Are Flu Vaccines Worthwhile?

Fever, headache, sore throat, congestion (of the nasal not the traffic kind)–it all sounds so easy. Having experienced the early symptoms of the flu when the Antiplanner was still in St. Louis on Saturday, then getting hit particularly hard on Sunday, I can testify that the flu is no picnic. So I have to wonder: should I have gotten a flu vaccine earlier this season?

If the vaccine were certain to have prevented this bout of sickness, the answer is most likely “yes.” But the vaccine doesn’t protect against all strains of the flu–the chances of still getting the flu after getting the vaccine may be as high as 40 percent.

On the other hand, the vaccine has enough mercury in it that the State of Washington has had to suspend its legal limits in order to make the vaccine available. A 40 percent chance of still getting sick but a 100 percent chance of having a toxic chemical injected into your bloodstream doesn’t sound good.

The Centers for Disease Control, of course, says that the mercury is safe. However, they also seem to be more interested in interrupting the chain of infection than in protecting the health of any one individual. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

I feel bad if I infected anyone with the flu on my way home from St. Louis. But are we such a primitive society that we still inject people with mercury, an extremely toxic element for which there is limited treatment? Next flu season, I’ll see if my memory of this disease outweighs my worries about mercury toxicity.

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16 thoughts on “Are Flu Vaccines Worthwhile?

  1. Jardinero1

    Any one person’s odds of getting the flu are less than one in twenty. The odds of the flu vaccine being the right one are only one in seven. You odds of getting the flu after having the vaccine decline from .05 to about .043. You improve your odds of avoiding the flu by only 14 percent if you get the shot.

    Other factors to consider are that you have to go to a hot spot for flu incidence, like the pharmacy, the doctors office, or the hospital in order to get vaccinated. You increase your likelihood of getting the flu by walking into one of these places.

    If you want to avoid the flu, the best methods are hand washing, breathing through your nose, not touching your face or lips and getting the correct amount of sleep. Also, avoid crowded confined places with limited air circulation like airplanes,,trains, and elevators.

  2. Sandy Teal

    I am surprised the Antiplanner buys into the mercury scare in vaccines. The science finding it to be safe is strong and is real science, not social science.

    There are two, very different, types of mercury which people should know about: methylmercury and ethylmercury.

    Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust, air, soil, and water. Since the earth’s formation, volcanic eruptions, weathering of rocks and burning coal have caused mercury to be released into the environment. Once released, certain types of bacteria in the environment can change mercury into methylmercury. Methylmercury makes its way through the food chain in fish, animals, and humans. At high levels, it can be toxic to people. For more information about methylmercury: please read “What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish” from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    Thimerosal contains a different form of mercury called ethylmercury. Studies comparing ethylmercury and methylmercury suggest that they are processed differently in the human body. Ethylmercury is broken down and excreted much more rapidly than methylmercury. Therefore, ethylmercury (the type of mercury found in the influenza vaccine) is much less likely than methylmercury (the type of mercury in the environment) to accumulate in the body and cause harm.

    There is a large body of scientific evidence on the safety of thimerosal. Data from several studies show the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines do not cause harm, and are only associated with minor local injection site reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.

    Three U.S. health agencies (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)) have reviewed the published research on thimerosal and found it to be a safe product to use in vaccines. Three independent organizations [The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)] reviewed the published research and also found thimerosal to be a safe product to use in vaccines. The medical community supports the use of thimerosal in influenza vaccines to protect against potential bacterial contamination of multi-dose vials.

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    Sandy Teal wrote:

    I am surprised the Antiplanner buys into the mercury scare in vaccines. The science finding it to be safe is strong and is real science, not social science.

    Sandy, I strongly agree with you on this.

    Getting the flu “sucketh,” as a friend puts it. Even if the shots are not 100% effective, I interact with enough people that I want to have some immunity to it in my system.

  4. Andy Stahl

    Hope that Antiplanner rests, drinks fluids, and watches out for secondary bacterial infections, e.g., pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis.

