There’s been a slow rumble building inside me for awhile over inaccurate reporting on flu vaccine safety, but today while watching Inside Edition (I know, I know, don’t ask) it exploded. A few weeks ago they aired an episode about Desiree Jennings, a NFL cheerleader. In the report, they claimed the seasonal flu vaccine she received ten days earlier caused a serious neurological disorder, Dystonia. Today they kindly let folks know that the viral youtube video of her was falsely altered. Thank you Inside Edition. Now, can you also let your thousands of viewers know that most neurologists, including those from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, believe the woman isn’t suffering from Dystonia at all, but a psychogenic disorder (meaning it’s psychological). Please also let those viewers know that her doctors are banned from speaking publicly about her diagnosis, which makes her and the socially irresponsible anti-vaccine groups free to say whatever they want.

Ok, so let’s set a few things straight because folks are confusing all sorts of matters that are not related. This business about Dystonia occurring in 1 of every million flu vaccinees is bunk. Total BUNK. It has NEVER been associated. Never. People are confusing Dystonia with an association seen between Guillain-Barre syndrome and the 1976 flu vaccine. With that particular vaccine (the 1976 vaccine), there appeared to be 1 extra case per 100,000 people. The underlying incidence of Guillain-Barre in the population is 1-2 per 100,000. Several studies have been conducted since, and it’s a mixed bag. Most studies saw no association, whereas two found that the seasonal flu vaccine was associated with 1 extra case per 1 million people. [Seasona Flu Vaccine Safety. CDC website, accessed 02 November 2009]

So, what should you do? Well, you weigh the risks. It’s estimated that seasonal flu hospitalizes 750 people for every 1 million. What you don’t do is confuse the facts.

Ok, now let’s get to what’s really on everyone’s mind–safety of the novel H1N1 vaccine. The 2009 H1N1 vaccine is built on the same construct as the seasonal flu vaccine, which means it should have the same safety profile. Thus, it’s not likely to cause any adverse events but there is the chance that 1 person out of 1 million *might* suffer from Guillain-Barre syndrome as a result of vaccination (again, several studies found no association but two did). [H1N1 General Questions. CDC website, accessed 02 November 2009]

What I’d like you to get from this post is that public health officials are being honest with you. They’re trying to give you the facts so that you can make a knowledgeable choice. It just irks me that socially irresponsible people take that and twist it into a fear campaign. If you’re in one of the high risk groups (pregnant, aged less than 24 years, or immunocompromised and aged 25-64) you should really get the vaccine.

Don’t be fearful of a smart choice. Any questions?

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