The following discussion was originally published on Oct. 23, 2009 and was conducted live from 1-2 p.m. ET. It has been edited for clarity and to better help answer your questions on swine flu/H1N1. Read the transcript from the original discussion here.
Caroline Alphonso: Welcome everyone to our H1N1 discussion with Dr. Michael Gardam of the Ontario Agency of Health Protection and Promotion. Health Canada approved the vaccine on Wednesday, and local public health authorities are embarking on mass vaccination clinics starting the week of Oct. 25 across the country. This is the country's largest immunization campaign.
The following questions were posed to Dr. Gardam from readers.
Q: Do you as a doctor feel safe taking the H1N1 flu shot? I mean the Canadian studies aren't even done yet! I for one won't be taking the shot!
A: I actually had planned to get my shot this morning but our hospital hasn't received it yet--hopefully I can get it Monday. This vaccine is like any other vaccine or drug -- we don't need Canadian studies to say that they are safe and effective. The data for this vaccine come from Europe. The Canadian studies are more about fine tuning the vaccination process...
Q: My son is 3 1/2, recently had an asthma attack for first time, should he get the vaccine with or without the adjuvant?
A: I think your son should get the adjuvanted vaccine. Here is why: He is in the age group that is likely to get infected; he has asthma which is a risk factor for more severe flu; the adjuvanted vaccine gives a better immune response than the unadjuvanted vaccine (it works better); and it is available now, whereas the unadjuvanted vaccine won't be available for awhile.
Q: My son has epilepsy and everything that I read leads me to agree that he needs the vaccine. I am nervous, however, as you hear so many conflicting reports regarding the safety of the vaccine. I have always believed in vaccination, but this time I am very worried. What are your take on the safety of this vaccine?
A: The reality is that there really are not any credible reports about any safety issues with the vaccine. we have been giving flu shots for decades ... this is just another flu shot. The only difference is the adjuvant, which has been used in millions of people around the world. The adjuvant is made up of two natural fats: vitamin E and squalene which is a molecule your body makes (the squalene in the vaccine comes from fish oil). I'm giving it to my kids without any worries.
Q: I have just received innoculation for the seasonal flu. ... when should I receive the HiNI flu shot ? I am over 65 years of age?
A: There is no reason why you can't get the H1N1 vaccine as well. The good news is you are more likely than someone under-65 to already have protective immunity to H1N1 (so you are less likely to get infected), but if you do get infected, you have a higher risk than someone younger of ending up really sick. So bottom line, I would get it.
Q: I am over 65 and am a doctor. Should I get the H1N1 shot first, wait for a while and then get the regular flu shot? Or the other way round? or both together? Is it necessary to wait a specified period of time between the two flu shots?
A: You can get both shots at the same time, one in each arm.
Q: Myself and two of my children have already had the flu this season (we're in Vancouver and our school has been hit hard). We don't know for sure if it was H1N1, but it likely was. Do we still need to be vacinated?
A: Eventhough we had a peak of flu last spring going into the summer, the reality is that the majority of people who had symptoms during that time did not have H1N1 - there were other viruses circulating in the community at that time. Certainly if you had a positive test for H1N1 I don't think you need to run out and get vaccinated, but otherwise, the odds are you didn't have H1N1.