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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Is the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safe?

H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safety: Hype, Myths, and Facts

Why should I believe what government scientists say about swine flu?

The public health agenda is to promote healthy practices -- such as eating wholesome foods and quitting smoking -- that not everyone likes. Why? Science suggests that these policies save lives and cut health care costs.

The public health agenda also promotes vaccination against disease -- even though the rare individual is harmed by a vaccine. Why? Science suggests such a policy saves lives and cuts health care costs, as long as disease risks outweigh vaccination risks. A good example is the smallpox vaccine, which eradicated one of the scourges of mankind, even though a number of people were harmed by the vaccine.

After weighing the benefits vs. the risks, the health agencies of the U.S. government have launched the most massive vaccination campaign in history to fight the 2009 H1N1 swine flu. The CDC is using simple, direct messages -- including advertising and press conferences -- to encourage people to get the vaccine.

"In public health, you have to have campaigns and try to talk people into things," Mulligan tells WebMD. "The question about the government is a very important one. But things have changed since the old days of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Now we have very strict regulation of government research. People can trust and believe that this is not politicians talking, but researchers presenting evidence-based recommendations."

Does the H1N1 swine flu vaccine contain thimerosal?

The 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine comes in three basic types: the FluMist nasal spray, single-syringe shots, and multi-shot vials.

Only the multi-shot vials contain thimerosal, a preservative that prevents bacterial contamination of the vial. Before thimerosal was added to vaccines, there were occasional vaccine injuries due to contamination.

Extensive study shows that there are no more adverse events in children or adults who receive thimerosal-containing vaccines than in those who do not.

But thimerosal contains a form of mercury. It's ethyl mercury, which is likely not as toxic as some other forms. Even so, nobody argues that mercury is good for your body. People who want to avoid thimerosal-containing flu vaccines must get the FluMist vaccine or the single-syringe shots.

Most people should have this choice. But single-syringe vaccines may not be available for every person in every location during every week of the vaccination campaign.

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