Health officials say they are carefully monitoring the H1N1 vaccine program for any dangerous side effects, including a very rare syndrome known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, also known as GBS.
However, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton reported GBS has been cropping up this year, possibly in connection with the H1N1 vaccine. She shared the story of one young man who developed GBS, and why his parents think it may be related to the H1N1 vaccine.
Jordan McFarland, an athletic 14-year-old, was weeks ago playing tennis and basketball. Now he needs a walker to move from room to room.
McFarland told CBS News, "It's an aching, but it's also a pain that I can't describe."
Doctors told McFarland's parents he has GBS, a rare illness where the immune system attacks the nervous system. GBS is treatable, Ashton said, but can cause paralysis, and requires months of physical therapy to recover.
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McFarland's family believes the H1N1 vaccine is to blame, Ashton said. Just one day after he received both the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccine, he was hospitalized.
Doctors have not confirmed whether his case is directly linked, but there is a history of GBS being tied to the H1N1 vaccine. During the 1976 swine flu scare, officials vaccinated 45 million people, and of that number, almost 1,100 developed GBS, Ashton said.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health, told CBS News, "If you really look at the scientific data, it is unclear why that happened."
Now, 30 years later, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors the current H1N1 vaccine for GBS and other side effects.
No one knows how many vaccines have been given, Ashton said, but the CDC says there have been 2,365 reports of adverse effects. Only 116 were considered serious, meaning life threatening. Ashton said, there are six reported cases of GBS, but officials stress a link between these cases and the vaccine have not been confirmed and are being investigated.
Fauci said, "Clearly the risk of the complication of the disease is greater than the risk of the vaccine."
Ashton added on "The Early Show" that health officials caution that up to 9,000 people get GBS every year, and the chance of getting sick from the flu is higher than the chances of getting GBS from the vaccine.
The risk of getting serious side effects from the vaccine is very, very small, Ashton said.
Ashton said she tells her clients, "'Make those numbers in to a fraction, put the number of doses of the vaccine administered in the bottom or the denominator and put the serious side effects in the top, divide that out,' We're talking 116 life threatening adverse effects, over millions and millions of vaccines. Chances are very small -- but they're not zero."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's list of H1N1 vaccine reactions
Usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days
Where the shot was given
- Fainting (mainly adolescents)
- Muscle aches
Usually begin within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot/Seek Medical Attention Right Away
Life-threatening allergic reactions
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Swelling around the eyes or lips
- Fast heart beat
- Behavior changes
- High fever
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