Truth behind H1N1 vaccine

Kathleen Ambre

In the heat of a state-wide H1N1 or “swine” flu pandemic, regional health providers feel obligated to respond to the issue at hand as quickly and efficiently as possible. Of course, as one might expect, practitioners encourage Minnesotans to continue to take basic precautions, but as the virus sweeps schools all across the metro, vaccines are more than just a “possible” prevention method; they are vital.

Concerned citizens are seeking a “miracle drug” quick to inject its magic and prevent infection. However, as one might assume, the process of designing such a vaccine is not by any means “quick” or “easy.” Dawning from the very first cases within the state, there has been talk of manufacturing vaccines for mass distribution in order to ensure the health and well being of the public. But, only 10 regional health providers across the state have received vaccines, and it’s not much.

Children’s Hospital, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, is one of the 10 who has received 1,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine. “The first shipment arrived the second week of October,” said Children’s physician and infection preventionist, Adriene Thornton.

However, all vaccines are to be administered to high-risk patients rather than the general public. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that certain priority groups–pregnant women, people who live or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel, and those suffering from compromised immune systems–receive the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it becomes available. “These patients are not able to fight off disease as well as a healthy person can, so it is important to get them vaccinated early,” said Dr. Thornton.

Most effected by “swine” flu develop relatively mild symptoms–fatigue, fever, runny nose and loss of appetite–but those with underlying health conditions are hit hard, resulting in more hospitalizations and extensive treatment. “H1N1 causes mild illness in most people,” said Dr. Thornton, “But, for patients with underlying conditions it has been known to be more severe and result in more hospitalizations and more extensive treatment.”

Although few have actually received the vaccine, side effects have been reported. These include vomiting, diminished consciousness and, more minor symptoms, hives and allergic reactions. “The severity varies depending on the patient, the presence of underlying medical conditions, and how soon we were able to treat the patient with antivirals” said Dr. Thornton.

Due to an overwhelming number of school absences and sick days, one may speculate the measures of preparation made by Children’s and other hospitals across the state. However, from the development of summer algorithms to the address of staff and vaccine shortages, steps have been made and procedures followed to absolve the health crisis. Children’s Hospital expects to receive an additional shipment of vaccines the first week of November. “We are receiving the vaccine in batches, and administering it to staff and patients in the most fair and equitable way we can,” said Dr. Thornton, “We have a good solid plan, but we can’t put it into action until we get the remaining vaccine.”