    His concern for thimerosal, while misplaced scientifically, perhaps results from having seen the iconic Minamata photos in Life magazine while in high school. Like Silent Spring, the Minamata mercury poisoning made an indelible impression on western Baby Boomers.

  5. Dan

    What also helps spread germs in our country is that we walk around sick. We breathe, sneeze, and cough in public. One wonders why we don’t wear face masks like in parts of Asia. Think of the fashion industry and pHrma possibilities.

    DS

  6. Frank

    To add on, many allow their children to go to school sick. Once there they don’t cover coughs or sneezes. They don’t wash hands. One student last week took out 40% of that period. I too have succumbed, right at the end of the semester when grades are due and a mountain of papers need to be read.

    Factor in low ventilation rates and awful heating systems that leave rooms too cold or too hot, and schools are giant germ incubators, perhaps the worst germ carrier and one of the most unhealthy working environments.

  7. LazyReader

    Any nostalgic people, your parents or grandparents who told you “Well back in my day, we didn’t get sick and we used natural remedies” is clueless and there are a lot of dead children to prove it. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you…….more prone to future infection or can cripple you. Prevention is and always has been the best medicine and inoculation it’s 2nd player. Getting used to the disease by infection has been the motto of old people and there are a lot of dead people who would disagree. Diseases we have wiped out. Chicken pox (which before 1995 hospitalized over 11,000 and killed 100 annually), Diphtheria which before the vaccine in 1913 killed thousands and still kills 5,000 people a year globally. Invasive H. Flu which killed 450,000 children a year but was largely eliminated by 1985. Malaria has been wiped out in the US thanks in part to another chemical; Insecticide, but where it’s unavailable, Malaria still kills 2 million around the globe and infects 350 million annually and you could write an entire paper on Malaria hypocrisy thanks to USAID. Until 1963, everyone got the Measles, today it’s been reduced by 99.5% thanks in part to the MMR vaccine and not anything grandma whips up in the kitchen. Pertussis still kills thousands of children around the globe. What was largley eliminated is now growing in intensity in America thanks in part ot conspiracy buffs and religious parents who fear the all seeing eye of the needle. Pneumococcal Disease, which is responsible for nearly a million annual deaths due to respitory illness and has especially hard hit AIDS affected Africa. If you were a child prior to 1955 the likelihood of contracting Polio was much higher until Jonas Salk’s IP vaccine, Polio infected 40,000 children in America and killed 7,000 a year, it crippled a President and it’s ubiquity started one of the worlds most famous charities. Tetanus killed 300 children annually; left untreated can cause nerve damage, infections of the brain and paralysis, today thanks to antibiotics the ability to get rid of the bacterial spores before they propogate has reduced infection rates from 15,000 a year to merely 100 in the US. Well before the chemical “chlorine” was added to water and modern sewage treatment plants were built Typhoid fever infected 20 million people annually and killed 600,000 globally. 200,000 cases of Yellow fever every year, and 30,000 of them are fatal all taking place on a single continent, Africa. And finally the ultimate plague which today has been eliminated but in its heyday killed more people throughout human history than warfare…Smallpox. In an act of deliberate extinction, Smallpox has been wiped off the face of the Earth but before preventive vaccines it permanently scarred a third of those infected and killed over 300 million throughout the 20th century; the US hasn’t vaccinated for smallpox since 1972. This mindset today of fear of drugs is fueled by chemophobia exacerbated by the media which is telling us that chemicals are everywhere! Well, in a sense…Chemicals are everywhere. There’s a chemical in brocoli called 8-Methyloxysauraline which has been proven to be carcinogenic in rodents. It’s harmless to us because the dosage is so incredibly low you would have to literally eat tons of brocoli to get poisoned, physically impossible. Vaccine’s also contain aluminum hydroxide; would anyone eat aluminum, well you ingest 2,000 times as much for taking an antacid tablet. There’s another chemical in celery that’s proven to be carcinogenic in rodent’s but again, it’s the dosage that make’s it poisonous. Dosage was the reason for the DDT bans. We sprayed too much which led to the environmental consequences, but it only takes 0.001% (sprayed around homes not outdoor or wild areas) of the amount we used in the 40’s and 50’s to effectively erradicate mosquitoes. Had it been used in Sub-Saharan Africa years ago they could have been Malaria free before 1990. In Sri Lanka, in 1948, there were 2.8 million malaria cases and 7,300 malaria deaths. With widespread DDT use, malaria cases fell to 17 and no deaths in 1963. After DDT use was discontinued, Sri Lankan malaria cases rose to 2.5 million in the years 1968 and 1969, and the disease remains a killer in Sri Lanka today.

