Quick note about the swine flu vaccine

There are a couple of things that Im getting over and over and over, from readers/friends/family/overheard in the grocery store, and its driving me nuts.

READ THIS NPR SUMMARY

1. Just call it swine flu. Thats what we all call it. H1N1 variants are completely normal components of generic seasonal flu. The ‘new’ flu is swine flu. Its just the pork industry doesnt want us to call it that in front of you all, thus we get:

We use “swine flu” as one of several names, along with “pandemic flu,” “the new H1N1″ and “the new flu.” We try not to refer to this new virus as simply “H1N1,” although many do, because there are many H1N1 flu viruses, including a seasonal H1N1 that is still circulating.

Genetically, the flu virus discovered last April is made up of genetic elements that have most in common with swine flu viruses, but also have genetic sequences from human and bird flu viruses. Scientists believe the new virus has circulated in swine for a decade or more without having been detected as a new virus. It jumped into humans more recently, but no one knows exactly where or when.

The pork industry is concerned that the name “swine flu” implies to some people that they can catch it by eating pork products. There is no such risk.

2. Some people are concerned that the swine flu vaccine hasnt been tested as well as the seasonal flu vaccine. I mean, we had to rush to make it, right? And its a totally new vaccine, right?

Not really.

Swine flu vaccines are made the same damn way and have the same damn components as seasonal flu vaccines. Weve made these forever. Its just that swine flu didnt come around soon enough to be in this years seasonal mix.

The H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine is made exactly the same way by the same manufacturers with the same processing, the same materials, as we make seasonal flu vaccine, which has an extraordinarily good safety record,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease. He is more responsible than any other single person for the fast-track development of this new flu vaccine.

So think of it this way– Skittles came out with a new flavor thats going to be in a regular bag of Skittles from now on. Thing is, all the bags of Skittles already on the shelves dont have this new flavor (seasonal flu vaccine). So they let you buy bags that only have this new flavor (swine flu vaccine). While the new flavor is ‘new’, it basically has the exact same ingredients as all the other flavors of Skittle. Next year, all bags of Skittles will have all the flavors (2010 seasonal flu vaccine), and you wont even notice.

There is no reason to be afraid of the swine flu vaccine. If youre a parent of young ones, you, and them, need to get this vaccine.

Comments

  1. #1 Rorschach
    October 9, 2009

    Interesting detail I heard on a NPR broadcast over here in Oz the other day,maybe you can shed some light.
    Seems the US uses 2 variants, live virus for the im injection for “healthy” people, and an attenuated version delivered nasally for immunocompromised folks.In Australia everyone gets the same live virus thing, out of multi-dose vials btw. Would seem to make sense to use attenuated virus for people with compromised immune systems.

  2. #2 Paul Lundgren
    October 9, 2009

    Excellent. This is one of the best analogies I’ve seen you use, Abby…it’s much appreciated by us with no training in biology.

    Now, about those apostrophes… :-)

  3. #3 The Curmudgeon
    October 9, 2009

    First it was fluoridation of the water supply. Now it’s this infernal plot to inject us with Darwinist devil’s brew. I intend to maintain the purity of my bodily fluids!

  4. #4 Robert Grumbine
    October 9, 2009

    A followup for more information, as I happen to have just posted about vaccination and the seasonal and swine flu vaccines came up.

    It was my understanding that the seasonal flu vaccine is a bit of a guessing game and cocktail — trying to figure which strains will be the biggest problems in the coming year, and then develop vaccines (against the clock) for what the experts think is most likely to be needed.

    For swine flu, my impression was that here there was a particular virus, well-known and characterized (at least by late spring it was), so the only need was to develop a vaccine for this exact target. Not that this is a trivial issue, but it seems easier to me in my blissful (well, not so much bliss) ignorance than to try both guess what to prepare for, and then do so.

    So … just how far off am I?

  5. #5 Optimus Primate
    October 9, 2009

    If you imagine Jay Mohr impersonating Christopher Walken reading this post aloud, it’s as hilarious as it is informative.

