Is the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safe?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Some frequent questions about the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine answered as clearly and as visually as I could manage. A few people asked for this so I thought I would oblige.

It was hell on earth to research. There’s a jungle of science around H1N1. Very hard to hack through. You can check all my sources here.

Is the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safe?

You can check all my sources here.

UPDATE 1: Interesting story here on how the H1N1 vaccine is made

UPDATE 2: Jan 2010: There’s now a Greek version of the H1N1 Swine Flu image. (Thanks to George Papadakis) and a Hebrew version (thanks Matty)

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  • engla

    Nice overview!

    I’m a Swedish man, 24 years old. Swedish authorities decided everyone should have a shot of the vaccine, and originally scheduled two doses for all 9 million people. Later they changed to one dosis per person. I received my shot now two weeks ago, that same week everyone 20-29 got called for voluntary free of charge vaccination. I think the three weeks before were spent offering the same to children and school youth.

    I think the vaccine we received had a large part adjuvant; my mother (who is less prioritized, may get the vaccination offer in the next week) said something to the effect. We haven’t heard anything about the nose spray variant.

    I had to laugh seeing the side-effect diagram. I for sure got that! It hurt pretty much for two-three days! Many however had a brief period of flu symptoms the same day as they got the shot, I think the information we received in direct connection with the shot said this was however just a 1:100 chance.

  • phil bentley

    just to say, long time listener, first time caller. but this has been one of the most imformative graphs/charts you have done . this has defineately been one of the bet one in presenting information about a subject very clearly and to the point. keep up the great work.

    p.s. my spell checker is brocken, hence the spelling

  • josh

    I’m confused by the average overall efficacy. How is the average lower than every one of the solid green efficacy bars? I wonder if they mean average overall effectiveness?

  • Jason Yeh

    Hi, David, I would like to translate this information to Chinese, mainly due to the epidemic in my home town, Taiwan. I am a design student in in LA specialized in print and motion design.

    Please email me. Thank You.

  • Allie L.

    Quite a lovely, minimalist treatment of the information, but as someone who works for the CDC, you’ve misspelled the title multiple times. You title it Central For Disease Control as well as Centre For Disease Control, but it’s the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention). :)

  • Toukakoukan

    Maybe my understanding of statistics is… flawed.
    But surely based on your yearly odds of dying, people should live on average 8,740 years?

    • Preston Hendrie

      No this is how it works 8,740 people live to one dying.

  • precordialthump

    Wow – this is a magical thing of beauty!
    Great work.

  • Joe Szabo

    Awesome infographic.

    Found one error in your data: According to Google, the population of the United States is 304,059,724 as of Jul 2008. Your data indicates population as 31465900.

    Just popped out at me.

  • John

    Where to start, your post opens with suggesting that in some cases medical staff suggest getting both the regular flu and the swine flu vaccine. Yet we now know that people who got the regular flu vaccine in previous years are twice as likely to get the swine flu, so what will that mean for those people take both of them next year? And lets not forget that people who get a regular flu shot 5 years in a row, are 10 times more likely to get autism, compared to those who only get it once or twice.

    And I wonder what your source is that says there are no adjuvants in the vaccine? I advise you to google for “squalene swine flu vaccine” or something along those lines.

    All this “hey it’s perfectly healthy” and pro vaccine talk is extremely worrying. Mainly because the swine flu cases are extremely inflated (we’re talking about 80%-90% of the alleged cases not being infected with any flu virus), and moreover, the swine flu itself is milder than the regular flu. Yet suddenly we should all inject ourselves with a poorly tested vaccine even most of the medical staff doesn’t want to take and brought to us by a company that was caught inserting live viruses into the vaccine in february, a month before this all began.

    Combine that with the misleading “there’s more mercury in a can of tuna” bit we hear everywhere (there is of course a difference in injecting it, and having it go through your digestive system) and I really start to wonder why we’re trying to convince people into taking something that could possible damage them for life.

