Students should consider getting swine flu vaccine

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The swine flu vaccine is here. Finally. After months of hearing about almost nothing but swine flu in the news, the whole scare will finally end — hopefully.

Now that this whole story should have a happy ending, people are complicating it by saying that the vaccine is unsafe. The reason? First, many people are skeptical about the usual seasonal flu vaccine and believe that it causes more problems than it solves. These skeptics view the swine flu vaccine in a similar manner and don’t want to have anything to do with it. Secondly, many worry that since the vaccine was created in such a hurry, it will have a lot of problems and that proper testing has probably not been done. Lastly, when H1N1 resulted in a major epidemic across the nation in 1976, the vaccine developed at the time led to major complications.

The first reason for people’s paranoia is somewhat understandable. I’ve heard lots of rumors about how the flu vaccine can cause slight flu-like symptoms such as headaches. Who would want to fall sick after taking a vaccine that is supposed to prevent that very thing from happening? Personally, I share the same paranoia, and after being offered a flu shot — for free in fact — I still refused it. Although I understand that many of the rumors associated with the vaccine are probably baseless, I’m still scared. What people should realize, however, is that H1N1 is not like the seasonal flu. Unlike the seasonal influenza virus, the young are highly vulnerable to H1N1. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since April, 76 children in the country have died because of swine flu. High-risk groups like children and pregnant women could therefore benefit greatly from the vaccine, and for such people, I think it is worth taking the risk of getting mild flu-like symptoms (although the CDC denies any problems associated with either the H1N1 or the seasonal flu vaccine.)

The second reason — that of the vaccine being developed in a hurry — was addressed by an article in The New York Times. The article says that normally it takes around five to six months to create a vaccine, and that’s how long it took to make this one. It also states that since there will soon be data of response to the vaccine from all over the world, this vaccine will actually be better tested than the usual seasonal flu vaccine. Case closed there, I suppose.

The last reason is what at least I believe to be one of the major causes for the mixed reactions to the H1N1 vaccine. In 1976, the strain of H1N1 that infected millions across the nation was far more lethal than the strain that has been infecting people now. When the vaccine was developed, it was linked to cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disorder that causes severe weakness of the nerves and can even lead to death. The CDC’s response to such queries regarding today’s vaccine and GBS is that today’s strain of H1N1, and consequently today’s vaccine, is different from the 1976 strain of the virus. The CDC also states that in the general population, one in 100,000 people develop GBS on their own regardless of whether or not they’ve received a vaccine. Two studies have shown that one in a million people are at risk of developing GBS because of the seasonal flu vaccine. Given this number, it is far more likely that a person will die because of complications associated with swine flu rather than GBS.

As of now, the vaccine is being administered to health care workers and high-risk groups. When it becomes available for use to the general public, I guess people will have to use their own discretion to decide whether to take it. Everything comes with risks, but in this case I believe that it might be worth taking the risk.