Moultrie Observer

Local News

September 7, 2010

Health officials dispel myths about vaccine

ALBANY — Each year when seasonal flu returns, it is often accompanied by another hazard, anti-vaccine myths that are not backed up by facts, Public Health experts said.  

“The vaccines approved by FDA to protect against influenza have a long and successful track record of safety and effectiveness in the United States,” Southwest Health District Immunization Coordinator Sue Dale said. “Seasonal influenza vaccination is the most important way of preventing seasonal flu and potentially severe complications, including death. Seasonal influenza vaccination reduces the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza or transmitting influenza to others.”

While no vaccine is 100 percent effective against preventing disease, Dale said vaccination is the best protection against influenza and can prevent many illnesses and deaths.

Yet at the same time county health departments gear up for their annual flu shot campaigns, myths and misconceptions about the safety of seasonal influenza vaccine typically start to circulate, Southwest Health District Health Director Jacqueline Grant said.

“A common misconception concerns thimerosal, a preservative derived from mercury used in multi-dose packs of vaccine,” Grant said. “People can request thimerosal-free vaccine, even though the amount of thimerosal used to prevent the batches of vaccine from going bad is too tiny to cause cancer.”

Another myth, that vaccines cause autism, has been popularized by Andrew Wakefield, a British physician whose work was discredited and who has been banned from working in medicine in his country.

“Autism is a neurological disorder that public health takes seriously,” Grant said. “However, research shows no link between autism and vaccines. What research does show is that vaccine protects us from vaccine-preventable diseases that can cause illnesses and, in some cases, death.”

The reason people should get vaccinated against influenza each year is because flu viruses are unpredictable and mutate frequently, Dale said. So each year, scientists analyze data to determine the three viruses most likely to cause illness in the season ahead and formulate a vaccine to protect against them. This year’s flu formula protects against the Pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus (the seasonal vaccine always contains an H1N1 strain), an A-H3N2 strain and a B-Brisbane strain.

Flu shots can’t cause flu because they don’t contain live viruses, Dale said. FluMist does contain weakened live viruses, but getting flu from FluMist is extremely rare because screenings are performed to ensure it is given to healthy individuals between 2 and 49 years old. However, people concerned about getting the live virus vaccine can choose injectable vaccine instead of FluMist.

“When people catch the flu after getting flu vaccine, it probably isn’t because the vaccine failed to protect them but because either they caught a strain that wasn’t included in the annual vaccine or they were already exposed to the virus prior to receiving the vaccine,” Dale said. It usually takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection against the flu virus.

“However, flu shots are generally 70 percent to 80 percent effective in healthy people, so it is possible to be vaccinated but still catch influenza,” Dale said.

This year, Southwest Health District is administering both nasal spray and injectable seasonal flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone sixth months old and older unless their healthcare provider indicates otherwise. The August salmonella outbreak in eggs didn’t affect vaccine production.

“The eggs used for influenza vaccine production are different from eggs that are used for food,” Dale said.

Southwest Health District’s 14-county health departments are expecting to begin administering seasonal flu vaccine later this month, Dale said.

The vaccine costs $25 per dose. County health departments will bill Medicare, Medicaid, PeachState, WellCare and AmeriGroup and state health benefit plans of United Healthcare and Cigna.

For more information, please contact the Colquitt County Health Department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.

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