  8. Jardinero1

    Lazy Reader, I don’t disagree with you about vaccines or chemicals. But the seasonal flu vaccine is not much added benefit with several added risks when you go to where you need to go to get the vaccine. I failed to mention that the flu vaccine, even when its the right one, does not assure immunity for all takers.

  9. Sandy Teal

    Just to make clear what I think Dan said — in Japan the people with a runny nose or sore throat are the ones wearing the masks to take responsibility and avoid infecting others. In the US, the sick people are the “brave” ones who go to work and school and the paranoid people are the ones wearing the masks.

    I used to always get sick after every cross-country trip. But a few years ago I started religiously washing my hands before and after a flight, carrying wipes to clean my airline seat area, and strongly avoiding touching my eyes/nose/mouth while flying. Then I have only been sick after one out of twenty trips or so.

  10. Dan

    I notice a resurgence in the “evil greenies banned DDT” stories again. Has a major chemical company sockpuppet published an op-ed in an influential right-wing outlet, prompting this resurgence?

    And I agree with several folks here that flu vax is a crapshoot – it might work.

    DS

  11. Sandy Teal

    Sorry to burst your environmentalist love affair with Rachel Carson. Her book was clearly terribly inaccurate and did lead to millions of people getting sick and dying because of hype politics instead of science. She must have been a role model for Al Gore.

    Whether Rachel Carson should be personally blamed is up for debate. But it is undeniable that way more people have died from malaria than from global warming, and that the DDT laws are driven by emotion and not science.

  12. Iced Borscht

    Has a major chemical company sockpuppet published an op-ed in an influential right-wing outlet, prompting this resurgence?

    To be fair, anti-vax animus comes from every corner of every political realm. In Hollywood, all you have to do is throw a rock 10 feet and you’ll hit about 20 anti-vax celebrities who identify as liberal, Bill Maher being the most visible.

    I find it pretty odd that progressives champion Maher’s political humor yet rarely take him to task for his forays into pseudoscience. (One of his favorite buzzwords is “aggregate toxicity,” whatever that is.)

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/10/16/is-bill-maher-really-that-ignorant-part/

  13. bennett

    Some days we like stats and use them to justify are arguments no matter how cold and vicious. Other days we scoff at stats even if they the give us a reason to help protect infants and elderly amongst us.

    I don’t actually have a strong pro or anti vaccine stance but I’ll keep his little “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” ditty in my back pocket for a later discussion on mobility where I’m sure he is likely to pull all sorts of stats to make just that point.

  14. bennett

    On the off topic… Iced Borscht said, “I find it pretty odd that progressives champion Maher’s humor…”

    While I often agree with Maher’s viewpoint I don’t find him very funny and don’t think that being a total prick is a great way to get the discussion going in the right way. I much prefer the satirical antics of the Daily Show. Same basic message, but better stated and with less venom.

  15. Iced Borscht

    My take on vaccines is the same as it is on climate change: For me to characterize the science behind either as “bunk” would be arrogant. I’m just a guy with a blog vs. the consensus opinion of the world’s accredited scientists.

    Having said that, though, I find some of the most prominent climate change activists, e.g. Maher and Al Gore, to be contemptible ding-dongs. (Although Gore’s recent responses to Matt Lauer’s “grilling” about the hypocrisy of selling his TV network to Al Jazeera were comedy gold.)

    http://www.mediaite.com/tv/nbcs-matt-lauer-grills-al-gore-over-hypocrisy-in-selling-current-tv-to-oil-funded-al-jazeera/

    But then I’m getting off-topic again, as I’m wont to do, I guess.

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