themselves, take something like whooping cough and just compare the numbers of annual deaths before a vaccine was available to after. Vaccines are one of the most proven, effective, and widely used preventative measures that a person can utilize. Overall this article provided very little useful information, even a link to Health Canada’s website would have been helpful, but instead we are merely given someone’s “gut” feeling about vaccines which takes an anti-vaccination stance.
The article in the Meridian Booster (Oct. 30 2009) came off much better, although it too was lacking facts and potential resources people can look to. It is summarized with one of the best pieces of advice a person can follow regarding any medical concern: “Talk to a trusted medical health professional”. Another good point is how Allison Wall shed light on the opinion of Lawrence Broxmeyer, MD; he was making claims that the swine flu is not a flu at all. This shows that even professionals can be wrong. Unfortunately the article is simply outdated and we now have more data. His doubts about the threat of H1N1 have now been proven incorrect. It is a simple fact that we are getting casualties throughout the world that are confirmed H1N1 cases. Not believing everything you read on-line is also a very good piece of advice. Also, I recommend people not to forward chain emails unless you are sure of the source and contents of it. Although I’m not a doctor, I don’t recommend that people place their health in the hands of a chain letter.
Moving on, there are a few points I think more people should know about regarding the H1N1 virus: The H1N1 virus propagating through the world is classified as a level 6 pandemic. It is a novel virus, which means it is is new to humans or has not infected anyone for a long time. Since there has been no recent exposure, almost everyone is at risk. It causes serious illness, and complications resulting from it can cause death. It also spreads quickly and is spread easily from person to person.
The rate of infection is high and still climbing, this is indicative of a hard hitting flu season to come. The regular seasonal flu compared with the H1N1 strain have comparable mortality rates, the difference lies within the groups that are affected. Pregnant women have an increased risk, and young and otherwise healthy people are dying from this as well. Seasonal flu tends to kill the very young and the very old who have underdeveloped and weak immune systems. This difference is one of the main reasons healthy people are being encouraged to get vaccinated.
There is also the issue of herd immunity. Basically vaccines are never 100% effective, some people will get vaccinated but they will still be susceptible to infection. Being surrounded by a large portion of people who are immune means the likelihood of infection to those still at risk is greatly reduced.
In closing there are risks associated with vaccines, just as there are with any type of medical intervention. The way in which we decide whether or not to proceed with any treatment is to analyze the risk vs. the benefit. Find out if you are at increased risk to adverse effects, we know the risk vaccines pose is extremely low for the average person. Some people with egg allergies are unable to get certain vaccines, there is the potential for other complications. It all depends on your physiology. Every person is different, and as such not everyone should get vaccinated. Just be sure your choice is based on established facts, and weigh your decision against the actual risks. The best advice one can take is to discuss the issue with your doctor.
*US Link – Center for Disease Control H1N1 Updates
* US Link – Addressing some myths surrounding H1N1