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Vaccinations start in New York City schools next week. Consent forms have been sent home and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is keen for parents to sign the forms and have their children vaccinated. As always this is a matter of choice. The swine flu vaccine will be free to all public and private schools from October 28. Parents can also choose to have their children immunized at their local doctors. In the meantime, the new nasal form of vaccine is becoming available for those who wish to use it.

The new H1N1 vaccine is new, but not new. Flu shots are nothing new and swine flu is just another strain of flu that you can choose to be vaccinated for or not. Receiving the vaccine is mandatory for healthcare workers, which many have protested about.

Also in protest are the groups of people who are against the whole idea of mass dosing a population. Some even think there may be a conspiracy going on and that the government is dosing Americans up with some ‘secret formula’. This kind of reaction has occurred with other vaccines in the past too.

Many people have been concerned too about taking the H1N1 vaccine in the form of a nasal spray. Their concern is of course that the spray form is made from a greatly weakened virus that cannot grow at human body temperature (sometimes called LAIV for Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine). This immediately strikes fear into people believing that taking the spray means they will infect others around them. Doctors are working hard to allay people’s fears and present them with as much information as possible.

There are those who should not take the nasal vaccine, but rather wait for the ‘shot’ version instead. It is advised that pregnant women, children under 2 and adults over 50 shouldn’t receive the nasal spray. Also those who are caring for someone with seriously impaired immune systems and children or adolescents who are on asprin medication shouldn’t take the vaccine in spray form.

Some people have also expressed concern about the inclusion of thimerosal in the spray as it contains small amounts of mercury. The spray is available without this preservative in it and people are advised to check with their doctor if they wish to have the non thimerosal version.

For those who do choose to take the H1N1 vaccine in nasal form there are a few possible side effects. In adults this may include a cough, headache, runny nose and sore throat. Children may develop headache, runny nose, vomiting, wheezing, muscle aches and mild fever. Nearly all vaccines carry the possibility of some side affects, though most people do not develop any or all of them. The same holds true for the H1N1 vaccine.

The seasonal nasal spray and the H1N1 nasal spray shouldn’t be given at the same time, though it is perfectly safe to take at the same time as an inactivated virus vaccine (flu shot). The inactivated version of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine is also safe to take at the same time as the seasonal nasal spray.

While doctors are doing all they can to convince people of the safety and effectiveness of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, in both its forms, it is always up to the individual to make an informed choice.

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