As the first doses become available for the H1N1 vaccination, people have expressed concern about its safety — but health officials say those concerns are unfounded.
Because swine flu is just another strain of regular flu, the process to develop the vaccination is the same, public health officials say. They expect no serious side effects from the flu vaccination.
“The seasonal flu vaccination has a remarkable safety record,” said Joannie Reynolds, director of the immunization program for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “There will be some redness, soreness from the injectable. The spray might cause stuffiness, maybe a minor sore throat. And we expect those same side effects from H1N1 — very minor.”
Both vaccinations are being produced by four manufacturers — and the only reason that the H1N1 immunization is separate is because of timing.
“It was March or April before we realized there was a pandemic,” Reynolds said. “And so we had to develop a vaccination for that flu specifically. Normally, the manufacturers start to plan for seasonal flu in January, so there wasn’t enough time for a combined vaccination.”
The short amount of time does not mean that the H1N1 vaccination is unsafe, said Dr. Bernadette Albanese of the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.
“It underwent testing by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” she said. “All the normal controls and safety measures are in place. There is no danger from the vaccine.”
Drug manufacturers are to be commended, she said, for providing such a safe vaccination in a short amount of time.
“Eventually, there will be 200 million doses in the United States alone,” Albanese said. “That’s an enormous undertaking. It’s a matter of time till they all get here — just like with the seasonal flu. But this process was not rushed; it went through the exact same process that the seasonal flu vaccination undergoes.”
Albanese said the health department should receive the first doses of vaccine early next week, and receive more doses each week thereafter — possibly even into November.
“We are coordinating release of the vaccination with providers as it comes in,” Albanese said. “Check with providers periodically to see if they received the vaccinations they ordered — and make sure they’ve ordered. Not every provider has.”
People should not be concerned about receiving the vaccine, Reynolds said. The H1N1 inoculation is being distributed around the world, and is being watched by both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Both groups have procedures in place for reporting side effects of the vaccine,” she said. “It is being monitored and will be reported if there are any side effects, but we don’t expect any.
The WHO reports that clinical and nonclinical trials show that pandemic vaccines are as safe as the seasonal influenza.
But the WHO advises countries administering the pandemic vaccination to conduct intensive monitoring for safety and report adverse events. In the United States, those events are monitored by the CDC and have been in place to monitor every vaccination type, officials say.
While there are few side effects to the H1N1 injectable vaccination, not everyone should receive the Flumist version, public health officials say. Currently, the nasal spray is the only kind available in Colorado.
“That does contain a weakened, live version of the virus, so some people should only get the shot,” Reynolds said. “Pregnant women should not get the nasal spray. People with suppressed immune systems and health care workers who work with them should also only get the injectable.”
Health care workers who get the Flumist vaccine must be healthy, 49 years old or younger, said health organization guidelines.
The highest priority individuals for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine include:
- Pregnant women
- Household contacts of children younger than 6 months
- Health care workers with patient care responsibilities
- Children between 6 months and 4 years old
- Children 5 to 18 with underlying risk conditions
For more information about both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine, visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at www.colorado.gov/nofluforyou or call the CO HELP line at (877) 462-2911.