How safe is the H1N1 vaccine?

Dr. Harry Yoshino
Dr. Harry Yoshino
Charmaine Ilar
Charmaine Ilar
Anya Fankboner
Anya Fankboner

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Hawaii health officials continue to administer the H1N1 vaccine, just in time for the flu season. The state received its first shipment of 3,500 doses Monday. But there are still many questions about the vaccine that's designed to protect people against this new strain.

The big question is, is it safe? The vaccine was rolled out in less than five months after the H1N1 virus was discovered. Some wonder about the ingredients in the vaccine, but health officials say we have nothing to worry about.

A typical pregnancy check up becomes a bit atypical as expectant moms these days have to think about swine flu and the H1N1 vaccine.

"I definitely plan on taking it just because I had the regular flu before and I didn't take the flu vaccine," said Charmaine Ilar, who is expecting her fourth child. "So now I'm very cautious about that. I don't want to get the flu again."

Ilar is two and a half months pregnant. Her doctor recommends getting the pandemic vaccine.

"There's been no data that shows that it's harmful," said Dr. Harry Yoshino, her ob/gyn physician. "Actually, it can provide some protection for the newborn."

And this is especially important for expectant mothers. Studies show pregnant women are six times as likely to die from complications with H1N1 than the general population.

"The pregnant woman's body adapts so that it doesn't reject the pregnancy," said Dr. Yoshino.

And that adaptation weakens the woman's immune system, making her more susceptible to contracting illnesses.

But some have questions about this new vaccine.

"I'm just wondering if it's going to work and how effective it's going to be," said Anya Fankboner, a mother of a toddler.

... and about the safety of the vaccine's ingredients, like thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative.

"There shouldn't be any concern," said Dr. Yoshino. "The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is not going to recommend things that they haven't researched or are unsafe."

The ones first to get the pandemic vaccination are health care workers and pregnant women, two groups represented here. With flu season upon us, Dr. Yoshino says it would be foolish not to get it.

"It just reassures me that I think I should be okay with taking the vaccine," said Ilar.

And that's good enough for this mom.

"I feel we go to doctors for a reason because they're educated in this," said Fankboner. "So if they're recommending it, we should go with the recommendations."

The CDC is keeping a close eye, just to make sure there are no unusual side effects. Close to 15,000 doses are available in Hawaii. Check with your doctor to see when it is available for you.