H1N1 flu shot ambivalence in Europe

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MARCO WERMAN: We turn now to Europe. Health authorities there are also encouraging swine flu vaccination especially for people in high risk groups. But there's a lot of skepticism among patients and health workers. The World's Gerry Hadden reports.

GERRY HADDEN: The German Government is urging everyone to get a swine flu vaccination. But according to a recent poll just 20% of Germans say they'll seek it out. One reason many give for not getting the vaccine is that the H1N1 virus has so far turned out to be relatively mild. Misha Ude is a medical worker in Hamburg. She says she sees swine flu patients daily and isn't worried about catching the disease.

MISHA UDE: [In German]

GERRY HADDEN: She says I'm a nurse in a hospital. In the last month we've had about 30 swine flu cases come in. They get checked out and go right back home. It's nothing serious. Many health experts in the U.S. would disagree with that statement. Yet in Germany among doctors concerned about any serious swine flu outbreak remains muted. Frank Ulrich Montgomery is Vice President of the German Medical Association. He says fears of swine flu are overblown.

FRANK ULRICH: I think it is just an ordinary normal flu and if we hadn't had the pandemia planning, if we hadn't had the most alarming reports from Mexico and the U.S. at the beginning, we probably would never have done so much about this disease.

HADDEN: Montgomery says his group only recommends the new vaccines to high risk patients. He says preliminary tests have shown the vaccine to be effective, but he wants to see more research on the possible risks before recommending the vaccine to the public at large.
MONTGOMERY: You have to test very large numbers of persons to find out the real risk and the long-term risk of vaccinations. Therefore, more important for us is to balance out the risk of vaccination with the risk of the disease itself.

HADDEN: Montgomery says his skepticism is shared by doctors across Europe. In Spain, leading swine flue Epidemiologist Antoni Trilla says he hears the same thing from physicians, but he doesn't share their doubts.

ANTONI TRILLA: There is some sort of non-scientific reasoning in saying that this is not a safe enough vaccine. I don't think there is strong evidence for saying that.

HADDEN: But on the other hand Trilla does think U.S. health officials are pushing the vaccine a little harder than necessary. For instance, when it comes to healthy children.

TRILLA: We don't recommend now to have the vaccine to healthy young kids. It's quite different from the United States where they are pushing forward the vaccination of the younger people. Here we only restrict the vaccine to the higher risk.

HADDEN: Last month the E.U. described three groups as high risk, health care workers, pregnant women, and anyone over six months with pre-existing conditions, such as lung or cardiovascular disease. The fact that otherwise healthy people are not on that priority list might explain why the European public isn't rushing out to get vaccinated. Trilla predicts that if the disease doesn't become more severe over the flu season, by next spring Europe will be awash in unused doses of swine flu vaccine. For The World I'm Gerry Hadden in Barcelona.