Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guillain-Barre Syndrome after the H1N1 vaccine

According to MSNBC, Jordan McFarland, 14, was hospitalized for five days after coming down with Guillain-Barre syndrome hours after receiving a vaccination for H1N1. Coincidence? Or is there a link? We saw an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome or GBS occur in 1976, but vaccine technology was different back then, right? Shouldn't modern vaccine development technology eliminate the risk of GBS?

According to the MSNBC report:
So far, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have received five reports of GBS in people who received the H1N1 vaccine since Oct. 6, not including Jordan’s case, said Dr. Claudia J. Vellozzi, deputy director for immunization safety.
Now, here are a few things to consider:
  • In 1976, about 1 additional case of GBS developed in every 100,000 people who were vaccinated against the swine flu, according to the CDC.
  • 1 case develops in every 1 million people who receive the regular flu vaccine.
  • So far, 40 million doses of H1N1 vaccines are available (and I'm guessing that a significant percentage has already been given).
So, is there reason to be concerned about the H1N1 vaccine causing GBS? Here we are in November and already over 4,000 people have died in the U.S. from H1N1. The actual numbers are probably much higher, but we simply don't have confirmed reports in many cases because H1N1 is spreading so rapidly.

Speaking of GBS, I remember treating a GBS patient during medical school. My clinical pediatric rotations were in a children's hospital. The patient eventually had a good outcome, but required a tracheotomy and mechanical ventilation in the early part of the hospitalization. GBS is one of the most severe and serious possible adverse effect associated with vaccination.

If any unusual condition occurs after vaccination, you should seek immediate medical attention, tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened and when the vaccine was given. Ask your doctor, nurse or health department to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. Or you can file this report yourself online at

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