By: Carol Sanders
Winnipeg Free Press
28/10/2009 1:00 AM
THE H1N1 vaccine isn’t for everyone.
Since the mass immunization began in Winnipeg Monday, two people have had rare allergic reactions to it, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
“We have had two incidents involving some allergic-type symptoms,” said Dr. Sande Harlos, a WRHA medical officer of health. “This is what we’re prepared to deal with.”
The maker of the H1N1 vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline, warns that up to one in 1,000 doses may result in an allergic reaction leading to a “dangerous decrease of blood pressure.”
“That’s why you’re asked to wait 15 minutes afterwards,” Harlos said. A severe reaction will happen within minutes of getting the shot.
By 3 p.m. Tuesday, 15,695 Winnipeggers had been immunized without incident. When someone reacts badly to the vaccine, there are medical staff on hand to help, Harlos said.
The vaccine recipient is taken to hospital to be kept under observation. Harlos said the two people who reacted badly to the vaccine — one on Monday and one on Tuesday — are OK. “They left in good condition.”
Meanwhile, Winnipegger Janice Dehod is worried about her allergy to the mercury-based preservative thimerosal used in the vaccine.
“I know if it is in eye drops or contact lens preserver, it will make my the skin around my eyes puff up and swell in a really ugly way,” she said. “I am not sure what thimerosal will do in my veins.”
Harlos said unless someone has a severe egg or thimerosal allergy, they shouldn’t have a severe reaction to the vaccine.
“Some people have a mild reaction when it’s used topically. That isn’t the same as a systemic whole-body reaction,” Harlos said.
A severe allergic reaction is an anaphylactic response — the throat closes, blood pressure plunges and airways tighten, said Dr. Joel Kettner, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health.
Dehod said she has had an adverse reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, but doesn’t know if it contained thimerosal. She wishes Manitoba would obtain vaccine without thimerosal.
“I don’t want to be one of those people that falls through the cracks and gets H1N1 because Manitoba Health did a pretty good job for most people and gambled with the health of those that are a little more sensitive to preservative.”
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative. In large concentrations, or over extended periods of exposure, mercury can cause damage to the brain and kidneys. However, the Public Health Agency of Canada says the amount of mercury in the H1N1 flu vaccine is significantly less than in a can of tuna.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended a long-term goal of removing thimerosal from vaccines, provided that safe alternatives to this preservative can be found. “This will help to reduce unnecessary environmental exposure to mercury.”