The preliminary results from the last H1N1 2009 vaccination season are in. So far no excess cases have been reported with the vaccine when compared to previous vaccination years. More people developed Guillain Barre without vaccination than with the vaccine (total numbers). The rate of cases per 100,000 population were slightly greater in those with vaccination than those without vaccination (0.8 per 100,000 persons greater). These results are consistent with the expected safety profile as seen in previous years.
No statistically significant association between GBS and 2009 H1N1 vaccination has been seen
More information on the history of Guillain Barre and vaccinations
Preliminary Results: Surveillance for Guillain-Barré Syndrome After Receipt of Influenza A H1N1 2009 Monovalent Vaccine — United States, 2009–2010.
What Gullian barre? Guillain barre sydrome is a neurologic condition where the body immune systems antibodies misrecognizes parts of the nervous system as foreign and attacks it. The host can develop muscle weakness and even paralysis. This can be a serious condition. Fortunately it is very rare. This is NOT caused directly by a vaccine but by the immune system itself. This can therefore happen with anything that stimulates the immune system to produce more antibodies. In other words infection itself can produce GBS. Most GBS is caused by viral infections and by a common bacteria that causes food poisoning called Campylobacter.
There are about 10-20 cases of GBS per million population in any given year, this is known as the “background rate” of occurrence. This has been closely watched since the initial cases of GBS were reported in the 1970s and does not appear to have changed that much with subsequent influenza seasons. (Roper AH. The Guillain barre syndrome. N Engl J Med 1992 326:1130-6)
The first series of GBS related to vaccination was reported in JAMA in 1980. This was based on data collected from the 1976 influenza vaccination season where it was believed that people were getting GBS from the vaccination. In this study they cite an attributable risk of 13 cases of GBS per 100,000 population vaccinated (an alarmingly high number) based on a collection of 32 cases with a history of vaccination. They needed a background rate for comparison. Due to the lack of public health records for GBS at that time they called local neurologists on the roster of the local medical associations in the state of Ohio and asked them about all the cases they had seen in the studied time interval. With this information they arrived at a background prevalence of 2.6 cases per 100,000. Of course this data was met with appropriate alarm, it turned out to be a public relations fiasco.
More detailed studies of the initial finding were later published regarding the 1976 swine flu vaccination where 40 million people were vaccinated and possible 532 cases of Guillian Barre were reported and 32 people died. This gives a rate of
about 13 cases per million. One tenth the number originally cited in the smaller study and a number more in the middle of the expected background rate. Definitely less alarming.
Data collected prospectively in subsequent years have failed to demonstrate any increased risk.
The risk from vaccination therefore may add an additional risk of perhaps up to 1 additional case per 1,000,000 administered doses of influenza vaccine this is a very small number compared with the original 130 cases per 1,000,000 that was reported in the 1980 article. This is rare enough to go so far as to say that there is probably no causal relationship influenza vaccination and GBS.