  6. #6 ebohlman
    October 10, 2009

    Rorschach: You’ve got it backwards. In the US there’s a live nasal vaccine (just released) and a killed/attenuated injectable vaccine (should be out in a week or two). The nasal one is currently being administered to the top-priority people (unless it’s contraindicated for them); the majority of people are expected to get the injectable version.

  7. #7 Ray Mills
    October 10, 2009

    waiting for the antivax trolls to turn up and spam this

  8. #8 skeptifem
    October 10, 2009

    Rorschach- I was under the impression that the nasal vaccines were bad for people with compromised immune systems… there are signs in our bone marrow transplant unit about how people who have received nasal vaccines are not allowed inside the rooms. ??I’ll have to look into it.

  9. #9 MPG
    October 10, 2009

    You and your analogies. A few days ago I ended up listening to ABBA, and now I’m craving a bag of Skittles…

  10. #10 Bill
    October 10, 2009

    If the “new flavor” of Skittles “has the exact same ingredients,” then why does it taste different?

    Mind you, I’m not the least afraid of the new flu shot; and I fully expect to get it sooner or later (although I’m not in any of the high-priority groups). I’m just wondering about the same-only-different logic in your post.

  11. #11 Rorschach
    October 10, 2009

    I was just pointing out the fact that Australia is using one live vaccine instead of 2 variants targeted to different patient groups.

  12. #12 Flounder
    October 10, 2009

    Reads old Label:
    Sugar, Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Apple Juice from Concentrate, Less than 2% Citric Acid, Dextrin, Modified Corn Starch, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Coloring (includes Yellow 6 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Yellow 5, Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1 Lake, Blue 1)Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

    Reads new Label:
    Sugar, Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Apple Juice from Concentrate, Less than 2% Citric Acid, Dextrin, Modified Corn Starch, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Coloring (includes Yellow 6 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Yellow 5, Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1 Lake, Blue 1, Green Lake H1N1)Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

    AH-HA!!! the sneaky bastards

  13. #13 chall
    October 10, 2009

    The nasal vaccine (aka flumist in US) is not FDA approved* for immunocrompromised people or people over the age of 45).

    *studies have shown that it is not giving a good protection in older people, and could be dangerous for immunocomprimised

  14. #14 GaryB
    October 10, 2009

    But I don’t like Skittles.

  15. #15 Art
    October 10, 2009

    So your saying if I eat odd colored Skittles I won’t get H1N1?

    I say we all drive over to the Skittles plant and picket them until they release Skittles in colors they don’t make.

  16. #16 stripey_cat
    October 10, 2009

    Robert,

    The problem is that there are loads of strains of flu circulating at any time. It takes a while to roll out vaccine production, so you have to try to guess, in early spring some time, which vaccines are going to give you trouble the following winter. With the swine flu, they were expecting it to be a problem, so they went ahead and started making a single-strain vaccine. The main seasonal flu starts about now, and really doesn’t pick up until December in most years, so by the time you know which particular strains are going to cause most of the clinical cases you’re six to nine months too late to start making vaccine against them!

  17. #17 eddie
    October 12, 2009

    You guys still get skittles?! i haven’t seen them for years. thought they’d been banned, at least in the EU, as them artificial colourants were making kids all hyper and setting fire to school and such.
    Anyway, nowadays the skittles I like best are here.

    PS – ERV, plz facebook friend me.

  18. #18 Erin
    October 12, 2009

    To each his own, but I won’t be getting this flu vaccine. I haven’t gotten a flu vaccine in years and, it comes and goes, if someone doesn’t get it this season, they will some other time. We, actually, I don’t know enough about this vaccine to think it is that necessary. And in fact, it makes me angry that we spend all this time and money on something so unknown instead of toward a more common good, say like Alzheimer’s/memory loss and breast cancer.

  19. #19 Lainie
    October 14, 2009

    Interesting analogy about the Skittles…..

    Blue M&Ms were said to be safe at one point too, and they passed FDA testing.

