'Herd' immunity protects public from flu

Douglas County's health officer believes there will be plenty of swine flu vaccine for children and young adults when inoculations begin.

"We think there will be plenty of vaccine for kids who want it," said Dr. David H. Johnson. "There will be a fair amount of resistance from parents who are afraid to have their children vaccinated."

Questions about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine have been asked across the country.

"Some people think vaccinations will give kids autism or meningitis," Johnson said.

Johnson said the chance of adverse reaction from the vaccine is 1 in 100,000. But, he said, the chance of contracting the H1N1 virus without vaccination skyrockets.

"The chance of serious complication is much higher," Johnson said. "Every year, 36,000 die in the United States from seasonal flu."

Johnson recommended people talk with their personal physicians, or visit the Centers for Disease Control Web site for information.

He said the mass immunization set Oct. 17 at Douglas High School for seasonal flu shots and in schools once the H1N1 vaccine arrives creates a "herd immunity."

"If I have a group of 100 people, and 99 have been vaccinated for a particular problem, it's really unlikely that one person is going to get the problem. If nobody is immune, it just spreads like wildfire," Johnson said.

"If we go into the schools and 50 percent of the parents allow their kids to be vaccinated, the virus will have a harder time reaching the unvaccinated. We're hoping for more like 75 percent or higher."

He said the reason children are at such high risk of the H1N1 virus is that they have no immunities.

"We (adults) are old enough, this was here once before. We have a better chance because we've had a little exposure. The kids have nothing," Johnson said.

He said parents can expect a slight reaction to the immunization.

"There's a little reaction - a slight fever, achiness, that kind of thing - when your body kicks into gear developing the immune process," Johnson said. "You'll get a little reaction because nobody had the immunities."

Officials recommend even if you've had the flu, get the immunization.

"You're not sure what kind you've had," he said. "When you get the vaccination, you're being immunized against a lot of different varieties."

Officials anticipate H1N1 vaccine will arrive for the target groups of school children, pregnant women, and health care workers by the end of October. H1N1 vaccine for the general public should be on hand by the end of November or early December.

Johnson said getting the swine flu shot this year will pay off in 2010.

"This is really a dress rehearsal for next year," he said. "We'll have the vaccine in time for next year. What we're doing now is giving it out a little after when we need it. It takes a few weeks to develop the antibodies."

For seasonal flu vaccine, however, Johnson said the timing is ideal for the county's free mass immunization clinic Oct. 17 at Douglas High School.

"That's coming just when everyone should have it," he said. "The flu typically hits in December, February and January."

Free seasonal flu shots will be offered 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Johnson participated in the mass clinic last year.

"It was just amazing to watch our county taking care of people," he said. "We had 1,500 people get the shots. There were deputies, firefighters, National Guard on hand to help. I was so impressed."


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