TUESDAY, Oct. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Even as the H1N1 swine flu vaccine is distributed coast to coast, many people say they have safety concerns that may stop them from getting vaccinated.
Although experts say those fears are unwarranted, a recent Associated Press-GfK poll found only about half of Americans said they are planning to get the vaccine. Most of those are older people -- so far among the least vulnerable to the virus.
Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were concerned about the vaccine's safety (although many of these said they still were going to get the shot).
A University of Michigan poll found that only 40 percent of parents wanted to get their children inoculated.
And a survey released Tuesday -- commissioned by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists that polled pharmacy directors at 341 hospitals across the country -- found that many hospital employees are asking if the H1N1 vaccine is safe.
In response, experts and officials continue to stress that not only is the vaccine safe, it's the surest way to protect yourself from the H1N1 swine flu virus.
"The H1N1 vaccine is made in exactly the same way, using the same material, the same companies, the same process as the seasonal flu vaccine we make every single year and give to tens and tens of millions of people," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci explained that even the seasonal flu vaccine is changed slightly each year, with slightly different strains.
Had the H1N1 virus emerged just a little bit earlier, it would have been included in this year's regular flu shot, he stated.
"We wouldn't be talking about safety now if [the H1N1 vaccine] were given within the context of the seasonal flu," Fauci continued.
Nor has the vaccine been made too quickly, as some have worried. In fact, "it hasn't been faster at all," said Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases.
The seasonal flu vaccine goes into production around March and is available around August. The H1N1 virus was isolated in May and became available this month.
Side effects from the H1N1 vaccine have been mild, including tenderness and swelling at the injection site and a mild fever. In China, four of 39,000 people vaccinated reported muscle cramps and headaches.
"We've had experience with this particular variety of killed vaccine for 20 years, and the risks are primarily swollen arm and low-grade fever," said Dr. Nathan Litman, director of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "There are some very, very rare other events, but some of them happen naturally even in those who don't have the vaccine. The risk of disease and complications of disease is far greater than the vaccine."
Some concerns were precipitated by an earlier experience with swine flu vaccine. In 1976, the U.S. government vaccinated 43 million people against swine flu following an outbreak at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Some 500 of those vaccinated developed a rare neurodegenerative condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which many experts believe was linked to the shot. Twenty-five of those 500 died.
But the equation for this year's swine flu pandemic is already vastly different. The 1976 virus never spread beyond 240 soldiers stationed at the base, while the current outbreak has already sickened more than 340,000 people worldwide, killing 4,100 or more, according to the World Health Organization.
Visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for more on the H1N1 swine flu.
SOURCES: Anthony Fauci, M.D., director, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Robert Frenck, M.D., professor, pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and member, American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases; Nathan Litman, M.D., director, pediatrics, and chief, pediatric infectious diseases, the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; Sept. 24, 2009, University of Michigan poll; Associated Press; Oct. 13, 2009, news release, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Bethesda, Md.