The H1N1 flu vaccine might actually worsen symptoms of the potentially deadly flu in animals exposed to it, a new study suggests.
Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiologist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, lead a study showing that ferrets given the 2008–09 H1N1 vaccine became more sick than ferrets given a placebo vaccine after exposure to the H1N1 virus.
In Skowronski’s study, 32 ferrets were divided into two groups, one with the H1N1 influenza vaccine and the other given a placebo injection. The study showed ferrets given the real vaccine suffered more severe symptoms than the placebo group after all 32 ferrets were exposed to the H1N1 virus.
The two groups substantially differed in weight loss and lung virus.
Nahid Bhadelia, an assistant professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, said she found the study interesting but in need of more evidence in similar studies made on humans.
“I would be hesitant to make anything of the finding without further data in humans,” she said, “especially given the proven benefit of seasonal flu vaccine on the mortality related to this infection every year.”
Bhadelia said she found merit in the study because it should invoke conversations among the medical community.
“I think the study raises interesting questions regarding how prior exposure to influenza antigens impacts immune response to pandemic strains,” she said.
The study was presented in its abstract form Sept. 9 at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco.
BU students said it would be good to see if more studies come out with more data before receiving the shot.
“I would definitely be interested to see data from other countries,” said Sarah Leonard, a junior in the School of Education.
Leonard said the H1N1 vaccine released in the 2008–09 flu season might not have been as carefully put together as the traditional flu vaccine.
“I think the general one that they update every year has been shown to be pretty effective,” she said. “I would probably still get the general one.”
College of Communication junior Katherine Bush fell victim to the H1N1 influenza in 2008 even after getting the shot.
She said she was unsurprised by the study’s findings, because the disease is in the vaccine.
“It’s kind of crazy that the FDA has allowed this for so long,” Bush said.
In the past, Bush said, she has gotten the vaccine but reluctantly.
Bush said she was hesitant about getting the vaccine this year after hearing about this study.
“I guess I’ll wait for more studies to come out,” Bush said.
COM freshman Corey Steinfast said he believed in the benefits of the flu shot.
Society dictates that everyone take the same precautions with health-related issues, he said.
“Definitely people will end up getting it compared to not getting it,” Steinfast said.
Steinfast said he has consistently gotten the vaccine and not gotten sick.
“[The study is] definitely something to think about when getting it,” he said.