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Dr. Michael Gardam in a lab at UHN in Toronto, August 29, 2007. (Ryan Carter/Ryan Carter)
Dr. Michael Gardam in a lab at UHN in Toronto, August 29, 2007. (Ryan Carter/Ryan Carter)

Discussion

H1N1 myth busters Add to ...

Q: There is so much controversy about the vaccine - in fact, several friends' doctors advised them not to get the vaccine for themselves or their young children. I am surprised at this but don't know why their doctors are advising that. It makes me even more nervous to hear that and even though my own doctor advised me to get the vaccine, I am confused. What are people afraid of?

A: As sad as it is for me to type this, not all doctors know what they are talking about. Much of our education has actually been aimed at doctors to make sure that they have the facts straight. There is almost no reason why somebody shouldn't get vaccinated ... it all comes down to whether you want to prevent yourself from getting the flu.

Q: I'm running the New York marathon on Nov. 1st. What, if any, are the possible down sides of getting the vaccine so close to race day? Should I just wait until I return to get my vaccination?

A: I love the marathon question, being crazy enough to do that kind of running myself. I definitely would get the vaccine. You don't want to be coughing up a lung on race day. You are going to be miserable enough as it is. Hope you get a PR.

Q: Have clinical studies showed any negative effects to getting the H1N1 vaccine?

A: There are studies and lots and lots of experience with components of this vaccine in millions of people that all say this vaccine is safe. There are no data saying it isn't safe.

Q: I'm concerned about the adjuvant squaline that is being added to the vaccine. This is the same substance that was added to the anthrax vaccine and was implicated in causing Gulf War Syndrome in American soldiers. I've heard people say this theory has been debunked, but I continue to hear evidence to the contrary.

A: I am glad you brought this up. If squalene is a problem, then we are all in trouble as we are all making it in our livers right now. It is a natural compound produced by your body. And the anthrax vaccine story is wrong. There was no squalene in that vaccine and it has never been scientifically linked to Gulf War syndrome. When people get sick they look for something to blame and vaccines seem to make a nice, easy target.

Q: Could you please talk about pregnant women? I understand the numbers in terms of risk of contracting the illness, but not in terms of getting seriously ill. Scary news stories have covered women dying/losing their babies who have underlying conditions/are smokers, etc. (mostly glossing over those facts), but what are the risks of getting really sick as a regular, healthy pregnant woman? And what are those risks vs the risks of getting the vaccine?

A: The risk of a pregnant woman contracting flu is the same as a non-pregnant woman. The risk of a pregnant woman getting really sick and potentially dying from flu is about 4-5 fold higher though. This has been shown consistently throughout this pandemic in multiple countries. The absolute risk of getting really sick though is still very small even if you are pregnant. I can't give you an exact numbers because that kind of data is not yet available.

Think of it this way: There is a small but documented risk of serious disease if you are pregnant, and serious disease is definitely a risk to your fetus. On the other hand, there is no evidence that any component of this vaccine is harmful to your fetus.

Q: My family has been sick but we were not tested. I realize testing everyone is time consuming and expensive but if I knew that I have already had, and survived, the swine flu I could then stop worrying for the rest of the winter (I worry about my kids as one has asthma and I have emphsyma) and my vaccine could go to some other person or country that may be short vaccines so in that sense why is testing not done on all people that show all the signs?

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