By Glen D. Armstrong, PhD, Thomas Louie, M.D., and John Conly, M.D., Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary and The Calvin, Phoebe, and Joan Snyder Institute of Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation.
Although there appears to be a lull in the number of serious H1N1 cases appearing in our hospitals, now is not the time to let our guard down. The H1N1 virus has resulted in severe infection with respiratory failure and increased numbers of intensive care unit admissions. And this is before the typical influenza season peaks in February or March. There is still plenty of time to get vaccinated. Now would be the perfect time to visit a vaccination clinic because of the significantly reduced wait times.
We want to remind people of one irrefutable fact; the incredible freedom we all now enjoy from once devastating infectious diseases because of safe effective vaccines. A short list includes smallpox, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, meningitis, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, and hepatitis A and B. We cannot overemphasize that these are all diseases that no longer kill or severely disable millions of youngsters and adults every year in the developed world, thanks to safe and effective immunization programs.
We openly acknowledge that none of these vaccines is 100 per cent safe. We have learned from experience that in any mass vaccination program, a very small proportion, less than one in a million people, will experience a severe adverse reaction to the vaccine. Such rare reactions may lead to lifelong physical or mental disabilities. In this regard, the H1N1 vaccine is no different than any of other.
The anti-H1N1 vaccination proponents are misleading and distorting the facts around the vaccine being distributed. They are making the minimal risks appear much greater than they really are. If you carefully read the articles the anti-vaccine proponents quote in their fear-mongering campaigns, the H1N1 vaccine is no more dangerous or different in formula or action than any of the other vaccines routinely and safely used for decades to prevent deadly infections from spreading in human populations.
With the exception of a minority of older individuals, our population has no natural immunity to the H1N1 virus. Unlike the typical seasonal flu strains, the H1N1 virus affects young and old, healthy, pregnant, or sick individuals in a capricious and unpredictable manner. The H1N1 virus also has more potential to cause societal hardship, and loss of income to families and businesses due to employee absenteeism. So why not get vaccinated to protect ourselves, our family members, friends and society at large?
After all, the H1N1 vaccine is provided free of charge to all Canadians in order to protect themselves and probably more importantly, others around them. The societal benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. Despite the impression the H1N1 pandemic may be over, we still strongly encourage all Canadians to be vaccinated against H1N1. Now is not the time to let our guard down.