University officials say the nasal mist form of the H1N1 Influenza – also known as swine flu – vaccine is safe, though the body is taking in a “live” form of the virus.
“It’s absolutely safe,” said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, medical director of Student Health Services (SHS).
The swine flu vaccine will be distributed in a nasal form that weakens the live virus. There is no possibility of getting the disease from the vaccine, she said, though patients may experience discomfort in the nose or feel fatigued after vaccination.
SHS received 200 doses – 100 nasal forms and 100 injectable forms – of the swine flu vaccine Friday, Terenzi said.
To receive the nasal vaccine, individuals must be healthy and be between 2 and 49 years old. Those with some health issues can’t get the vaccine in the nasal form.
Pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions are encouraged to get the vaccine by injection, which contains a dead form of the virus. The nasal vaccine is not for people who have weakened immune systems, she said.
A pregnant nursing student at USF received the first swine flu vaccine from SHS, Terenzi said.
The nasal delivery system is a mass vaccination measure, Terenzi said. It is faster to dispense, requires less medical training and is a benefit for those afraid of needles, she said.
Dr. Todd Wills, associate professor of Internal Medicine, said the nasal mist is an effective method. Because it’s delivered through the nose, it creates immunity in the tissues that would encounter the virus first, he said.
“Theoretically, it could be potentially more effective,” Wills said.
Because of the delivery method, the nasal mist must contain a live, active form of the swine flu virus to build immunity. If the virus was inactive, the nasal mist would not work through the nose, he said.
People who receive the vaccine “develop a low-grade infection for a day or two, as opposed to being very sick with the flu for two weeks,” Wills said.
Usually, there are no symptoms associated with the low-grade infection, he said.
“At worst you might get a stuffy nose,” Wills said.
Those who receive the nasal vaccine may help “spread immunity to others” by spreading the weak infection, she said.
USF student Amanda Lewis said she could see the benefits of the nasal vaccine because it’s easier to distribute.
Cindy Le, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said she isn’t convinced of the vaccine’s safety.
“I think it is not safe,” Le said. “I think the shot would be more effective.”
Le and Lewis said they don’t plan on getting any flu vaccinations.
From the start of the semester to Oct. 15, SHS has diagnosed 239 patients with a flu-like illness presumed to be swine flu, Terenzi said.
Originally, SHS planned to hold a health clinic Oct. 23 where students would be able to receive free flu vaccines. The clinic was postponed, but SHS hopes to hold it once it receives more vaccine doses, Terenzi said.
Additional reporting by Daniel Gordon