For Dr. Quinn, choosing whether or not to vaccinate against swine flu is, like any health decision, a matter of risk-benefit analysis. A mother herself, she understands the widespread concern. "All mothers worry about anything would put their children at any risk. That’s who we are, that's built into us."
The risk for serious, life-threatening complications is highest for pregnant women, children, and those who are chronically ill. However, recent statics from the CDC have confirmed that seemingly healthy young people with no risk factors have also been struck down by the disease—which heightens concern.
The risks associated with the H1N1 vaccine are markedly lower—and on par with the seasonal flu vaccine. "The seasonal vaccine has a very good safety record. If you have a side effect, it’s usually minor, like a sore arm or redness at the injection side," she says, adding that the H1N1 vaccine is made in the same way as seasonal flu vaccines. "That’s not to say that there’s never been a side effect. But nothing we do in life is risk-free."
Similarly, the theoretical risks associated with thimerosal and GBS pale in comparison to the hard facts of swine flu deaths in the US. "Pregnant woman make up roughly 1% of population, but 6.1% of the deaths from H1N1—way out of proportion to who they are in the population." Similarly, she notes that by October the US has seen the same number of pediatric deaths from H1N1 that normally occur over an entire flu season. "We’re still early in this,” she says, "and children have nothing in terms of immunity to protect them—except a vaccine."
If you are ambivalent about the vaccine, talk with your OB/GYN or pediatrician about your concerns—and don’t delay. "Often, people aren’t swayed until they see something hit close to home," says Quinn. "And that’s awfully late to wait."
Whether you are for or against vaccines, or caught somewhere in the middle, there are steps you can take to keep yourself and your family healthy.
To minimize the spread of swine flu:
- Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Use a tissue, if possible, and be sure to throw the tissue away and wash your hands. You can also sneeze or cough into your inner elbow instead of your hands.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (Alcohol-based hand sanitizers also work).
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home if you are sick. If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.