Dr. Paul Offit, head of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia PA, and originator of a licensed Rotavirus vaccine recommended for all children, is an inveterate vaccine booster. In his Oct 11 NYTimes Op-ed, he makes four claims about the new swine flu vaccine. I’ll briefly comment on each.
1. The vaccine is safe because it is made with six decade-old technology. IMHO, the lack of innovation could be considered good or bad. The system of drug approval in the US favors drugs and vaccines remaining on the market even with known problems, given the high cost and prolonged period needed for new drug approval. Why are vaccines still grown in hens’ eggs, when so many eggs have bacterial contamination? Why don’t regulators provide some carrots (and/or sticks) to manufacturers in order to produce improved versions of vaccines?
The 1976 swine flu vaccine was also made with decades-old technology and caused Guillain Barre Syndrome.
2. The vaccine has been tested in thousands. The past tense here is wrong. It is in the process of being tested, and few if any of the safety tests are completed. We have very limited data, on only brief periods of observation for adverse reactions, and I have seen no data on safety in children or in pregnancy.
3. Adjuvants are not being used. Offit is correct: no adjuvants are being used in swine flu vaccines for the US market. Canada and many other nations have chosen to stretch their supply with novel adjuvants, whose safety is unknown but questionable, but the US decided otherwise.
4. Thimerosal is safe. 25 micrograms of mercury per vaccine dose will be a component of most of the injectable US swine flu vaccine supply. Mercury is a proven neurotoxin. Whether and how much it may affect you, alone or in combination with other exposures, is not clear. Still, I would not choose to have it injected into my body, given a choice. The US is making mercury-free swine flu vaccine available for pregnant women and children, some of whom will receive two vaccine doses.