    Then there’s the graph of side-effects, which is not for the swine flu vaccine, but the regular flu vaccine, which, to my knowledge, does not contain the adjuvant squalene, largely held responsible for the majority of gulfwar syndrome and banned for those reasons in many countries. There’s also a graph with numbers from the CDC about the infection numbers/rates, when we know they aren’t even counting them or even testing for them when they do appear to count them. It’s just guesswork and throwing around numbers.

    I find this to be a very troublesome and irresponsible post that might influence people to take a vaccine they don’t need. Ironically tagged with “de-hyping”, when swine flu is infact, nothing but hype.

    I know you’ve put a lot of time in this and I wish I could’ve complemented you on a good job because it is beautiful. But when it comes to people’s health and possibly life or death, we should be absolutely certain we have the right information before we advise anyone to play with his or her life. And that taken into account, it seems you have a long way to go before getting to the bottom of this.

    My apologies for a less than coherent post, so much to say, so little time.

  • Michael

    really great display

  • mrm

    I think there’s a mistake with the “Who gets swine flu?” graph. Those numbers do not add up to 100%.

  • John

    Thank you, I wasn’t weather or not my kids should get the vaccination but you’ve given me the facts to make an informed choice.

  • Nigel Hughes

    Excellent presentation of key data – your ability to present complex information is awe-inspiring. I saw you present at the TEDx Brussels meeting on Monday 23rd November, and spoke to you briefly with a colleague, but your presentation was one of the key highlights.

    Keep up the good work and I sincerely hope that you get even more mass exposure and recognition.

  • Luke

    Thanks for collating the info and displaying with your usual skill. One thing though, in the ‘Who gets swine flu’, it looks like 38% of the infected population are missing.

    Sorry to be a pain.

  • Toon

    A sorely neede infographic with all the pseudoscience out there. But not your best one to date, I think. Must’ve been hell to research, indeed, so I totally understand your plight.
    For what it’s worth, what I’d like to see in a graph like this:
    - how do the odds of catching (swine) flu change after taking the vaccine for the different age groups.
    - cost to society if nobody is vaccinated vs. risk groups vaccinated vs. everybody vaccinated
    - cost of developing and distributing the swine flu vaccine vs. previously mentioned costs
    - deaths of swine flu compared to other flu strains and other causes of death such as traffic, violence, heart attack, etc. Maintaining the age groups would also be interesting here. It seems rather unfair to directly compare heart attack deaths with flu deaths if the two affect completely different age groups.

    Now that’d be dandy ;-)

  • Andrew Cameron

    Great work as usual David. I’ve taken the liberty of blogging about your work here:

  • Dave Gilligan

    I had the jab a couple of weeks ago. Through my work I have an understanding of the effects of vaccine and the Clinical Trials involved in it’s approval so my Doctor was quite frank with me, he said “If I show this information sheet to most people out there (in the waiting room) they wouldn’t get the vaccine”

    My arm hurt like hell for 2 days but that’s a small price to pay.

  • Swineflubritain

    Cases of tamiflu resistant swine flu
    continue to rise in the UK

    Swine Flu Information & Advice

  • josh g.

    Great info graphic, thanks!

    I’m curious about how you choose to construct visuals like the “What are the chances” circles. The odds of being hospitalized are roughly three orders of magnitude smaller than just catching the flu. In the past I’ve assumed that you generally set the size of these circles by area, but the ‘hospitalized’ circle isn’t nearly that small. Do you have a strictly mathematical basis for your design? (A log scale?)

  • Antoine

    Great visualization. Thanks for the useful info!

    What about comparing these data to the seasonal flew? The latter kills around 600,000 people every year but is never called into questions. Another interesting fact is that in the past ten years H3N2 has tended to dominate in prevalence over H1N1, H1N2, and influenza B. Measured resistance to the standard antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine in H3N2 has increased from 1% in 1994 to 12% in 2003 to 91% in 2005.

