Sunday, November 15, 2009

The 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine

My sister-in-law works at a pharmaceutical plant that is manufacturing the H1N1 vaccine. The flu itself is quite a hot topic in this area. A lot of people have come down with H1N1 flu (also known as swine flu) and I personally know several people of all ages and backgrounds who have been affected.

So when I heard about a H1N1 flu clinic at our county health department, I knew that I'd better gather the family and get us all to the clinic to get vaccinated. The health department was targeting at-risk individuals, but all county residents were welcome to get vaccinated.

The clinic was scheduled based on the first initial of your last name. We're rather high up in the alphabet, so we were able to go with the first group. The clinic opened at 7:30 am, and we got there about 7:45. And wow, was there a line!

And after a 2 1/2 hour wait, we finally received our vaccine and could leave. It was a very, very long wait. But it was free, and something I thought was important for our family. My daughter, all dressed up in her leotard and tights, was very disappointed that she missed out on her dance class. But she quickly got over that and later told me she didn't like dance class (say what?!?).

We selected the Live, attenuated intranasal vaccine (LAIV), which is the flumist equivalent of the H1N1 vaccine and is sprayed into the nose instead of injected via a shot in your arm. When I had the seasonal flu vaccine, I got it by shot; the kids got their seasonal vaccine via flumist and although they both put up quite a stink about getting it, they took it fairly well once they were calmed down, and especially after all was said and done because it was a painless way of receiving the vaccine.

And because I knew that a shot would be quite a traumatic experience, I opted for the nasal spray for the whole family. Even hubs, who has never had a flu vaccine in his life, got his H1N1 vaccine and he got the nasal spray version. Both kids cried a bit as the nurse prepared the LAIV, but neither of them fought it, and the whole experience was over and done with in seconds (not including the long wait, of course) without the pain that a shot would have given.

Aside from a weird taste in the back of our throats as the spray settled down our nasal passages, and a scratchy throat that I had Saturday afternoon that lasted for only a couple hours, we all have come out fairly well from getting vaccinated. Two thumbs up!

The Centers For Disease Control has some information available here regarding the 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine. We also got a fact sheet about the LAIV we received, and I thought some of the data was worth sharing with you:
What is 2009 H1N1 influenza?
2009 H1N1 influenza (sometimes called Swine Flu) is caused by a new strain of influenza virus. It has spread to many countries. Like other flu viruses, 2009 H1N1 spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and sometimes through touching objects contaminated with the virus. Signs of 2009 H1N1 can include: fatigue, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, chills, coughing, sneezing. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting. Most people feel better within a week. But some people get pneumonia or other serious illnesses....

How is 2009 H1N1 different from regular (seasonal) flu?
Seasonal flu viruses change from year to year, but they are closely related to each other. People who have had flu infections in the past usually have some imunity to seasonal flu viruses....The 2009 H1N1 flu virus is a new virus strain. It is very different from seasonal flu viruses. Most people have little or no immunity to 2009 H1N1 flu (their bodies are not prepared to fight off the virus).

2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine.
Vaccines are available to protect against 2009 H1N1 influenza. These vaccines are made just like seasonal flu vaccines. They are expected to be as safe and effective as seasonal flu vaccines. They will not prevent "influenza-like illnesses caused by other viruses. They will not prevent seasonal flu. You should also get seasonal influenza vaccine, if you want protection from seasonal flu.

Live, attenuated intransal vaccine (or LAIV) is sprayed into the nose (this is the vaccine we had). The inactivated vaccine is also available, which is given as a shot. The 2009 H1N1 LAIV does not contain thimerosal or other preservatives. It is licensed for people from 2 through 49 ages of year. The vaccine virus is attenuated (weakened) so it will not cause illness.

Who should get 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine and when?
LAIV is approved for people from 2 through 49 years of age who are not pregnant and do not have certain health conditions. Groups recommended to Receive 2009 H1N1 LAIV first are healthy people who: are from 2 through 24 years of age, are from 25 through 49 years of age and live with or care for infants younger than 6 months of age, or are health care or emergency medical personnel. As more vaccine becomes available, other healthy 25 through 49 year olds should also be vaccinated.

Get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available. Children through 9 years of age should get two doses of vaccine, about a month apart (so I'll need to take my kids back to the health department in a month for a booster). Older children and adults need only one dose.

Some people should not get the vaccine or should wait.

You should not get 2009 H1N1 LAIV if you have a severe (life-threatening) allergy to eggs, or to any other substance in the vaccine. Tell the person giving you the vaccine if you have any severe allergies. 2009 H1N1 LAIV should not be given to...children younger than 2 and adults 50 years and older, pregnant women, anyone with a weakened immune system, anyone with a long-term health problem, children younger than 5 years with asthma or one or more episodes of wheezing during the past year....

What are the risks from 2009 H1N1 LAIV?
A vaccine, like any medicine, could cause a serious problem, such as a severe allergic reaction. But the risk of any vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. The risks from 2009 H1N1 LAIV are expected to be similar to those from seasonal LAIV: mild problems: ...runny nose, nasal congestion or cough, fever, headache and muscle aches, wheezing, abdominal pain or occasional vomiting or diarrhea....severe problems: life-threatening allergic
reactions to vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination....

What if there is a severe reaction?
What should I look for? Any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness. What should I do? Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away. Tell the doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given. Ask your provider to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. Or you can file this report through the VAERS website at, or by calling 1-800-822-7967.

Vaccine injury compensation.
If you or your child has a reaction to the vaccine, your ability to sue is limited by law. However, a federal program has been create to help pay for the medical care and other specific expenses of certain persons who have a serious reaction to this vaccine. For more information about this program, call 1-888-275-4772 or visit the program's website at

How can I learn more?
Ask your provider. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information. Contact your local or state health department. Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): call 1-800-232-4636 or visit the CDC's website at or Visit the web at

I felt very strongly that my family needed the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. But it may not be right for you. However, if you are considering getting vaccinated, use care and caution, and make sure that, regardless of your decision, it is an informed one.

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