If You Know Anyone Afraid of the Flu Shot, Show Them This!

Internet memes are constant reminders of how unstructured information sharing is. I see memes through the prism of scientific skepticism and critical thinking and the most frustrating aspect is how they can be used to disseminate dangerous ideology and disinformation. There is no end to the structured disinfo out there—from creationism to anti-vaccine doggerel—everywhere on the Internet. Fear mongering has become an art form in promoting the agendas of ideologues, often using reasonable-sounding but myopic anti-science propaganda. This is especially dangerous during flu season.

Fear mongering plays on our fallible human brain, our innate fear of the unknown,with a dash of the precautionary principle to structure a scare tactic. The anti-science themes and memes are artfully packaged to frame the conversation to their agenda. Facebook popularity makes it ground zero for such nonsense. Given the fact that the Influenza season approaches there is little surprise that the anti-vaccine disinformation machine throws its annual fear pamphlet out on Facebook for all to pass around. Fear mongering about the flu vaccine with exaggerated or false claims. Dressed up nicely with click bait headlines, scary words, and ominous claims of experts and research. Lets turn our skeptical eye to a viral Facebook article that personifies false anti-vaccine arguments.

A salacious listicle from LoveThisPic.com, titled “If You Know Anyone Thinking Of Getting A Flu Shot Give Them This!” [sic] has recently been circulating on Facebook. This is complete and utter bunk, anti-vax propaganda, written with just the right amount of science-y sounding words and tired, disproved vaccine claims to give the average person pause. Since a lay person would most likely Google the claims, they will see an avalanche of anti-vax sites duplicating those false ideas. It raises the likelihood that an honestly concerned person will get inaccurate confirmation of those fears. Let’s pull apart this tent of lies and give you the real answers that the anti-vaccine crowd doesn’t want you to know.

Single Dose Flu Vaccine Via Wikimedia

Single-dose flu vaccine. Via Wikimedia

So here are 11 lies about the flu vaccine, revisited:

1. The flu shot makes you sickMostly wrong. Although live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIVs), such as flu mist, could possibly give an active but very weak case of the flu, it is almost unheard of. That kind of nasal LAIV is not available this year; all forms of vaccine are either recombinant proteins or a complete killed virus. Although some people feel slightly ill after taking the vaccine, this is just the immune system reacting to the vaccine and making antibodies to destroy the actual disease. It has none of the cell-damaging effects of the actual disease.

2. Flu vaccines contain other dangerous ingredients such as mercury—Wrong! First, it’s important to note that almost no flu vaccines even contain thimerosal, and children are not given thimerosal in the vaccines they receive. The only US vaccine left with thimerosal is Fluvirin, from Noventis, which contains 0.0000001 grams mercury per dose. (You inhale more mercury from air pollution than you get from a dose of Fluvirin.) It is only given to adults. Neither single-dose shots nor nasal spray versions of the flu vaccine contain any mercury compounds. The multi-dose flu shot does contain a preservative called thimerosal, which breaks down into 49% ethylmercury and is used to prevent bacterial contamination of the vaccine container. It’s important to understand the difference between two different compounds that contain mercury: ethylmercury and methylmercury. They are totally different materials.

Methylmercury is formed in the environment when mercury metal is present. If this material is found in the body, it is usually the result of eating some types of fish or other food. High amounts of methylmercury can harm the nervous system. In the United States, federal guidelines keep as much methylmercury as possible out of the environment and food, but over a lifetime, everyone is exposed to some methylmercury.

Ethylmercury is formed when the body breaks down thimerosal. The body removes ethylmercury from the blood quickly. Low-level ethylmercury exposures from vaccines are very different from long-term methylmercury exposures, such as from tainted foods, because ethylmercury does not stay in the body. Again, you consume more mercury from air pollution than you could from the only vaccine that has thimerosal.

3. The flu shot can cause Alzheimer’s disease—A bald-faced lie. All the best evidence at this stage is that Alzheimer’s is a genetic disease. There is no credible evidence for this claim at all.

4. The people pushing flu vaccines are making billions of dollars a year—This is wrong in so many ways it’s beyond wrong. Even if it were true, so what? If vaccines are profitable it doesn’t automatically mean they’re useless and deadly. Many products make multiple billions of dollars and are totally safe. Companies don’t just recommend flu vaccination—medical professionals do. There are plenty of medically literate vaccine supporters who don’t get a dime. I, for example, support vaccines and I have written extensively in favor of vaccines. I am an orthopedist with no financial interest in vaccines in any way. We don’t even have them available to give to our patients, any more than I have antibiotics.

But let’s ignore the fallacy of the main statement and put this in context of the worldwide sales of all pharmaceutical products in 2013—nearly $1 trillion worth of sales. Various flu vaccines make up less than 0.3% of worldwide sales of “Big Pharma,” so from a strategic point of view, they’re not that interesting an incentive. Just for context, cholesterol-lowering drugs, e.g. statins, made more than $33 billion two years ago. If I were a Big Pharma executive, I’d be telling my R&D and marketing divisions to invest in new statins, because the potential return on investment could be 10x higher. And that’s exactly what they do. In 2013, the top-selling drugs were daily medications, such as for diabetes, pain, inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and depression. A single-dose-per-year medicine doesn’t make much difference to the bottom line of drug companies.

