Vaccine safe: expert

Being vaccinated for H1N1 is safe, effective and beneficial, says a virologist who gave a short course on immunization at Red Deer College on Wednesday.

Kevin Fonseca

Being vaccinated for H1N1 is safe, effective and beneficial, says a virologist who gave a short course on immunization at Red Deer College on Wednesday.

Kevin Fonseca from the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health was one of three experts sponsored by the Red Deer College Foundation to speak about vaccines in a public presentation planned weeks before H1N1 flu was declared to be a pandemic.

It’s a sign of the times that as the H1N1 crisis began to emerge, Fonseca was the only speaker who was still available on Wednesday. The others had to cancel because they were too busy, said Warren Elgersma, chairman of the colleges science department.

Addressing an audience of between 80 and 100 people Fonseca described the 2,300-year history of vaccines and the of lives they have saved.

There are some circumstances in which people should not be vaccinated for H1N1, including those whose immune systems are compromised or who are already fighting an infection, he said.

People who are extremely allergic to eggs risk anaphylactic shock, as do those rare individuals who are allergic to shark liver oil, from which the adjuvants are extracted, said Fonseca.

But even the elderly, for whom vaccines tend to be less effective, can still limit the severity of the disease by getting the shot, he said.

“I can tell you that the side effect is that it gives you a very sore arm for a couple of days and all you have to do is suck it up,” said Fonseca.

Part of the reason for vaccinating as many people as possible is to reduce the number of people who are shedding the virus, said Fonseca. With influenza viruses, the spread can be checked if at least 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated, he said.

It takes six months on average to manufacture enough vaccine for public distribution. The process includes growing the vaccine inside healthy cells of millions of fertilized chicken eggs, said Fonseca.

It has therefore been quite a feat for the manufacturers to be able to get the new H1N1 vaccine ready as quickly as they have, he said.

“Vaccine manufacturers and governments and the World Health Organization have done a remarkable job in terms of trying to produce enough vaccine for us.

“Canada is the only country, to it’s credit, that is going to try to immunize every single Canadian who lives or works here. I think that’s remarkable.”

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