The H1N1 vaccine is arriving at local physicians’ offices and health departments. Many parents are rushing to get their children vaccinated, but others continue to have questions and concerns, making this vaccine yet another in the pantheon of childhood immunizations that have faced scrutiny.
Dr. Ken Haller, a SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, says H1N1 vaccine doses have been flying off the shelves in his office. “Even though there may be a perception that many people are concerned about the vaccine, we’re barely keeping up with demand,” he says.
Saint Louis University, where Haller is associate professor of pediatrics, was one of nine national research sites that tested the H1N1 vaccine. Haller notes that because the vaccine was developed to combat the specific H1N1 virus, it is 90 to 95 percent effective. The seasonal flu vaccine is 60 to 80 percent effective, in large part because scientists have to anticipate the flu strain that will strike most people and create a vaccine based on those assumptions.
“The H1N1 nasal spray vaccine is going fast,” Haller says. The spray is safe for generally healthy people older than 2. Pregnant women, people with long-term health
problems, and children from 6 months to 2 years old should receive the injectable flu vaccine instead.
As a physician in a teaching hospital, Haller is especially keen to educate. He listens to parents’ worries, answers questions and explains the science behind the immunization debate. “Once we talk about the facts related to vaccines, most parents realize there’s no link between vaccinations and conditions such as autism,” he says. “I get frustrated with that argument because I’ve been around long enough to see just how dangerous many of the diseases we immunize against are,” he continues. “Young parents today may not realize just how serious childhood illnesses like chicken pox or pertussis can be because they haven’t seen much of these diseases in recent history.”
Haller also points out that as the spectrum of autism disorders has expanded in recent years, a subsequent increase in autism diagnoses occurred. Disorders that were not categorized a decade or two ago are now considered part of the autism spectrum.
Dr. Joseph Kahn, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at St. John’s Mercy Children’s Hospital, agrees that the vaccine-autism link is unsubstantiated and should not deter parents from immunizing their children. “I tell parents that there is absolutely no data to support this,” he says. “The British scientist who first proposed this link has refuted his own previous claim and admitted that his data was flawed and that he was wrong.”
He adds that failure to vaccinate children is “foolish and dangerous. Immunization is safe and effective with minimal minor side effects. There is a small but real chance of complications, including fatal complications, with both the chicken pox vaccine, which can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and hepatitis, and the influenza vaccine, which can develop into pneumonia or other secondary bacterial infections.”
Kahn recommends parents gather accurate information about vaccines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).
Meanwhile, Kahn sums up that parents should “have your children immunized, and keep them home and away from others if they do become ill.”