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Approach swine flu vaccination with a shot of skepticism

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Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2009 10:00 pm

Dear Pharmacist: I am hearing more about the Swine Flu and I'm getting nervous. I wasn't going to get the vaccine, but I'm reconsidering it. Can you help me make this decision?

- E.B. Boston, Mass.

A: Discussing vaccinations is like discussing religion and there are highly educated and caring people on both sides of the vaccine argument. The emergence and spread of this mysterious influenza virus which consists of pig, bird and human genetic particles, will no doubt become a serious health threat to people, especially the immunocompromised. Nevertheless, swine flu (also called H1N1 virus) is the newest disease to be promoted to the public.

I suspect that enormous resources will be mobilized in order to get people vaccinated and limit the virus's spread, though you won't hear much about using time-tested anti-viral herbs or powerful antioxidants which can naturally strengthen your immune system and prevent infection.

I absolutely believe that most people will recover from the flu, but the constant news on TV about it provokes a palpable fear in people. At the moment, the vaccine concerns me because it has not been tested long-term in human subjects and it's been rushed through safety tests.

Like any vaccine, there is no guarantee that getting the shot prevents the disease. Furthermore, viruses are smart and they can adapt quickly to become resistant to vaccines and anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu.

Unfortunately, it is possible to get the flu from the vaccine because it contains "a live, attenuated virus." This means that you are receiving living (though weakened) virus particles into your body. This is how many vaccines work because introducing a tiny amount of the virus causes your immune system to form antibodies to it, so upon reintroduction, you can defeat the perceived enemy. But, if your immune system is weak (or you are under stress) the virus from a "live attenuated" vaccine could take over and give you the flu. This explains why some people who take the seasonal flu vaccine, get sick afterwards.

In the absence of independently-funded clinical trials that are placebo-controlled and well-designed, I cannot assure you of the vaccine's safety or efficacy. The real data will trickle in after it is administered to your family and neighbors.

Apparently, our friends across the pond aren't buying the swine flu propaganda either.

A survey published in the British Medical Journal concluded that almost half of all health care workers would refuse the swine flu vaccine because of fears regarding side effects and doubts about efficacy.

In a United Kingdom poll, almost one third of nurses surveyed are saying no to the needle too. If the very people who are supposed to be injecting the vaccine refuse it, how safe do you feel getting it?

Did You Know?

Drinking fennel tea may be helpful in relieving and preventing gas and bloating.

This information is not intended treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Suzy Cohen is the author of "The 24-Hour Pharmacist." For more information, visit



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