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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Swine Flu FAQ

Answers to your questions about swine flu.

Is there a vaccine against the new swine flu virus?

Yes. The problem was that the main wave of the pandemic hit the U.S. in September 2009. Vaccine production was delayed by a lower-than-expected yield of vaccine from the chicken eggs in which vaccine virus is grown. It wasn't until the end of January 2010 that every U.S. resident who wanted the vaccine could get it. By then, many people either already had the flu or figured the danger had passed.

By midsummer 2010, there was only a trickle of H1N1 infections, but deaths and hospitalizations continued among at-risk people who had not been vaccinated.

When the vaccine for the 2010-2011 flu season is ready, it will include the 2009 H1N1 vaccine as well as a vaccine against two other seasonal flu bugs.

Clinical tests show the 2009 H1N1 vaccine works remarkably well. People ages 10 and older need only one dose of the vaccine. Protection begins about eight days after vaccination. Kids under age 10 will need two vaccinations, given three weeks apart. The vaccine is highly effective -- and, according to early results from clinical trials, very safe -- in pregnant women.

Extensive safety surveillance, as of June 2010, showed no problems linked to the vaccine. Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological syndrome, can be triggered by flu vaccines. The seasonal flu vaccine causes about one extra case of GBS among every million people vaccinated. CDC data suggest that the 2009 H1N1 vaccine increased GBS cases by about the same amount.

Does this mean the swine flu vaccine is 100% safe? No. Rare vaccine reactions do happen, even with the seasonal flu vaccine. But flu experts at the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, and the FDA note that getting the flu is far more risky than getting the vaccine.

Spurred by the safety concerns that sank vaccination efforts during the 1976 swine flu scare (a scare caused by a very different generation of flu vaccine against a very different swine flu virus), federal officials have increased efforts to track the safety of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. In addition to beefing up the CDC's and FDA's vaccine adverse-event surveillance system, health care organizations, academic medical centers, and the U.S. military will be helping track vaccine safety. An advisory board made up of non-government advisors performs frequent reviews of the safety data.

The vaccine will be available to all U.S. residents. As we're all in this together, nobody will be asked to provide proof of citizenship or legal immigration.

Vaccination is not mandatory for most U.S. residents. Active-duty military and Defense Department personnel are required to get the vaccine. And health-care workers may be required to get the vaccine by their employers or by state regulations.

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