Flu Study Reassures Pregnant Women, Children
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People across the country are grumbling about not being able to get a vaccination against the swine flu. Coming up, we'll ask an expert on infectious diseases to assess how well the government has responded. First, we hear about two issues concerning the vaccine itself. New studies show that so far, at least, the vaccine is being used in a safe and effective way. And now the government has set up an independent working group to monitor what happens to people who've been vaccinated. NPR's Joanne Silberner has more.
JOANNE SILBERNER: The new studies began in late summer as the first batches of vaccines rolled off manufacturers' production lines. Yesterday, Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced that the results of a study on pregnant women showed what officials had suspected: that a single dose of the vaccine is enough to protect them.
Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI: This should be reassuring news to those women who already have received the vaccine. And it is vital information for those pregnant women who have not yet been vaccinated.
SILBERNER: There were no problems related to the vaccine in the small trial of 50 women. There's been a second open question about vaccination in children. Is one shot enough? U.S. government officials have been recommending two doses, preliminary data showing that children with their more naive immune systems don't respond enough to a single dose.
But that was after only one week. And the World Health Organization, last week, said one shot is enough. Now, the U.S. officials have more data on nearly 600 kids between the ages of six months and nine years, and they're sticking to their recommendation.
Dr. FAUCI: Blood drawn at 21 days after the first dose, showed that their immune response to the vaccine was still not optimal.
SILBERNER: After a second dose there was a sharp increase in the immune response.
In both these trials, there were no serious side effects of the vaccine. There haven't been in any of the initial trials. But there's still a lot of public concern, so the government has set up a new independent working group to monitor the results of trials like these. And a look at data on hundreds of thousands of people in other vaccination programs - in the Department of Defense, for example, and the Indian Health Service. Marie McCormick, of the Harvard School of Public Health, heads the group - which had its first meeting yesterday.
Dr. MARIE MCCORMICK (Harvard School of Public Health): One of the questions, I think, that I've been asked before is, well, you know, if you put this working group together are you frightened that this vaccine is unsafe.
SILBERNER: No, says McCormick, she thinks it's safe. It's made just like seasonal flu vaccine, by the same manufacturers. Still, she says, it needs to be scrutinized.
Ms. MCCORMICK: This was a vaccine that was rolled out quickly. It was rolled out on an emergent basis. And I think it's the obligation of the public health community to have this level of surveillance to provide the reassurance that what we expect is actually happening.
SILBERNER: But there are already several different monitoring systems up and running. They're looking for anything from a common heart attack to rare neurological diseases. Will a new monitoring system convince doubters that the vaccine is being properly vetted? William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, a big believer in vaccination, hopes so. And, he says, the group has its work cut out for them.
Dr. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER (Vanderbilt University): There will be events that occur after vaccination. Of course. But the trick is, are they causally related to the vaccine?
SILBERNER: The working group will report back to the government regularly.
Joanne Silberner, NPR News.
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