Bill Maher should stick to politics. He's been Twittering that people who get swine flu shots are idiots and also mouthed off on his "Real Time With Bill Maher" show about the vaccine, implying that getting the vaccine was the same thing as being injected with the disease, which it is not.
Now ordinarily this would not be a big deal. I mean, who would look to a talk show host for medical advice? Unfortunately, with this being a new vaccine, and a high level of suspicion about the government's ability to do anything whatsoever running rampant in the country, this just encourages those who are dubious about it to feel justified in skipping it. This would not be a good idea.
The H1N1 (swine) flu is a different strain of flu virus. Unlike the usual seasonal influenza that is more apt to be severe in the elderly, with the H1N1 virus, younger people are more vulnerable and become sicker than their elders.
This may be because the new H1N1 virus is related to the deadly 1918 Spanish flu, and since variants of the 1918 flu type were in circulation for several generations after it first appeared, people 65 and over tend to be less vulnerable to the new flu since they have had exposure to its cousin in the past.
In addition, those who were vaccinated against the swine flu strain that was prevalent in 1976 may also have a certain degree of cross-immunity to the new H1N1 virus.
This leaves younger people at most risk for severe illness in this new pandemic. In addition, pregnant women, whose immunity is lowered by their condition, and those with specific health problems, are also vulnerable.
There are two kinds of vaccine: One injectable, which is a killed virus that is incapable of causing illness, and a nasal spray version that is a weakened virus. It is recommended that those with impaired immunity only receive the injected vaccine.
It is the height of irresponsibility on Maher's part to be blathering about a medical subject about which he obviously knows very little, and contradicting Dr. Bill Frist, his guest on the show, who was trying to get across the importance of vaccination.
There are reasons some people shouldn't receive either vaccination. If they are allergic to eggs, as my mother is, they cannot receive any flu vaccines because the virus used to create them is incubated in eggs. In addition, there may be concerns about the preservative, thimerasol, which is used in the injectable vaccines for both H1N1 and regular seasonal flu.
And of course, it is always a personal decision whether one wants to have a shot or not. But to make that decision, a person needs to be armed with the facts, not a talk show host's personal aversions. If you want the facts, please go to this site and read up on them. Then you can make a truly informed decision about receiving the H1N1 vaccination.
(cross-posted at Medicana)