  • mary

    Great visualization! As a public health student and clinician, I think we need many more graphics like this. Now what I’d *really* love is something similar on breast cancer and mammograms, to help people visualize the magnitude of the benefits and costs (re the new USPSTF guideline). It can be so difficult even for those in the health care field to sort out all the statistics and risks so that we can figure out what the best choice is for our patients.

    One correction ~ in the last section where you have the odds ratios for getting the flu, being hospitalized, etc, the numbers should be reversed. That is, odds are 1:8 that you will get the flu, 1:1573 that you will be hospitalized, etc. Small point, but it’ll make the epidemiologists more happy. :)

  • Teresa

    Great job! But I think where you have “Who should get the vaccine?” that it should say 6 MONTHS -24, not 6-24. Children 6 months to age 6 also are in the primary group, so that typo leaves them out. Similarly, I think in the bar charts, where you have “not for under 2s”, then the next line should read 2-18, not 3-18. Children two-three years old can have the nasal spray, and they are left out of that chart. Hope this is helpful to you!


  • Claire

    Very nice! I would clarify the thimerosal section, since the kind of mercury in thimerosal (ethyl mercury) is different from the kind found in fish (methyl mercury). The kind of mercury in thimerosal is safer, they are not equivalent.

  • Bevans

    Wow, I love great information design.

    Claire is right – there’s a far greater difference between the mercury in a thimerosal-preserved vaccine (ethyl mercury) and the mercury in a can of fish (methyl mercury). You can’t really compare the two, unfortunately. Ethyl mercury has a far lower effect on the human body than methyl mercury, and it doesn’t build up in the body (doesn’t bioaccumulate) like methyl mercury does.

    Unfortunately, there’s very little data about exactly how much of an affect ethyl mercury has. If it doesn’t bioaccumulate, it’s probably insignificant or none (but that’s just a hunch).

    You may want to remove that section from the graphic completely, and/or find a different way to convey the information.

    Keep up the good work! I’ve gotta get a copy of your book.

  • Kevin Anderson

    As a follow up, you might want to do a diagram on how many people are seriously injured by the vaccine (based on the known percentages made public by the FDA and CDC). In 1976, there was another swine flu scare that amounted to nothing, but the number of people severely injured by the vaccine amounted to more than the number of dead in the 9/11 attacks.

  • Peter Huesken

    Very nice information design.

    It seems there´s something missing though:
    What about children between 6 months and 6 years?

  • Mike

    I see a lot of .gov’s in your sources list. Not sure if that’s such a good idea.

  • Eric

    I’m having trouble understanding the “yearly odds of getting” graph for swine flu vs regular influenza. Entire businesses are out with the swine flu. I’ve never heard of that happening with the regular influenza. How could it be that the yearly odds of getting influenza are 8:1 and swine flu is 14:1? Especially considering the swine flu hasn’t been around for a year, it seems questionable to interpret the data as “yearly odds” – we haven’t even gotten into a flu season yet with H1N1 out there.

  • autism

    Wiser Together has a recent piece on why pregnant women should get an H1N1 vaccine and the best ways to go about it.

  • Jillian

    Very informative. Easy to understand. Greatly needed as well.
    I agree what about the 6 months to 6 years age group?
    I do believe that the distribution of the injection was very poorly done. I work in the medical field and am still waiting for the injection. Our hospital ran out. I think this should be looked at for future needs.

  • Nicholas

    It would be nice addition the actual numbers of people getting infected with Common Flu and the H1N1 rather than just odds

  • R, California

    You forgot a few things:

    1/ Thimerosal has been banned in all children’s vaccines except for the flu vaccine. It’s not safe to inject into children, yet your ‘research’ seems to imply that it’s safe to inject into a pregnant woman. If injected into her, the baby growing inside will also be subjected to thimerosal.

    2/ Numerous women of late have begun reporting miscarriages (both 1st and 2nd trimester) shortly (sometimes within hours) of taking the H1N1 vaccine.

