Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A few questioning benefits, safety of swine flu vaccine:


By Stephanie Innes
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.06.2009

While many people fear a more vicious strain of novel swine flu this fall, others are panicking about the vaccine itself.

An action letter posted on the Internet and signed by 57 people, including religious leaders and holistic medical practitioners, says the swine flu vaccines have been insufficiently tested and could have dangerous consequences on public health. Among those who signed the letter are Dr. Gabriel Cousens of the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center, southwest of Tucson.

The letter talks about the possibility of forced quarantines and mandatory vaccines that are toxic. Rather than an immunization, the letter suggests vitamin supplements, herbs, immune-building medicinal mushrooms, a healthful diet and oxygenation therapies, among other things.

"An uninformed public without adequate compensation for damages, loss of property, life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness required under the U.S. Constitution is not really acting with choice," the letter says.

Swine flu, also known as the H1N1 flu, never really went away, and some cases already have been confirmed on the University of Arizona campus this semester. But it is expected to hit in a second "wave" in the Western Hemisphere during the fall. While its return could be mild, there's concern that it could mutate into something more virulent.

Public-health officials are encouraging people to get two vaccinations this influenza season — one against the regular seasonal flu and another against the H1N1 virus.

Federal, state and local health officials stress that the vaccine is optional and that it will not be administered without rigorous testing.

Dr. Michelle McDonald, who is Pima County's chief medical officer, said not everyone will even need the vaccine. She added that she understands why pregnant women, even though they are at high risk, would carefully consider getting it.

"One hundred percent of people will not want it. We are encouraging it for high-risk groups," McDonald said. "Clearly there is a disproportionate risk for pregnant women, but I don't think anyone facing that decision is going to have every bit of information."

McDonald said the development of an H1N1 vaccine uses the same processes that have been used for years to manufacture the seasonal flu immunizations.

"I can't imagine if it was dangerous in the clinical trials that they'd go ahead with it," McDonald said.
In light of the swine flu anxiety, seasonal-flu shots at many locations, including Walgreens, began last week, about a month earlier than usual. The H1N1 vaccine isn't expected to be available until October.

The H1N1 vaccine, which could consist of two shots, is expected to be rolled out first to higher-risk populations. That includes children ages 6 months to 5 years, kids with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, pregnant women, caregivers of infants, and health-care workers in direct patient care.

The general population likely won't be able to get the vaccine until December or January, Arizona Department of Public Health officials have said.

Some of those questioning the vaccine, including Cousens, are homeopathic physicians. Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine with a holistic approach. Arizona's licensed homeopathic physicians are trained allopathic (M.D.) and osteopathic (D.O.) physicians who have completed additional training in homeopathy and other forms of diagnosis and treatment.

Cousens, who declined an interview request with the Star, founded The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia. It espouses a raw-food diet and "spiritual fasting" that Cousens has said is part of awakening people to the spirit of God.
Other signers of the action letter include Dr. Bruce H. Shelton, a Phoenix-based homeopathic physician who is president of the Arizona Homeopathic and Integrative Medical Association.

"Personally, I have other things I do homeopathically to boost my immune system," said Shelton, who has not received a flu shot since the 1970s. "You want to keep yourself healthy so that you don't get it (the swine flu)."

The letter says the vaccine will do little, if anything, to prevent or minimize the flu. It also says the vaccines will contain thimerosal, which is a form of mercury.

In addition to reiterating that the vaccine will be optional, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while the threat of danger from thimerosal is small, it is producing vaccines for both the seasonal and the novel H1N1 virus that do not contain it.

Still, New York-based internist Dr. Erika Schwartz said she won't be recommending the novel H1N1 vaccines to her patients.
"We have no reason to believe the swine flu is anything more than a bad cold," said Schwartz, who is also medical director for Cinergy Health, a Florida-based health-insurance provider that enrolls about 40,000 families. "The number of people who died is really limited, and the number of people who were really sickened is limited."

So far, the World Health Organization reports that nearly 3,000 people have died from the H1N1 flu virus, 593 of them in the United States. In Arizona, that number is 19, including two in Pima County.

The regular, seasonal flu kills about 36,000 Americans each year.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or sinnes@azstarnet.com

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