noflupopsAlthough the CDC report of May 22, 2009 suggests there is no significant immunity to the novel H1N1 virus from the seasonal flu vaccine, scientists are still at a loss to explain why the H1N1 virus appears to affect pregnant women and children more than the elderly- a striking departure from the epidemiology of seasonal flu.  The logical conclusion is that prior exposure and/or immunization to the various strains of the seasonal flu may provide at least a modicum of immunity to the novel influenza virus.

In fact, the results showed that although blood samples from children had no antibodies to the H1N1 virus, samples from adults who had been vaccinated against seasonal flu showed a slight increase in antibodies against the novel influenza strain.  They went on to add that the H1N1 virus shares 72 percent of its protein identity with the seasonal flu viruses, which may be enough to activate the immune system.       

In its recommendations released last week, the CDC also acknowledged that, according to health experts, the elderly “appear to have higher levels of immunity to the virus”, helping justify their decisions that pregnant women and children six months and older be placed at the front of the line to receive the H1N1 vaccinations this fall. 

So here is the bottom line:  Since the U.S. government is estimating that about 120 million swine flu vaccine doses will be available to the public by late October, and over 160 million will be given priority to receive the vaccine, there is a very good chance that 50% of the U.S. population–those who are not young or pregnant– will have limited access to the H1N1 vaccine.  Which makes us wonder: despite the official proclamation of the CDC that the seasonal flu vaccine has no efficacy against the novel influenza, doesn’t common sense dictate that a little bit of protection may be better than nothing? 

We are not here to contradict the CDC, but it would not be surprising to discover later this year or early next, that those who received the seasonal flu vaccine had a lower rate of infection, or became less ill, than those who did not. 

Food for thought.  Your comments welcome.

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About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

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