About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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How safe will the vaccination program be?

Since we’re about to embark on a national vaccination program for swine flu, it seems logical to ask about the risks, both the risk of vaccinating lots ofFlu shot people, and the risk of doing nothing.

In the Fredericksburg area, Joe Saitta, emergency services coordinator for the Health Department, said yesterday that the Health Department hopes to vaccinate up to 116,000 people, including almost all area school children. This assumes parental permission, of course. The shots are voluntary.

So I was wondering: If people choose to be vaccinated, how many will be seriously injured by the vaccine? And if people don’t get the vaccine, how many will be seriously injured by the virus? (Call me crazy, but I actually think about stuff like this.)

So I started looking into it today, and we’ll probably have a story about it next week. I did learn that it’s hard to answer those questions now, because almost nothing is known about the effects of the swine flu vaccine. The vaccine is still in clinical trials and preliminary results apparently aren’t available.

But I did come upon something that I thought was interesting about the seasonal flu vaccine. It may or may not be relevant to what will happen with the swine flu vaccine.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which has been around since 1988, awards compensation to people who have been injured by vaccines. A special court hears the claims and either awards or denies compensation. As I understood David Bowman, spokesman for the program, the law requires someone who believes he or she has been injured by a vaccine to go through this court.

The court has heard a total of 293 cases involving trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine, the kind that’s offered each fall to combat the seasonal flu. It made awards in 88 of these cases.

Bowman did not know when the court first started hearing influenza claims. Even so, that number, 293 claims, seems small compared to the number of people who receive the seasonal flu shot each year. In 2006, for example, 82 million people received the shot.

So, as far as I can tell, the seasonal flu shot is safe. The only side effect you’re likely to suffer after you get one is a sore arm. 

Data from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program can be found here.