By Sharmina Manandhar
WASHINGTON – Experts agree that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to the new swine flu vaccines, expected to be available in mid-October.
Those same experts recommend getting both swine flu and seasonal flu vaccines to prepare for the upcoming flu season.
“There is no scientific rationale to believe that the new vaccines are unsafe,” said Dr. Wilbur H. Chen, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore and one of the researchers leading the national study of the H1N1 vaccine conducted by the National Institutes of Health. “The swine flu vaccines are manufactured exactly the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine.”
But despite health experts’ reassurance and the “safety record of the seasonal flu vaccines,” the public continues to be concerned about side effects of the new swine flu vaccine, according to news reports.
The worries may stem from the vaccination campaign of 1976, when some of those inoculated developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare, transient neurological condition that causes temporary muscle weakness or paralysis.
“This is a legitimate question,” Chen said. “Since 1976, the scientific community has been on heightened alert and we look for such possibilities in all new vaccines and haven’t seen anything yet in our studies.”
So far about 2,000 people, aged 6 months and older, have been immunized in five different clinical trials to determine the optimal dose of the unique H1N1 vaccines manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur and CSL.
Three other companies — Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and MedImmune — have been approved to manufacture the new swine flu vaccines.
Manufacturers project that 45 million doses of the vaccine will be available by mid-October, according to Artealia Gilliard, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Based on current data, Chen said the optimal vaccine will be two doses approximately 21 days apart.
The swine flu threat seems to be drawing public attention away from the threats of seasonal flu.
“Even though H1N1 has been getting a lot of the top-line publicity, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that seasonal flu takes its toll year in and year out,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases press conference Thursday. “So this is a serious disease and when it comes to strains of the flu, getting vaccinated we know is the best line of defense.”
A similar recommendation was made by Dr. Daniel R. Perez, associate professor at the Department of Veterinary Medicine at University of Maryland, College Park.
“I would absolutely recommend people to get the new swine flu vaccine along with the seasonal flu vaccine,” said Perez, an expert on swine and avian flu vaccine development “because even though swine flu threatens to be a pandemic, we cannot rule out the threats of seasonal flu.”