Swine Flu and Children
Everything you need to know about the vaccine, symptoms and treatment.
by Shelley Abreu
October 23, 2009
Swine flu season is upon us, and that raises a lot of questions. As this year’s health scare spreads, Babble is giving answers to all your questions about your kids and the H1N1 virus. Learn everything you need to know about the vaccine, signs to watch for, treatment and whether you’re worrying too much, or not enough. – Babble Editors
- So, are parents’ fears valid?
- Who are the vaccine opponents?
- Is the vaccine really safe?
- What about thimerosal?
- Who is most at risk?
- What’s the verdict?
- What to Do if Your Child Gets the Flu
- H1N1 by the Numbers
It’s the question every parent seems to be asking: Are you getting the H1N1 flu vaccine for your child? The CDC and FDA both claim that the vaccine is safe and effective, yet, according to several polls, more than one third of parents might decline to have their children vaccinated.
So, are parents’ fears valid?
Simply put, parents are concerned that the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus itself. The basis of those concerns stems back to the 1976 swine flu vaccine produced during that outbreak of H1N1. It was associated with a slightly increased risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a disorder in which the body’s immune system damages its own nerve cells. In rare cases, it can cause death or permanent damage, although the majority of people do recover. In the United States, the chance of contracting GBS with or without receiving a vaccination is approximately 1 in 100,000. In 1976 the rate increased slightly to approximately 2 in 100,000 among those who received the swine flu vaccine. Scientists have never determined a definitive reason for the increased risk, but the CDC believes that advances in how vaccines are made today will very likely prevent an increased risk with the current H1N1 vaccine.
For parents who are still concerned about the potential risk of GBS, it may be helpful to consider that more children have already died since August 30th of this year from the swine flu than those who died from GBS during the vaccination period in 1976 (Approximately 500 people contracted GBS and twenty-five died).
4 Most Important Things Parents Should Know About Swine Flu
With the barrage of info out there, we enlisted the expertise of Dr. Richard Besser, senior health and medical editor at ABC News, to help sort it out. Here’s what you absolutely need to know about swine flu. – Andrea Zimmerman
1. Swine flu is preventable
Just like any other respiratory infections, encourage your kids to wash their hands and cover their cough. If your child is sick, keep them home from school.
2. Children are at a greater risk
The CDC reports that hospitalization rates for children are very high and 80 deaths have occurred so far–a higher number than what they tend to see over the entire flu season in a year.
3. Children with underlying medical conditions are at even greater risk. If your kid has a medical condition like asthma, cystic fibrosis, or cerebral palsy that makes it hard for them to breath, vaccinate them and talk to your doctor to draw out a treatment plan before your child gets sick.
4. Watch for danger signs. Take your child to the doctor if they exhibit any blue or grayness around the lips, which means they’re not getting enough oxygen, or if they have trouble breathing. Look for gasping or pulling at their chest; babies may have trouble nursing or sucking from a bottle.
Who are the vaccine opponents?
Many parents continue to worry about other safety aspects of the current H1N1 vaccine, in part because of the fast-tracked safety trials the vaccine underwent. A vocal minority of doctors against the vaccine have increased those fears. Dr. Mercola, publisher of a popular natural-health website, is the author of the article, “Do Not Let Your Child Get Flu Vaccine: 9 Reasons Why,” which is now circulating as an email. Yet much of the information contained in that piece is misleading. For instance, Dr. Mercola claims that the vaccines used in trials differ from the final version. But the FDA says this is emphatically untrue. They state, “The vaccines used in studies to determine dose and regimen are the same vaccines that were licensed.” He also argues that American children are over-vaccinated, suggests that the vaccine contains squalene (though it’s not used in the U.S. at all, and has a good safety record in Europe), and cites climbing autism rates as a reason not to vaccinate (though recent studies all disprove any connection).
Dr. Kent Holtorf, in an interview with Fox News back in September, disseminated similar mis-information when he called the vaccine “too big of a risk.” In his segment, he said the vaccine was “rushed to market” and also mistakenly said that it contains “high levels of adjuncts, including squalene” and that vaccines are “highly implicated in autism.”
Opponents like Dr. Larry Palevsky, a New York-based pediatrician and President and Co-Founder of the Pediatric Holistic Foundation, insist that the vaccine’s safety cannot be proven. He’s advising his patients to pass. “Having the authorities tell us it’s completely safe is in contradiction to how safety studies need to be done, and how data needs to be collected in order for us to conclude they are safe enough to administer,” says Dr. Palevsky.
Is the vaccine really safe?
The CDC disagrees with Dr. Palevsky. Abbigail Tumpey, a spokesperson for the Immunization Safety Office, indicates that vaccines are actually one of the most regulated kinds of medicine for safety. What’s more, the vaccine is made using the same tested and approved methods as the seasonal flu vaccine. Dr. Grace Lee, Assistant Professor of Population Medicine & Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, is currently involved in the active surveillance of H1N1 and seasonal influenza vaccine safety. She explains, “Each year, the seasonal flu vaccines change to accommodate [different] strains of flu – meaning that the flu strains that circulate each season differ from the previous year. H1N1 is just like the seasonal flu vaccine, it’s just that the H1N1 vaccine will protect against the circulating H1N1 strain in the community.” While Dr. Lee acknowledges that, although rare, adverse reactions can occur with any vaccine, she says the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Concerns that dominate all vaccine programs have also made their way into the swine flu conversation. Anti-vaccine groups have postulated that flu vaccines aren’t very effective – another reason parents might skip the swine flu vaccine. While the CDC admits no vaccine is 100% effective, they also state that they’ve “seen a very good immunoresponse in adults and older children that was evident within eight to ten days after the vaccination was given.” The seasonal flu vaccine is considered two-thirds effective in young children, and the swine flu vaccine may yield better results since the vaccine is matched to the virus strain. (Note: children under ten will need two doses for the vaccine to be adequately effective).