How to make an informed decision about the swine-flu vaccine

November 4, 2009

h1n1 vaccine

1.  Find out the name of the company that supplies the vaccine in your country (google news search,your health department website or ask your pharmacist).

2.  Find their consumer information leaflet AND their product information leaflet (They should be available on the company’s website or you can ask at your local pharmacy).  Be aware that consumer information leaflets have a tendency to be watered down and reassuring in tone.  So you need to make sure you get hold of an information sheet that clearly lists the expected side effects AND their incidence (how often they occur). 

3.  You’ll find because these vaccines are new and were rushed onto the market testing will have been limited, or not required, depending on which country in which you live.  Therefore there will be no “post-marketing surveillance” available yet – that is a record of the reported adverse side affects after it has been marketed to the public.  However, you can get some idea of the expected side effects from the company’s seasonal flu vaccine.  So hunt out that information as well.  Be aware however to check the ingredients of the swine flu vaccine with the seasonal flu vaccine to see if there are any differing ingredients.  If so you need to look them up.

4.  If you are really keen to make an informed decision hunt out the original study.  If you know how to read these studies they’ll be a minefield of information.  But you may be surprised by how much you can pick up just as a lay person by just putting on a your critical thinking hat.  The big advantage of doing so is that medical studies, particularly for vaccines, are notorious for saying something different in the body of the study to what is contained in the abstract and the conclusion.   Effectively this means you may find evidence in the body of the study which disputes or brings the claimed effectiveness and safety stated in the conclusion into question.  Don’t assume your doctor will have done this.  Some will, but many will just have read the information provided to them by the health department or, time-pressed, will only have read the abstract and conclusions.  (I have read CSL’s study, their product information sheet and their consumer information sheet and hope to share details of it in a few days.  I have also read the information which the health department has sent to the doctors and was shocked by how little relevant detail it actually gives to our doctors.)

5.  Do a risk assessment.  That is: (a) work out how many deaths and adverse reactions there have been to date from the swine flu and work those out as a percentage of the population (b) work out how many deaths and adverse reactions will be expected from the vaccine, multiplied over the population.  Compare those figures.  That will give you an assessment of your risk to date.  It does not take into account projected deaths if the incidence of infection dramatically rises.  It’s extremely difficult how accurate estimates may be.  The best you can do is try your best to sort out fact from hype, which unfortunately entails a bit of research. (No. 6 & 7)

6.  Find out the incidence of normal seasonal flu deaths in your country.  See how that compares with deaths so far due to swine flu.  How many fold will swine flu have to increase to reach the normal level?  Yes that’s right INCREASE to meet the normal level.  Do the same with the incidence of swine flu in the world as compared to the normal seasonal flu.  (I’ll cheat and tell you that one, but feel free to check the WHO site where I found both figures.  There were  just under 5000 cases of swine flu at the end of October – six months into the pandemic – compared to 250,000 to 500,000 case of normal flu per annum. 

No doubt you’ll then ask the obvious question, “Then why has this been declared a pandemic?”

Then the real reasearch begins…

I’ve spent six months researching this issue reading everything I can find, from the most conservative of organisations to the most hard-line vaccine critics and I’ve even dipped into conspiracy theories:

  • I’ve completed all five steps listed above and read hundreds of news paper articles (I still check them daily).
  • I’ve read dozens of documents from the World Health Organisation, our health department, pandemic prepardness plans, product information sheets, vaccine studies, information from anti-vaccination groups, individuals supporting and opposing the vaccine and information from experts on both sides.
  • I’ve branched out into looking into the normal seasonal flu vaccines, their safety and effectiveness, vaccines in general and vaccine ingredients.
  • I’ve looked into the background of the companies producing the vaccines and the organisations recommending them. 
  • Iv’e found CDC documents detailing the techniques used for marketing their seasonal flu programs.  The overt manipuation of the public is shocking.
  • I’ve looked in the actual The H1N1 virus, it’s origins, it’s level of virulence and ability to mutate.  I’ve followed the spread of the virus across the world since April.
  • I’ve looked into alternative means of prevening/reducing your chances of contracting inflenza and means of treating it.  There is such a body of evidence it is disappointing we are concentrating solely on vaccines and antivirals. (The reason for that is highly political.)
  • I’ve looked into the 1918 flu, the 1957 flu, the 1976, the history of pandemics and the relationship of vaccines. 
  • The history of vaccines, even touched on the history of medicine. 
  • The role and influence of the media in seasonal flu vaccine promotion and their bias/impartiality in reporting on the current pandemic.
  • I’ve looked into the definition of pandemic and how that has been changed by The World Health Organisation. 
  • The history and politics of the World Health Organisation and their jurisdiction over member countries during a pandemic.
  • I’ve spent many hours looking into the political and historical context that gives some sort of framework to evaluate the information from both sides.  (Some of this intensely disturbing and it doesn’t do it justice to give a passing dot-point mention. I’ll just say that the level of corruption is astounding and the global agenda is mind-boggling.) 
  • And from a long-term interest in medical politics have some framework to assess the integrity of the information.

No doubt there is more I haven’t remembered off-hand..

I’ve obviously been very busy.

And my conclusion?  Knowing what I now know, I most definitely would not take the swine flu vaccine.

Making your decision:

Most people don’t have my passion for research and it certainly isn’t reasonable to expect anyone to put 500+ hours the process but please give the decision some thought.   At the very least get your hands on the list of expected adverse reactions and work out your relative risk.  Media hype and the health department’s reassurances are not enough.   This is about your health and safety, whatever you may decide, make sure it is an informed decision.

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