To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – flu

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Yesterday morning I woke up to a pretty intense news feed about vaccinations.  Nothing bothers me quite as much as these attacks primarily because very little is based on fact.  We are mostly spending time calling each other stupid and uneducated and accusing others of putting their children at unreasonable risk.

Why is it that we have this amazing body of research and the ability to get it at our finger tips on demand but don’t seem to use it … instead we rely on these half backed anecdotes that may or may not take into consideration all factors.

This particular news feed was arguing about the use of the influenza vaccine.  Some common arguments:

  • Vaccination is ineffective:  This argument was centered around 2 things 1st that the vaccination includes the strains they predict to be common for the year and 2nd that the virus mutates and could become unrecognizable to the antibodies the vaccine created.  Both true.  The vaccine includes the most common or most likely strains and viruses mutate.  Both are things that are minimally in our control.  Vaccines and bacteria mutate but we can only protect against what we already know to be out there – just because we can fight all battles doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wage war against the ones we can win.  In 1994 this study was published showing that in the elderly in the Netherlands the vaccination approximately halved the incidence of flu.  Not great odds but better than nothing – I guess I’ll take the 50/50 over zero protection.
  • Significant side effects:  This particular news feed was started by a story about a boy who had Guillain-Barre Syndrome after getting the vaccination.  This is a none and listed potential side effect of the flue vaccination.  In 1979 the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study conducted in New Jersey that showed a 1 in 100,000 case attribution of Guillain-Barre Syndrome to the flu vaccination.  Increased risk existed for 9-10 weeks after vaccination with concentrated risk in the first 5 weeks.  Guillain-Barre Syndrome is clinically defined as acute peripheral neuropathy causing weakness.  It is triggered by a bacterial or viral infection.  That being said, a person who develops Guillain-Barre Syndrome post flu vaccine may have developed it after having the flu anyway.  This isn’t the fault of the vaccination – just a product of the individuals genetic make up.  A study published in Drugs in 2004 suggests that incidence of death from Guillain-Barre is approximately 10% with incidence of significant and lasting disability being 20%.  Bottom line – if you were unfortunate enough to develop Guillain-Barre from your vaccination it doesn’t mean the vaccine is unsafe … it means you were at risk all along.
  • Death from flu is unlikely:  This is actually true – if you are healthy and don’t suffer from additional complications or concurrent illness based on your decreased ability to fight off infection when you are already fighting off influenza.  A 2014 article in The Journal of The American Medical Association reports that 18,449 deaths were laboratory confirmed deaths due to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.  I don’t know how much you know about laboratory confirmation but it costs money and if there is no course of treatment (death isn’t reversible at this point) the test may never be preformed.  That means we are likely looking at a much high number of deaths from the H1N1 strain of influenza.  To compare of the 32,796 adverse reactions to all vaccines given in the US 191 resulted in death according to VAERS.  Note that this is across all vaccines given in 2009 and not just the flu shot.  That is not to say that there were not other serious complications due to vaccine (or due to contracting flu for that matter) but statistically I would take make chances on the vaccination.

I don’t really know what the answer is – to vaccinate or not.  Are there risks?  Yes.  Are there known toxins present in vaccinations?  Yes.  The mercury content was another hot topic on the news feed – but does that mean you avoid fish too?  The reality is everything comes with a risk … including something as common place as taking a quick shower.  I mean you could loose your balance, crack your head open, and bleed to death.  It’s all about risk management.

If you choose not to vaccinate yourself or your children that is your right – but please research before you make your choices and don’t judge me for making mine.  Based on the data I have available in addition to personal experiences I think the bigger risk is allowing my child to contract a preventable virus with fairly minimal side effects because I think it is my child’s best shot (see what I did there?).  Just because you don’t agree doesn’t make my choices silly or invalid.  If you choose not to vaccinate, well I am not likely to agree with you unless you have medical reasons, but I will respect it as your choice – we are all just trying to do what is in the best interest of our children.

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