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Health workers angry over mandatory swine flu shots

November 02, 2009
More than 100 health care workers from around New York rallied on the steps of the state Capitol in protest of the Department of Health's new regulation requiring mandatory H1N1[swine flu] vaccinations for some New Yorkers.

The protestors carried signs with slogans such as "my body my choice" and chanted "stop the shot." Many of the health care workers' arguments were summed up by Laura Ally, a nurse at St. Peter's hospital in Albany, who spoke at the rally saying "We don't feel the government should have the right to force us to put any substances, whether or not the government feels it's safe, into our bodies."

The rally featured keynote speaker Gary Null, who holds a doctorate in human nutrition and public health science as well as being and advocate for alternative medicine. Null spoke strongly against the mandatory vaccinations saying they are dangerous and untested.

One of the dangers Null cited was possible additives like squalene and thimerosal. Null also asked how anyone can say the vaccine is completely safe when there have been problems in the past, citing dangers with drugs like thalidomide.

Dr. Michael Schachter, the director of the Schachter Center for Complimentary Medicine, agreed with Null saying "we are just being fed an enormous amount of hype." He also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's figures that attribute 36,000 deaths a year to the flu are wrong. Schachter also called for a strong grass roots movement against the regulation saying "If the people aren't made aware of this, we are doomed."

State Health Commissioner Richard Daines responded to last Tuesday's protest by holding a press conference the same day to clear up questions about the H1N1 vaccine, and also to address the issues raised by the protestors. Daines explained that clinical trials have been released showing the H1N1 vaccine is safe. He added that there is more clinical information about the H1N1 vaccination than there is for a typical yearly flu vaccine.

Claudia Hutton, DOH director of public relations, echoed Daines' sentiments on the testing of the vaccine in a phone interview last Wednesday. She explained that methods used to make the seasonal flu vaccine are so well established that they don't use clinical trials anymore. By contrast, clinical trials were performed for the H1N1 vaccine and it has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In response to the many claims made about the safety of the vaccine by Null, Daines said "Like any number of things he's wrong about, he's wrong about that." He went on to say, "You might also ask if the anti-vaccine crowd is trying to sell their own cures," referring to the many homeopathic remedies Null offers through his Web site.

Hutton also clarified some of the claims made by Null during a phone interview. In regards to Null's claim that additives like squalene or thimerosal are in, or may be put into, the vaccine Hutton said " there is no squalene in the vaccine at all. Thimerosal is used in trace amounts in only the multi-dose vials, to act as a preservative. It is not in the nasal spray or single does syringe forms of the vaccine." Hutton added that "If you're really squirrelly about it [thimerosal] you can ask your physician to give you the single-dose syringe."

Some have linked thimerosal to the development of autism in children and other medical problems. The FDA disputes these claims.

Hutton further addressed Null's fear of any vaccine and talk of past mistakes by saying, "Thalidomide was never approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA." She went on to say "Gary Null is not a scientist; his findings are not scientifically credible."

Daines also addressed the other grievances made during the rally that there are in fact no religious exemptions from taking the vaccine, and noted that there have never been such exemptions. Daines further said the state isn't mandating hospitals to fire employees who refuse the vaccines saying "those are decisions institutions make, they need to lead the way with their policies." The commissioner did note that health institutions that don't meet any state standards would be subject to sanctions from the state.

Another issue brought up by the health commissioner was who would be given priority in receiving vaccine. Aside from health care workers, Daines said the priority list would include pregnant women, children, young adults and people from the ages of 25 to 64 who have health conditions.

When asked if he would receive the vaccine in order to show the public there was nothing to fear, the commissioner said he would wait unless he scheduled a visit to a health care center that would require him to do so. Daines also further explained that he would be "concerned about pushing to the front of the line for the vaccine without meeting priority requirements."

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