About the H1N1 virus

It does seem as though the various levels of government and their health officials were terribly unprepared for the H1N1 influenza, although they knew it was coming months ago.

So what went wrong? Did they not expect people to respond to all their dire warnings of how bad things could get or did they not believe that all the media hype would resonate with the public, not to mention the deaths of a few people, especially people who seemed to otherwise be in good health?

These initial warnings resulted in hours-long lineups and disgraceful behaviour by some panicked people who must have felt that they could be at death’s door without the flu shot.

Obviously, this could have been handled much better. Did we not learn anything from the SARS epidemic of some six years ago?

Now, the blame game has begun. And the health authorities seem to be in the crosshairs of the politicians who are really good at passing out blame to everyone but themselves.

We understand that it was difficult to predict how many people would actually respond but, if the authorities felt that this would have been an epidemic of significant proportions, as they said they did, should they not have been better organized?

Now, thankfully, we are being told that it is not as severe as first thought, or something to that effect. And that those who are not in the at-risk categories could wait for another couple or so weeks until more flu shots are available.

But, is that because they have run out of the flu shots or that healthy people really are not at serious risk? We hardly know what to believe anymore.

Then there are the skeptics who feel that this vaccination has not been properly tested and that since we are dealing with a completely new strain of flu, no one seems to know exactly how effective it would be and what, if any, side effects there could be or how it will be tolerated by the body.

So, is the vaccine safe?

According to the respected world health organizations, the vaccine consists of dead or inactivated virus which means that one could not get H1N1 from the vaccine. That is important to know. Certain vaccines contain very small amounts of active virus which have been known to infect some people receiving them. These organizations have also stated that the vaccine appears to protect between 85 and 98 per cent of healthy adults receiving it.

Because of the rush to get the vaccine here in Toronto, local health authorities have decided to prioritize those who would receive it first, namely, children six months to five years old, pregnant women, frontline health workers and adults under the age of 65 who suffer from a chronic health condition such as heart, liver or kidney disease, a weak immune system and people with neurological or blood disorders.

With regards to pregnant women, health bodies suggest that while the regular adjuvanted vaccine is recommended as being safe, they might want to take instead an unadjuvanted vaccine. The difference is that the adjuvanted vaccine includes immune system boosters such as fish oil and Vitamin E which are meant to increase the body’s protection against the mutation of the virus while the unadjuvanted vaccine does not include boosters.

Those with an allergy to fish, for example, might want to take the latter although health authorities say that the fish oil which is extracted from shark liver is highly purified in the adjuvanted vaccine with steps taken to destroy potential allergens.

And those with mild egg allergies might want to contact their doctor before taking the vaccine.

There is also a minute amount of mercury in the vaccine but this is considered to be much too small to cause any problems. In fact, health authorities say that there is more mercury in a can of tuna than in this vaccine. Which should concern those of us who love tuna, shouldn’t it?

People have died from this flu, but not nearly as many as those who die annually from the regular flu. Something to think about.

However, as the saying goes, it is better to err on the side of caution.

And, wash those hands regularly.


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