    3/ There have been quite a few reports of deaths and side effects in the few weeks that H1N1 has been in use.

    4/ Testing for H1N1 stopped long ago so we actually have no idea how many people actually really have H1N1. Therefore, your calculations on what your chance of getting it are totally inaccurate.

    I’m 9 months pregnant. No way will I take this stuff. And I asked the nurse in my OB’s office… most of the other pregnant women are not taking it either. Even the nurse didn’t want to take it.

    You need to include the above information in your summary to give an accurate picture.

    Also, I think you need to make mention of the fact that the US Government granted these pharma companies FULL IMMUNITY before they even began manufacturing the drug. This means that if you take the vaccine and something happens, you have ZERO recourse. No medical payments, no compensation for loss, nothing. Yeah, you can report your side effects… but what good is that going to do you if you’ve just lost your baby or are now paralyzed?


  • Dawn Crawford

    David – thank you for ANOTHER fantastic visualization of data. I work in the child immunization field and deal with this data all day long but your graphs really bring home the importance of this work for me. I love seeing the impact of all the good work we’re doing to protect people from disease.

    Love your blog, love your work. Keep it up!

  • q

    In Germany they ordered the vaccine with adjuvants for the normal people and the one without adjuvants for politicians.

    That is scary.

  • Gabe Crisp

    This is a really useful way of displaying complex data. I shall use it tomorrow with my class of 17 year old advanced “science in society” students. We are looking at the design of clinical trials and the ways drug companies decider which drug to develop on the basis of these trials. I shall look at the other topics with interest.

  • Sarah

    I agree with John (Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:54 am) that you should be more responsible and cautious when publishing such graphic explanation.

    Many parts of this information seems flawed. Accepting swine flu vaccine can be a death decision for some people, especially when being weakened by other seasonal illnesses.

  • Marcus Turner

    It would also be interesting to see side effects broken down by age, since that seems to be one of the key variables for infection.

    But it is a great work of visualization.

  • faddy

    I believe the risks of mortality quoted for swine versus influenza are wrong. Or at least misleading, because they are based on different methodology. Originally morbidity and mortality due to swine flu were recorded based on confirmed cases only, whereas with influenza it is an estimate based on symptoms and complications. In other words, using the two different sets of numbers is like comparing apples to oranges. Note that the WHO has recently recommended that cases now be estimated in the same way for both forms of flu so that comparisons can be made.

  • Kevin

    Pretty and effective, but you switch from discussing H1N1 to the efficacy/effectiveness of seasonal flu vaccines without making that switch clear. The underlying sources for your effectiveness panel all seem related to seasonal flu vaccines, not the H1N1 vaccine. This, despite the title of the graphic claiming this information informs a reader about the H1N1 vaccine (not the seasonal flu vaccine).

  • Sam Moldy

    “Who gets swine flu” graphic only adds up to 62% not 100%.

  • Calli Arcale

    Kevin — the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine (all they change is the antigen), so one would think the numbers would be comparable. However, the effectiveness numbers tend to be low for the seasonal flu vaccine because of the problem of matching the strain. For 2009 H1N1, this isn’t so much of a problem; the strain is known exactly. Therefore, we should expect to see much higher effectiveness for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine than for the seasonal flu vaccine. It may not be possible to know, though; for reasons of practicality, the stats have to address flu vaccines as a whole, not just a single year’s batch. So 45% is kind of the average flu vaccine effectiveness.

    If you look at stats for effectiveness, as measured by seroconversion (body’s ability to make the desired antibodies), it’s very effective. The main question isn’t whether the vaccine works; it’s whether the antibodies thus produced will protect against influenza. This year, if you manage to get 2009 H1N1 vaccine, it’s a perfect match for the strain you are most likely to encounter. The seasonal flu vaccine, not so much, though the picture may change with the weather — we’re only now moving into the regular flu season, which may give the other strains a competitive advantage over 2009 H1N1 (which seems to do better in warmer weather). Or the seasonal strains may crossbreed with 2009 H1N1, which might actually be a good thing, as antibodies against either might turn out to be at least partially helpful.

