A few weeks ago I asked a class of about 50 students in a course on Emerging Infections whether they would receive the 2009 influenza H1N1 vaccine. None of them raised their hands. Yesterday, I taught seven high school biology classes about viruses; I asked each group (about 30 students) if they were going to get immunized. About 5 out of over 200 students said they would.
My informal poll may not be indicative of the mood of the entire nation, but there is no doubt that the vaccine is in trouble. You would have to be living in a cave to realize that fear about the 2009 H1N1 vaccine is being propagated by the press and various blogs and websites. Incorrect information from people who know little about viruses, viral vaccines, or infectious disease is easy to find. The following email from a Microbiology Professor in Portugal illustrates the problem:
It is impressive the amount of hate emails on H1N1 vaccines. With all this hate email, people are starting to ask if they should take the vaccines or not. I just hope it doesn’t spread to other vaccines. I’ve heard from a few health related workers that they won’t take the vaccines because they have doubts about their safety. The worst thing is, that most of the times the reason for that, is just an email they have recieved.
As you can see from the image above, even in non-pandemic years, the number of people who receive influenza vaccine in the US is low. The CDC estimated that the overall rate in the 2008-09 season was 32.6%. The number varies according to age and ethnicity, but the best immunization rate – 67% – is in those over 65 years of age. When the vaccine is a good match with the circulating strain – which happens to be the case with the 2009 H1N1 strain – the vaccine is 70-80% efficacious. But it’s not helpful at all if only a third of the general population is immunized.
I’ve already received my seasonal influenza vaccine and I’m waiting for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine to become available. My entire family – including my three children – will receive both vaccines. Is there any better endorsement for the vaccine? If you don’t believe me, read Paul Offit’s words on why the vaccine is safe and efficacious.
Please let me know whether or not you are going to receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine – and your reasons for shunning it – by posting a comment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009). Influenza vaccination coverage among children and adults – United States, 2008-09 influenza season. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 58 (39), 1091-5 PMID: 19816396