Last Wednesday I called Dr. Paul Offit. I called him at his office, and then we set up a time for me to call him at home later that night (night for him, afternoon for me). And so I did.
It was surreal.
The whole thing happened because I off-handedly mentioned to David Wescott--the super nice PR guy who coordinated the whole GSK tour thing--that I really enjoyed Dr. Offit's books. He said he could arrange a phone call. I was like, "REALLY? REALLY?!" because I forget that people who network with other people have connections with People, and I don't have connections with anybody known for anything...except with my brother (and a lot of good that'll do me because I still can't get you his sold-out Inglorious Basterds poster).
I wasn't completely sure if David would remember our conversation, but he did. Because he's a star.
With the important digits in hand, I called Dr. Offit (he who invented a vaccine, is a major proponent of vaccines, and writes copiously about vaccines), and I asked him some questions about vaccines and H1N1. He was really nice, clearly passionate about the topic at hand, and even though that night he had to write an editorial for the New York Times (this one...essentially saying much of what I'm about to write here), I never felt like he was trying to hurry me up. Points to him.
While I was able to ask him questions about vaccines in general, I did want to get his perspective on the H1N1 vaccine. After all, according to an AP poll, one third of parents are not going to give their child the H1N1 vaccine. Aside from those who don't vaccinate their children because they perceive a link with autism (though even the most recent research shows there is no convincing link), there still remains a fair amount of people who are unsure about the H1N1 vaccine.
I can understand the concern. Who wants to give their child what appears to be an untested vaccine?
Here's what I got from Dr. Offit:
- Even though the H1N1 vaccine is new this year, it was produced the same way the annual flu shot is done. There's no mystery to its contents. In fact, the H1N1 vaccine would be in the general flu vaccine except that it came onto the scene too late to put them together. Timing forced doctors to make two shot.
- It's been tested just like the annual flu shot. (This seems to be a major sticking point with some people--the idea that it hasn't been sufficiently tested. If you think the flu shot is safe, the H1N1 shot is safe. If you don't buy into the flu shot thing in general, well then...this won't convince you.)
- Even though Dr. Kent Holtorf went on Fox News with concerns about the H1N1 shot containing adjuvants, this is not true. There are no adjuvants in the US's version of the H1N1 vaccine. Dr. Offit specifically mentioned this news clip as highly misleading and misinformed.
- In 1976, there was a swine flu vaccine that ended up being blamed for causing Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Gina Kolata's book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic contains an excellent chapter that articulates how the vaccine probably did not cause GBS, but that doctors were led to believe it could and therefore were looking for causal links. The CDC also gives some helpful information about this story. In Dr. Offit's opinion, the vaccine of 1976 did not cause GBS. At any rate, the swine flu of 1976 is not at all similar to the swine flu of today.
Final words from Dr. Offit: "If you think it's bad now, wait until December or January. It'll be awful. It's remarkable that we got the flu shot ready in time, and now there will be so many who don't use it."
I'm no expert on the subject, but I feel better knowing I have spoken to someone who is.
I know it's hard to know what to believe. On Tuesday, I heard a report on NPR about the necessity to get the H1N1 vaccine. Then today I heard a report on NPR about Germany deciding not to give the H1N1 vaccine to healthy children. They argue that healthy people do not need the H1N1 vaccine. Also? Medical experts claiming the swine flu is really no big deal.
It's possible if I got the swine flu I wouldn't be hospitalized. It's possible if my kids got the swine flu they wouldn't be hospitalized. Or, it's possible they could end up in the hospital like Isabella Ragan. It's not really a gamble I want to take. Of course, at this point, it's a moot point. H1N1 vaccines aren't available in our area, and we don't have health insurance yet to go track one down.
Regardless of your decision to vax or not vax, you should be aware that H1N1 is highly contagious and not as easy to recover from as the regular flu. I've had students miss two weeks of classes due to the swine flu. Just because the government is encouraging you to get the vaccine isn't a good reason to not get one, although Rush Limbaugh would beg to differ that point. (That Slate article is a good one, btw. I snickered at the last paragraph.)
Check out the CDC's fact page for info, and make your decision an informed on.
What do you think? What's been your experience with H1N1?