  • Eric

    The argument against vaccination is NOT the chance of immediate serious reaction to the vaccine (1,000,000: 1). Sure, who wouldn’t get it, by that standard.

    The question is, what are the LONG TERM effects of this toxic cocktail, which happens to be whipped up in a mad rush to beat the flu season(?)

    Answer: Nobody REALLY knows.

    What we DO know is, it is in the UPMOST interest of Big Pharma to deliver a product.

    I’ll take my 80,681:1 chance of dying (sans vaccine) thank you very much !

  • cholldorff

    There’s an error in the graph… it reads “…ask for a Thimersoal-free injection…” instead of Thimerosal

  • cholldorff

    Ahhh nevermind, it’s actually Thiomersal. So it’s incorrect in both places :P

  • Khattar

    my wife is pregnant 26 weeks, and I have 2 kids at school. The question is what is the safety of the vaccine to be given to my wife, for her and the baby?

  • little sparrow

    1>.Even if you were only ingesting it and passing most of it out the other end you would have to weigh at least 539 pounds for this amount 25ug to be safe according to the EPA’s guideline of 0.1ug per kg or 2.2 pounds of body weight. There is however a big difference between ingesting mercury and having it injected directly into your bloodstream. Compounds of mercury tend to be much more toxic than the element itself, and organic compounds of mercury are often extremely toxic and have been implicated in causing brain and liver damage. The most dangerous mercury compound, dimethylmercury, is so toxic that even a few microliters spilled on the skin, or even a latex glove, can cause death.

    2>.The adjuvant squalene that is not in the vaccine used in the U.S. is added to the injecting needle at the injection site by the person giving the injection as they have been trained to do so. That is why it is not listed as an ingreident on the packaging of the of the vaccine, because it is added to the needle when the vaccine is injected.

    3>.There is already squalene in various parts of the body but not the blood stream, it doesn’t belong there. When the immune system finds squalene in the blood stream it reacts to it and then starts attacking the squalene in other parts of the body. The squalene injection victim inevitably develops permanently crippling and fatal auto-immune diseases and suffers a slow and painful death from them. Squalene is what caused gulf war syndrome. There is lots more squalene in the swine flu vaccine(10,000ug) than there was in the gulf war vaccine(34ug). It also makes you sterile.

    4>.The vaccine manufacturers have been granted legal immunity against any claims of death or injury resulting from the administration of their vaccines on live human subjects.

    5>.Their ultimate goal is population reduction(mass-murder). They also intend to dumb the population down to make them less able to figure out what’s happening to them or how to defend themselves. Here’s a list of some different brands and their purpose defining ingredients/toxicity-

    Novartis Focetria Adjuvanted H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Polysorbate 80: Sterilie Agent
    Potassium Chloride: Neurotoxin
    Squalene: Neurotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    Novartis H1N1 Monovalent Influenza Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Beta-Propiolactone: Carcinogen
    Polymyxin: Neurotoxin
    Neomycin: Immunotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    GlaxoSmithKline Arepanrix Adjuvanted H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Formaldehyde : Carcinogen
    Polysorbate 80: Sterilie Agent
    Sodium Deoxycholate: Immunotoxin
    Squalene: Neurotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    GlaxoSmithKline Pandemrix Adjuvanted H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Octoxynol 10: Immunotoxin
    Polysorbate 80: Sterilie Agent
    Potassium Chloride: Neurotoxin
    Sodium Deoxycholate: Immunotoxin
    Squalene: Neurotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    GlaxoSmithKline Fluarix 2009-2010 Formula Ingredients/Toxicity
    Formaldehyde : Carcinogen
    Octoxynol 10: Immunotoxin
    Polysorbate 80: Sterilie Agent
    Sodium Deoxycholate: Immunotoxin

