The Washington Post reported in early October that 28 pregnant women have died of the swine flu and the CDC specifies that pregnant women are at higher risk of death if they catch the swine flu, especially in the third trimester. An article in the November 3, 2009 British newspaper, the Telegraph, reiterates that pregnant women are at a proportionately high risk of having severe health problems from the swine flu.
My father-in-law, who reads these kinds of mainstream newspapers and Web sites, has been so disturbed by the increased risk to pregnant women that he’s been calling my husband to make sure I’m okay.
“I got my swine flu shot today,” he told James. “Jennifer going to get one?”
The answer is no. I’m one of the pregnant women criticized in articles like this one from from WebMD who are wary of the swine flu vaccine and have decided not to get the shot.
Citing a new survey that shows that only one in four pregnant women plan to get vaccinated against H1N1, this WebMD article laments that so many pregnant women have “confusion” about the risks of the vaccine and then dismisses the concern that the vaccine might cause adverse reactions, claiming that “… researchers say the H1N1 vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu shot and has been found in clinical studies to be safe and effective at producing an immune response in healthy adults.”
But there are several compelling reasons why pregnant women should not run to the nearest pharmacy and get vaccinated.
Just ask Vicky Debold, an RN with a Ph.D. in Public Health who is also the Director of Research and Patient Safety at the National Vaccine Information Center. DeBold believes pregnant women should be wary about the swine flu vaccine, though when she wrote a response to a pro-vaccine op-ed by Paul Offit (a vocal spokesperson in favor of vaccines who also developed and co-owns the patent on one of the newest vaccines mandated on the CDC schedule for children), the New York Times did not publish it.
Bottom line: Debold argues that there is not enough information about the effect of the vaccine on pregnant women and their fetuses for anyone to claim that it is safe.
1) The vaccine has not been adequately tested on pregnant women: The NIH’s H1N1 pregnancy trial began less than two months ago (in September) and includes only 120 women. We have no results from this trial to date but, according to Debold, we do know that an earlier 1997-2002 seasonal influenza vaccine study of over 49,000 pregnant women showed that vaccination did not reduce influenza-related hospital admissions or doctor visits. At the same time, the influenza vaccine package inserts explain that animal reproductive tests have not been conducted on the vaccine and the potential harm to fetuses is unknown.
2) The H1N1 vaccine contains thimerosal, a mercury compound known to be a fetal toxin: There are two versions of the vaccine, one that contains 25 mcg of thimerosal and one that does not. Although pregnant women can request the thimerosal-free vaccine, it is harder to find. If you do not specifically ask to be given the vaccine without thimerosal, chances are you will be injecting a known neurotoxin into your blood stream.
3) There is no real data about the evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine: Risk assessment is a tricky business. Some people—like me—believe we should take the risk of contracting a wild virus found in human populations over the risk of potential damage done by a pharmaceutical product that makes money for big business and doctors. Other people—most of American society—believe the opposite. But I wonder why anyone would choose to be injected with a pharmaceutical product that has not been adequately tested and very well may not work.
4) Health officials are assuming that the H1N1 vaccine is “as safe as the seasonal flu vaccine,” but this assumption may simply be wrong: The H1N1 virus is behaving differently than the usual seasonal flu viruses, so we cannot assume that the H1N1 vaccine will provoke the same reactions in different people as the seasonal flu vaccine. Debold isn’t buying this unsubstantiated assumption. I’m not either.