Public Fearful of Getting H1N1 Vaccine Despite Assurances It's Safe
Wed, 11/04/2009 - 3:47am
Lee-Anne Goodman Canadian Press Canadian PressWASHINGTON — Thousands of people in both the U.S. and Canada have been turned away from swine flu clinics in recent days because of a shortage of H1N1 vaccine, but countless others want nothing to do with getting inoculated against a flu that's spreading faster than any other. Suspicion surrounding the H1N1 vaccine is vexing public health officials in the United States, who say getting inoculated against the swine flu is safe. Some Americans, however, insist it's a new vaccine with potential long-term side effects that cannot yet be known. A leading government health official said Tuesday that tests on more than 10 million people who have received the vaccine prove that it's safe and effective. "It really isn't accurate to say this is a brand-new vaccine; it's not," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CBS's "The Early Show." "This vaccine is made exactly the same way as we make seasonal flu every year, with decades of good safety experience." Nonetheless, fear and outright paranoia persist — evident in everything from popular YouTube videos to an ominous warning about a diabolical plot to reduce the world's population with the flu vaccine from famed black activist Louis Farrakhan. "The Earth can't take 6.5 billion people," Farrakhan said recently at an event in Memphis commemorating the 14th anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington. "We just can't feed that many. So what are you going to do? Kill as many as you can. We have to develop a science that kills them and makes it look as though they died from some disease." A document that's shown up on some American college campuses appears to echo Farrakhan's claims. It discourages people from getting the vaccine by saying pharmaceutical executives are plotting to use it to cut down the population and enslave those who remain. And the generation that gets almost all of its information online has been spooked by a viral video about a Washington Redskins cheerleader who's been disabled since 10 days after she got a seasonal flu shot in August. The story of 26-year-old Desiree Jennings's apparent affliction with dystonia, a rare neurological disorder, has shown up on countless Facebook walls, Twitter streams and websites. There's no evidence the flu shot caused the condition, and some neurologists have questioned whether it's dystonia. Jennings has said she believes there's a connection between her ailment and the flu shot. "The cheerleader video on YouTube really freaked me out," Paula Woodhouse, a 19-year-old student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said Tuesday. "I don't know, it seems sketchy to me, to inject some of it into your body. I've had the flu shot before, but this is a new kind of flu, and a new vaccine, and I don't think there's been enough time to see if it's safe." Kate Hamill, an office worker in New York, is equally nervous. "I was considering it, but some guy at my office just got one and had a seizure — he probably is allergic, but having to call 911 for him wigged me right out," Hamill said. "I think people who want it should get it, but I'd rather take my chances, as I rarely get really sick." Jennifer Bringle, a 31-year-old magazine editor in Greensboro, N.C., has no plans to get the vaccine. "We had free flu shots at work yesterday, and I didn't get one. I've never gotten one. I know that the likelihood is low, and it's probably crazy that I feel this way, but I'm just really nervous that I'll get sick from the shot," she said recently. "Also, I don't like needles, and if I can avoid them, I do. I'm probably taking a big risk, but knock on wood I haven't gotten the flu yet, so I'm going to keep taking my chances." Kate Filmore, a public school teacher in Chicago, said she'd rather her body develop its own resistance to the flu than get the vaccine. "While I may be high-risk in terms of getting the H1N1 flu, I don't think that I'm high-risk for any serious complications," said Filmore. "I'd rather naturally develop the antibodies." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that H1N1 flu vaccine is becoming more available, but it's being outpaced by the virus itself. "Essentially what we're seeing is that the virus continues to be spreading across the country and we are seeing a steady increase in the availability of the vaccine, but not as quickly as we'd like it to be," CDC director Thomas Frieden said during a briefing. Virtually all of the flu spreading throughout the U.S. right now is H1N1, he added. "There's almost no seasonal flu so far," he said. "We've seen a few strains here and there, but overwhelmingly H1N1 is the strain circulating." In Canada, the jarring H1N1-related death last week of Evan Frustaglio, an otherwise healthy 13-year-old hockey player, has jump-started public interest in the vaccine and heightened concern about the pandemic. A new Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll released Tuesday found that 55 per cent of respondents said they were either planning to get the vaccine or had done so already, up from only a third of respondents in a similar poll last month. More than 1,000 Americans have died from H1N1 since it was first identified in April. About 36,000 Americans, most of them elderly or people with underlying health conditions, die each year from seasonal flu. Val Richardson, a nursing student in Myrtle Beach, S.C., says even some health-care workers are nervous about the H1N1 vaccine. "Many of the nurses I work with are refusing to get the H1N1, saying it's too new," said Richardson, mother of three who gave up practising law to become a nurse. "I disagree, but there it is: health-care workers distrust it." Richardson intends to get her entire household vaccinated. "I'm not going to risk my health, my family's health, or my patients' health because of the small chance of a reaction," she said. "Honestly, people who don't get vaccinated irk me because the whole principle of vaccines is that they work best when everyone is vaccinated. That's more the case with childhood immunizations than it is with stuff like flu vaccine, but still."