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Swine Flu Vaccine Cheat Sheet

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Stressed about swine flu? This information should help ease your fears.

child getting swine flue vaccine
Gina Kaysen Fernandes: Unless you're living under a rock, it's impossible to avoid the media frenzy surrounding the H1N1 flu outbreak that's sweeping the globe. While the U.S. government is scrambling to get its hands on enough of the vaccine, its message is getting murky. 

The vaccine for the swine flu virus should be ready for release next week. Meanwhile, parents are getting bombarded with misinformation, rumors, and propaganda that can leave moms feeling more confused than comforted. Here's the lowdown on what you need to know before you decide to vaccinate yourself or your child.

You need separate vaccine shots for H1N1 and the seasonal flu.
True.

The seasonal flu shot will not protect against the H1N1 flu because it's a different strain. Children under the age of ten will need two doses of the H1N1 vaccine, administered through either a nasal spray or an injection. When children younger than ten get their first flu vaccine, one dose doesn't spark as much immune protection, so those first-timers are given two shots, a month apart, for better protection. That means these youngsters will need four shots total to protect against both flu strains. The vaccines can be given at the same time, and the seasonal flu shot is already available. Children younger than six months of age cannot receive either flu shot.

Everyone who wants a vaccine shot for swine flu will get one in the U.S.
True.

The CDC recommends that certain groups of the population receive the H1N1 vaccine first. These target groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months old, and adults who have chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems. 

Other high-risk groups include health care and emergency medical services personnel, children 6 months old through 4 years of age, and children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions. Eventually everyone who wants a shot will get it by mid-November or December.

There's an anticipated shortage of the vaccine.
False.

The CDC does not expect a shortage of the H1N1 vaccine, but availability and demand can be unpredictable. There's a chance that initially the vaccine will be available in limited quantities. But there will be more than enough to go around for anyone who wants a shot.

It's mandatory that all young children and pregnant women get the vaccine.
False.

This is entirely a voluntary program.

The government wants all schoolchildren to get vaccinated.
True.

The government is strongly recommending that children between the ages of 6 months to 24 years old get vaccinated. "This population is more vulnerable to this flu," said Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC.

Pregnant women are at higher risk of getting swine flu.
True.

For reasons that are still not fully understood, a pregnant woman's immune system is more prone to being compromised. That puts expectant mothers at a greater risk for infections and suffering from the complications that accompany influenza. In addition to potentially putting her fetus at risk, a pregnant woman who becomes sick with swine flu has an increased risk of death. In fact, 28 of 700 pregnant women who've contracted swine flu have died of it.

There's mercury in the vaccine.
True
.
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative used in the manufacture of some influenza vaccines. Tiny trace amounts that remain are so small it's not possible to have any effect. The preservative kills bacteria, allowing for the vaccine to be produced in bulk. Most of the vaccines for children are thimerosal-free, but not all of the batches of the swine flu shot are thimerosal-free. Parents can request thimerosal-free vaccines if they have concerns with the multi-dose vials.

My child is at risk of autism if they get the vaccine.
False.

This is a controversial subject because parents of children with autism spectrum disorders have long opposed vaccinations based on the widely disputed notion that autism-related conditions are caused by vaccines and vaccine additives. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, scientific studies show there's no link between thimerosal and autism. In fact, autism rates have actually increased since thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001. The mainstream medical community agrees that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. For more information, check out this report.

The vaccine has some side effects.
True.

The reactions were generally mild and resolved after 72 hours. Reported adverse events or side effects occurred at the injection site, and include the following:

• Tenderness
• Pain
• Redness
• Hardening of skin
• Swelling
• Bruising
• Low-grade fever

One of the biggest misconceptions, doctors say, is that flu shots will give you the flu. The flu virus in the shots or the nasal spray is either dead or inactive, so it can't get you sick. Doctors say there shouldn't be any more side effects from the H1N1 shots than the regular seasonal flu shots.

If I'm young and healthy, I don't need the vaccine.
False.

"It all comes down to whether or not that person wants to risk getting sick," said Skinner, who adds, "We know that even people who are healthy get very sick. The best way to prevent getting the flu is to get vaccinated."

My child is completely protected from swine flu if they get the vaccine.
False.

While the vaccine is highly effective, it's not 100% effective; you can still come down with swine flu if vaccinated. People who are vaccinated, even if they get sick, are less likely to develop severe complications. The vaccine can help prevent the serious medical conditions that are sometimes found in people with flu.

Scientists genetically engineered H1N1 as a bio-weapon.
False.

The Internet is buzzing with conspiracy theories that the swine flu is man-made. But the CDC insists otherwise. "Everything that we know about the origins of this virus suggest that this was a natural occurring virus that has human, avian, and swine properties -- a combination of those three," said Skinner.

Most parents say they're not worried about their kids getting sick from swine flu.
True.

It appears most parents are taking this pandemic in stride. According to a poll conducted by the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's hospital, 40% of parents said they planned to get their kids immunized against the H1N1 virus. It seems the seasonal flu is of more concern: 54% of parents said they'll get their children vaccinated against the regular flu. Among the parents who said they don't intend to vaccinate against H1N1, 46% indicated they're not worried about their kids becoming sick with the virus, while 26% said they don't believe the H1N1 flu is a serious disease.

The federal government will distribute the swine flu vaccine for free, but that doesn't mean the flu shots are free.
True.

The vaccine shots will be free. However, some people may have to pay a small administration fee to receive the vaccine. Some insurance companies will cover the administration fee. You should check ahead of time to find out the cost.

The virus spreads through coughing, sneezing, and unclean hands, so the best defense against the flu is good hygiene. Here are some tips on how to prevent the spread of germs:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
• If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
• Put used tissues in the trash.
• Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Wash with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand cleaner.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• If you get sick, stay home from work or school, and limit your contact with others to keep from infecting them. People should stay home at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100°F), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications. 


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