People who do not believe in vaccinating children have never had much sway over Leslie Wygant Arndt. She has studied the vaccine debate, she said, and came out in favor of having her 10-month-old daughter inoculated against childhood diseases. But there is something different about the vaccine for the H1N1 flu, she said.
“I have looked at the people who are against it, and I find myself taking their side,” said Wygant Arndt, who lives in Portland, Ore. “But then again, I go back and forth on this every day. It’s an emotional topic.”
Anti-vaccinators, as they are often referred to by scientists and doctors, have toiled for years on the margins of medicine. But an assemblage of factors around the swine flu vaccine — including confusion over how it was made, widespread speculation about whether it might be more dangerous than the virus itself, and complaints among some health care workers in New York about a requirement that they be vaccinated — is giving the anti-vaccine movement a fresh airing, according to health experts.
“Nationally right now there is a tremendous amount of attention on this vaccine,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City health commissioner. That focus has given vaccine opponents “an opportunity to speak out publicly and get their message amplified that they didn’t have at other times,” he said.
Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, an advocacy group that questions the safety of vaccines, said the swine flu has “breathed new life” into the cause. “People who have never asked questions before about vaccines are looking at this one,” Fisher said.
The increased interest is frustrating to health officials, who are struggling to persuade an already wary public to line up for shots and prevent the spread of the pandemic. According to a CBS News poll conducted last week, only 46 percent said they were likely to get the vaccine. The nationwide poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, found that while 6 in 10 parents were likely to have their children vaccinated, only 46 percent said they were “very likely to.”
“I wonder if the people disseminating this false information about this vaccine realize that what they are doing could result in some people losing their lives,” said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the director of the Department of Public Health for Los Angeles County. The comments of vaccine dissenters, which he said “politically come from the left and the right,” were frequently, he said, “not just counterproductive but downright disgraceful.”
Web sites, Twitter feeds, talk radio and even elevator chatter are awash with skeptics decrying the vaccine, largely with no factual or scientific basis. The most common complaint is that the vaccine has been newly formed and quickly distributed without the benefit of clinical trials; in fact, the swine flu vaccine was made using the same techniques as seasonal flu shots over the last two decades, and a small number of clinical trials were conducted this year to determine the adequate dose.
There are also claims that the vaccine contains adjuvants — sometimes added to make vaccines more effective — although they have not been used in this one.