    Sanofi-Pasteur H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Formaldehyde : Carcinogen
    Polyethylene Glycol: Systemic Toxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    MedImmune H1N1 Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Monosodium Glutamate: Neurotoxin
    Gentamicin Sulfate: Nephrotoxic
    Monobasic Potassium Phosphate: Immunotoxin

    FLUARIX 2009 Latest Package Insert Ingredients/Toxicity
    Formaldehyde : Carcinogen
    Gentamicin Sulfate: Nephrotoxic
    Polysorbate 80: Sterilie Agent
    Sodium Deoxycholate: Immunotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    CSL PANVAX H1N1 Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Beta-Propiolactone: Carcinogen
    Neomycin: Immunotoxin
    Sodium Taurodeoxycholate: Carcinogen/Immunotoxin
    Polymyxin: Neurotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    CSL Afluria H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Ingredients/Toxicity
    Beta-Propiolactone: Carcinogen
    Neomycin Sulfate: Immunotoxin
    Polymyxin B: Neurotoxin
    Potassium Chloride: Neurotoxin
    Sodium Taurodeoxycholate: Carcinogen/Immunotoxin
    Thimerosal: Neurotoxin

    6>.The weaponised human version of the swine flu virus was produced in a laboratory by splicing the genes from human flu into the swine flu so that it can be passed on to humans. The vaccines now being manufactured were then patented a few years before being deployed on the human population. Remember the virus appeared allegedly for the first time in Mexico in April 2009.

    Baxter (Kistner Pharm) files swine flu vaccine patent (US 20090060950 A1) 2008.

    Novartis of Switzerland applied for it’s Swine Flu Vaccine patent (US 20090047353 for a ’split Influenza Vaccine with Adjuvants) on Nov. 6, 2006.

    GlaxoSmithKline’s 2006 Pandemrix H1N1 flu virus vaccine patent (WO2006100109 A1) to GSK Filed 21st March 2006.

    7>.The number of actual cases of swine flu is not as great as we are being told it is, and the number of deaths that swine flu is being blamed for is not actually any where near as high as we are being told it is because in most cases swine flu was not the actual cause of death. The criteria for a diagnosis of a case of the swine flu has been grossly expanded to deliberately boost the number of reports confirming such cases. I know as many people who have been told they have swine flu when in fact clearly they haven’t as I have heard rumors of people having it who are known to people I know. There is no pandemic apart from the one we are supposed to imagine is real.

    8>.Swine flu is actually a mild illness. It does not cause permenant brain damage, make you infertile, or you leave you crippled for life and dying of a horrible auto-immune disease or cancer like the ingredients of the vaccines patented before the outbreak are known to do.

    9>.The scum behind this evil scheme have openly announced time and time again and even carved in stone (georgia guidestones) that they will use every means possible to reduce the population to 500 million. Today it is 6,803million. They plan to murder 6,303million people.

    10>.The vaccination program is set to coincide with the global implementation of new set of food laws called codex alimentarius. The FDA predicts that with the vitamin and mineral guideline alone codex alimentarius will cause 3,000million deaths. Those are the people who will die of malnutrition. The other stuff like bringing back several banned pesticides, and making dangerous additives and methods of farming mandatory will kill plenty more.

    • ltothel

      I’m fairly certain they could probably think of a quicker way to mass murder millions of people.

  • ropes

    The circles are not showing up on my screen as correctly proportioned.

    The top British fatalities graphic has 3 circles practically alike, with the right hand one more like the middle ones than the left circle which it is numerically closest to.

    And the Troop Fatalities and Wounded with three circles surely has the middle Canada one too large.

  • Gregory Despain

    I simply wanted to add a comment here to say thanks for you very nice ideas. Blogs are troublesome to run and time consuming therefore I appreciate when I see well written material. Your time isn’t going to waste with your posts. Thanks so much and carry on You’ll defintely reach your goals! have a great day!

  • Me

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

  • John M

    @ little sparrow : Yay conspiracy theories!