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„We Do Not Expect Heavy Side-Effects“
A vaccination should contain the
swine flu; © SXC
Jörg Hofmann is head of the diagnostic department at the Institute of Medical Virology at Charité Berlin. MEDICA.de talked to the expert about efficacy and safety of the vaccine.
MEDICA.de: Mr. Hofmann, thousands of people return from their holidays and carry back with them the swine flu virus. On top of that, the disease spreads very fast. Do you think that the situation in autumn will become a dangerous one?
Jörg Hofmann: We expect of course an increase in infections. In Germany, many people are already infected making this country the the one with the most infections after Great Britain. However, the infections will also rise because more patients are being tested on swine flu and the more people one tests, the more cases will be found. There is no reason for panic, though, because most often the disease proceeds harmless.
MEDICA.de: Why is it then, that millions of people are supposed to be vaccinated in the next few months?
Hofmann: The decision to the mass vaccination was made two or three month ago. At that time, nobody knew whether the flu is harmless or not. At the moment it seems to be not very harmful, but nobody knows, how the virus will develop. Because of that I recommend the vaccination to people at high risk. They will be best protected if they get both vaccines, against the swine flu and the seasonal influenza. If the viruses will cross, a new virus may develop. And with both vaccines a person is also immune against this potential new virus.
MEDICA.de: But the vaccination can also cause side-effects. Some experts are convinced of that and say the vaccination is a kind of experiment on the population.
Hofmann: I do not agree. For many decades, physicians have been vaccinated successfully. Besides, the serum contains dead viruses which cannot proliferate or trigger the disease. However, harmless side-effects may be possible. Of course the point of injection may swell. Problems can also occur when the vaccine was cultured in a chicken egg triggering an effect in patients with a protein allergy. But in comparison to a virus infection, such complications are harmless, especially in pregnant women or in patients with chronic diseases. We do not expect heavy side-effects like meningitis or damaged organs.
Vaccines against influenza are on
the market for many years; © PHIL
MEDICA.de: How can people be sure that the vaccination is being tested sufficiently to exclude harmful side-effects? It is hardly possible to do reliable tests in such a short time.
Hofmann: A guarantee never exists, but from long-time experience we do not expect heavy damages. There are many influenza vaccinations on the market which only have to be adjusted to the new virus. That is why fast test procedures do not have negative effects on the safety of this vaccine.
MEDICA.de: The first test results will be presented in October. Is it possible that the virus may have changed by then and does it still make sense to vaccinate then?
Hofmann: Yes, because the vaccine includes substances which support the immunisation effect. These substances also work when the virus changes its surface slightly. We do not expect a new type of virus till October. I assume that a recommendation will be given also for pregnant women. Although studies do not exist for ethical reasons for this group, experience shows, that we do not expect complications for the foetus and the pregnant woman.
MEDICA.de: How can people protect themselves against the virus?
Hofmann: Everybody should wash their hands very often, use tissues only one time and they should avoid crowds of people. If somebody is infected - stay at home some days and do not infect other people.
MEDICA.de: Do you assume that the swine flu will disappear after the winter?
Hofmann: A prediction is very difficult. Most of the times a virus does not occur as much again during the following season. The vaccination should help to restrain the pandemic because vaccinated people cannot be infected anymore and in consequence of that, they cannot infect other people. However, it is possible that another virus develops next year, maybe the duck influenza or whatever. We never know what is coming up next.
The interview was conducted by Simone Heimann.