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H1N1 Vaccine Linked to Small Guillain-Barré Syndrome Risk

July 12, 2012 — Two new studies have been published regarding side effects of the H1N1 vaccine. One study found that the shots were not linked to birth defects in babies of vaccinated women. Another study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who got the vaccine had a slightly higher risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare nervous system disorder. However, the researchers concluded that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed its risks.


The H1N1 virus, also known as “swine flu,” sparked a global pandemic in 2009. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates H1N1 killed approximately 575,000 people in 2009 (a number 15-times higher than what was reported during the outbreak). At the same time, health officials in Quebec, Canada launched a campaign against the H1N1 pandemic by vaccinating 57% of the 7.8 million residents in the city — everyone 6 months or older. The chief medical officer also ordered an investigation of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and physicians were instructed to report the disease.

During the 1976 swine flu outbreak, there was a mass immunization in the United States that was linked to more than 500 cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Therefore, Canadian health officials were concerned that the incidence of Guillain-Barré Syndrome might increase following the H1N1 immunizations.

During the investigation, 83 cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome were identified, including 25 that occurred within 8 weeks of an H1N1 vaccine. The researchers found that there were approximately two extra cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome per every million doses of H1N1 vaccine. This finding is consistent with the findings of similar studies in the U.S.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is an acute nervous system disorder characterized by sudden motor weakness, lack of reflex-response, and paralysis. Experts believe it is triggered by an auto-immune response, such as after a vaccine. Most people with this disease must be hospitalized within less than a week. If the disease progresses, the patient may suffer paralysis, respiratory distress syndrome, require intubation and/or assisted ventilation. Guillain-Barré Syndrome can also be fatal.

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