Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Shooting safety

dr oz.jpg
Hey doc, who wears the pants?
65 million people worldwide have lined up for swine flu shots so far—and the data indicate that the vaccine is largely safe, according to numbers released last week from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers have been particularly watchful for signs of Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS), a disease that afflicted approximately 1 out of every 100,000 people in the US who received vaccines for the 1976 Swine flu (the flu that never materialized.) A report from the Washington Post this weekend examines what researchers know (not much) about the trigger for the condition, which most often arises after infection with Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that causes food-borne illness.

In any vaccination campaign, some people will die or experience severe illness after vaccination; much of this will be coincidence. So the job of health agencies is to figure out if there is a consistent issue with safety. In the US, vaccine safety is monitored in part through, the ‘vaccine adverse event reporting system,’ which collects reports of potential reactions to vaccines from patients and doctors.

So far, ten cases of GBS have been reported in people who got the swine flu shot, according to the CDC; that number is in line with normal background rates for the illness, suggesting that vaccination is not causing a spike in GBS. The CDC says they saw no common underlying pattern in the other events reported, also consistent with their being due to chance. The WHO reports similar findings.

So, is that enough for Mehmet Oz, who bills himself as “America’s Doctor” to vaccinate his kids? In a recent interview the Oprah regular said his kids were not getting swine flu shots because at home he is “Mr. Oz, not Dr. Oz.” At least his website, although dated, seems fairly run-of-the-mill; no anti-vaccine screeds from Mrs. Oz.

image:: David Berkowitz, Wikimedia Commons


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