Will the Swine Flu Vaccine be safe?

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Will the Swine Flu Vaccine be safe?

At my practice, patients are already asking about the safety of H1N1 (Swine) flu vaccine – event though it’s not likely to be out for a month or two. Here’s what I am telling them.
More Information:
Most patients say they are worried about one of three things:

  • thimerosal
  • adjuvants, and
  • whether the new vaccine will increase the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome or even death.

I’ve blogged on the safety of thimerosal in the past.

However, not to worry, as both the seasonal and Swine flu vaccines will come in versions that don’t contain thimerosal.
These chemical additives can boost immune response … and thereby allow using lower doses to stretch the vaccine supply. However, the Swine flu vaccine will not contain adjuvants. But versions with adjuvants are being tested in case they are needed.
Guillain-Barre syndrome and death
The Swine flu vaccine from 30 years ago was linked to a small increased risk of Guillain-Barre. Prescriber’s Letter, written by a highly respected group of Doctors of Pharmacy says, “Tell patients that an increased risk is unlikely with the new Swine vaccine. The new one is manufactured just like seasonal flu vaccine … and is very different from the old swine flu vaccine.”
Live vaccines
Patients are also asking if the Swine flu vaccine will be available in a nasal mist. Indeed! MedImmune is producing a nasal Swine flu vaccine … similar to FluMist. Expect it to be an alternative to the injectable Swine flu vaccine for healthy people ages 2 to 49.
As to the seasonal flu vaccine. We will start giving it tomorrow (August 31, 2009) The CDC is recommending that doctors start giving the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it’s available …to free up time to give the H1N1 vaccine later. The CDC says, “Reassure people that immunity will last the whole flu season … even if they are vaccinated in September.”
Also, the CDC says, “Tell people NOT to believe rumors that the seasonal vaccine helps protect against H1N1 flu. The strains are different.”
Here are other blogs in this series you might find useful:


  1. Janet Tunstall says:

    What about the vaccine for shingles? Can it re-occur?

  2. Dr. Walt says:

    Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Shingles (Herpes Zoster) vaccine (Zostavax) can prevent this disease. A shingles vaccine was recently recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to reduce the risk of shingles and its associated pain in people 60 years old or older. See MMWR: Prevention of Shingles (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr57e0515a1.htm?s_cid=rr57e0515_e).

  3. Dan Ciccone says:

    I am currently being treated for shingles ( a mild case as I had the shingle vaccine about two years ago) I am trying to find out if I should get the annual flu shot and if so will it adversely affect the shingles? Your advice is very much appreciated. Thank you.

  4. Dr. Walt says:

    Dan, this is a question for your doctor to answer for you. Call the office tomorrow and ask for your doctor’s nurse. He or she should be able to get the answer for you quickly.

  5. Dr. Walt says:

    Also, there are two more recent blogs that may be of interest to you:
    1) Is the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safe? An Update
    2) What do I do if I think I have the 2009 H1N1 Swine flu?

  6. Jack says:

    Are you seeing any shingle cases after a flu shot? I have a 55 yr old male friend who just got shingles within two days after a seasonal flu shot. There was a lot of online chatter last year about this.
    I have always had a flu shot and plan to continue but would like to be better informed.

  7. Dr. Walt says:

    I’ve never heard of the influenza vaccine causing shingles. And, it’s not listed as even a potential side effect on any of the major, evidence-based, medical websites. So, my suspicion is that this is a coincidence. However, it does remind us all that the CDC recommends an annual influenza vaccination for all adults 50 years of age or older, a one-time shingles vaccine at age 60, and a pneumococcal shot at age 65.

  8. Tom R says:

    Hi Dr. Walt,
    I find myself in a war of sorts with 2 Chiropractors who happen to be my friends. They are VERY anti-vaccine which I find to be VERY irresponsible. One of the things they have up on their white board in their office is that the flu vaccine contains ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, aluminum and other really terrible sounding ingredients. Is this true? I can find nothing on the Internet to verify their claims other than other wack job sites spouting the same thing. Nothing from the CDC, WHO, or NIH. Thanks for the help!

  9. kevin says:

    I am 50 and came down with shingles w/i 4 days of getting the seasonal flu shot. I am very healthy and active. Maybe just coincidence but it does make you wonder what else would have caused your immune system to go into overdrive.

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