    Now they’re touting the blue dye as an aid for spinal injuries. Nevermind if you have brain damage, as long as you can walk.

  20. #20 eddie
    October 14, 2009

    Also, Re Flounder @12
    I’m shocked! Those things have apple juice?

  21. #21 Monado, FCD
    October 16, 2009

    I’m calling it the Mexican swine flu to distinguish it from other swine flus, such as whatever pigs in Canada get.

    Erin, the novel H1N1 (2009) is harsher than most and seems to hit women harder. In Canada 67% of the swine-flu patients who are very sick and end up in Intensive Care Units, on respirators, and sometimes with total body oxygenation are women, women in their 30s and 40s and 50s. About 30% are children. Only about 3% are men. And 72% of those who die are women. (See “Younger Women Hit Hard by H1N1 virus, study suggests.”) It may only be because proportionally, their hearts are a little smaller and their lung area a little less, so that when stretched to the limit they run out of capacity. But it’s no trivial matter to decide that you’ll skip it. Please reconsider.

    Stripey_cat, I know you meant to say, “…which strains are going to give you trouble.”

  22. #22 Monado, FCD
    October 16, 2009

    Oh-oh, breaking news: I just saw this: a judge in New York state has just issued a temporary restraining order against the state health commission(er), who ordered that all state health workers get the swine flu vaccine or risk being fined. Three nurses claimed that their employer was violating their civil rights. I guess they have a right in their jobs to endanger others by spreading disease, do they? Don’t they have a duty to deliver healthcare if they want to stay employed? Bitch, bitch bitch… Here’s the article: New York Judge Blocks mandated swine flu shots” or nasal spray, as the case may be.

  23. #23 Lainie
    October 17, 2009

    Monado, consider that a lot of the doctors and nurses protesting the mandatory vaccine have been in the healthcare field for decades. This isn’t a matter of “hey, do they know something we don’t know?” OF COURSE THEY DO!

    Being in healthcare doesn’t exclude people from having egg allergies either. Lots of people CANNOT take the flu vaccines due to those allergies.

    The people that refuse a vaccine can wear a mask when on hospital property.

  24. #24 Lainie
    October 17, 2009

    PS…the flu vaccines have about a 70-90% success rate of keeping people from getting the flu, if the right strain is used in the making of the vaccine. Viruses tend to get smarter than our shots anyway, and they’ll change.

    It’s not a guarantee that even if all healthcare workers take the shot that they won’t pass the flu on to patients.

  25. #25 Aquaria
    October 18, 2009

    I hadn’t gotten a flu shot yet because I read that priority groups were getting the shots first. I’m healthy and in my 40s. I knew there were people who really needed those shots more than I did, it’s only October, so plenty of time, right?

    Yeah, right.

    Wednesday, I came down with a flu that knocked me on my ass harder than any I’ve had in my adult life. And it hit fast. Less than two hours, I went from perfectly fine to fuck, kill me. And two hours later, it was why haven’t I died yet?

    I don’t know if it was swine flu yet. I’m okay now. But Wednesday-Friday–it was ugly. I’ve had flu before, but never–ever–as bad as this one.

    I don’t care what kind of flu it was, nobody wants this sucker.

    Get your vaccines, folks, as soon as you possibly can.

  26. #26 Lainie
    October 18, 2009

    Aquaria, it really is a bad flu. I don’t think anybody is denying that, but again, the vaccine only has a 70-90% effectiveness against the swine flu (not so bad if you’re on the higher end of that spectrum…pretty bad if you’re on the low end). And still not 100% no matter how you slice it.

    It sucks to be sick, but people DO survive this thing. You’re LIVING proof, eh?

    I hate that some are calling it a death sentence when it’s really not. The people that need the vaccine the most are the ones that CAN’T take it (elderly, immunocompromised).

  27. #27 Taran Rampersad
    October 23, 2009

    Are there ongoing clinical trials to determine the efficacy of influenza vaccinations?