Let’s examine those sales in context of the three biggest companies in this particular vaccine sector:

Sanofi Pasteur: Total sales $41.6 billion. Flu vaccine sales $1.3 billion. In other words, flu vaccine makes up around 3% of their sales

Glaxo SmithKline: Total sales $32.3 billion. Flu vaccine sales $420 million, or 1.3% of their total sales.

Novartis: Total sales $57.9 billion. Flu vaccine sales $215 million, or 0.4% of their sales.

Note: the remaining $1.1 billion in flu vaccine sales is spread over 15 other manufacturers, none of whom have a major market share. And much of these sales are to public organizations (which cap prices) and to developing nations.

If Big Pharma were run solely for profit over all other considerations, then they would stop making vaccines. (Indeed, some have.) It is far more profitable to treat the disease than it is to prevent it, which, ironically, is a common half-baked claim about modern medicine by the anti-science ideologues. If pharmaceutical companies stopped selling flu vaccines, it is estimated that there would be an extra preventable 78,000 hospitalizations in the USA. In addition, the estimated annual deaths from flu would probably be 6,000 to 100,000 individuals. Setting aside the costs of lost productivity and deaths from the flu (tens of billions of dollars), hospitalizations alone would cost around $4,000 per individual, or a total of nearly $300 million. Furthermore, in a full-blown flu outbreak, millions of individuals would visit their physicians and emergency rooms, adding another $1 billion or more in health care costs. And that’s just the USA. These costs would probably be three to five times greater if we looked at the whole planet. And Big Pharma would capture about 30-40% of those healthcare costs, for consumable supplies, drugs, treatments for secondary infections, and other products. And these products have a much higher gross profit than vaccines.

In other words, if we assume that pharmaceutical company decisions are strictly driven by cold blooded profit, it might make more sense to under produce enough vaccine or stop selling the flu vaccine altogether, and sell supplies to the hospitals and physician offices. But that isn’t the case, obviously. It would also be extremely short-sighted and dangerous.

5. Lack of real evidence that young children and the elderly even benefit from the flu shots—This is a very harmful lie. The most vulnerable populations are the elderly and children, along with people with compromised immune systems. They have the highest risk of vaccine failure because their immune system is weak or underdeveloped. It’s not because the vaccine is ineffective; rather, it is the insufficient response of their weak or underdeveloped immune system. The reason why everyone needs to be immunized is to protect them. They are the weak and need to be protected with herd immunity. That’s where the vaccine protects them, by keeping it away from the little babies and the very old. By avoiding the vaccine, you’re dooming them to rely on their own defenses. Even if they do not receive the flu vaccine, the benefits for children and the elderly are without question.

6. Vaccines make you susceptible to other diseases—The reverse of this is actually true. Vaccination empowers your immune system, while being unvaccinated is more draining and dangerous. Catching the flu will weaken your immune system, and while you’re sick it’s easier to become ill from other bugs. But more importantly, pneumonia is among the most common complications to occur as a result of a flu infection. Getting the flu shot reduces your risk of pneumonia, a leading cause of death among those who die from influenza complications.

7. They cause vascular disorders—There is no evidence that the flu vaccine causes vascular disorders. Meanwhile, the vaccine has been shown in multiple studies to reduce individuals’ risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.

8. They are risky for children under the age of 1—This is an utter falsehood, based on the wrong claim that a young child’s blood-brain barrier is underdeveloped. There is no evidence that flu vaccines can hurt children’s development or that children’s neuro-vascular structures are affected by flu vaccines. A child’s blood-brain barrier is formed in utero and is functional from birth in regulating what can and cannot pass into the brain. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco discovered in 2010 that pericytes, required for blood-brain barrier development, are present in the fetal brain. The physiology of the blood-brain barrier and how it functions at that level of development make it highly implausible that any vaccine components could penetrate the barrier.

9. Increased risk of narcolepsy—This is one of the few myths that is rooted in a small amount of fact, though it’s often misrepresented or blown out of proportion. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder in which the brain in unable to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Several studies, first in Finland and then in other European countries, found and confirmed a link between narcolepsy and the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine called Pandemrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Europe and used in several European countries (but not in the US or Canada). It was not used before 2009 or since the 2009–10 season, and no links to narcolepsy have been found for US-manufactured H1N1 or seasonal flu vaccines. The CDC sponsored an international study on the link between the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccines and narcolepsy,  it was published in 2014 and doesn’t support any danger .

10. Weakens immune responses—Influenza vaccines actually strengthen the immune system, activating a response that leads to the production of specific antibodies against the disease the vaccine is designed to protect against. In fact everyone should actually think about this as an immune system “workout.” Training the muscle to fight a future invader. You might get a little sore but no damage is done and in the end you have a stronger muscle not a weaker one.

11. Serious neurological disorders—This claim is also totally, completely wrong. Anti-vax propagandists love to fear-monger about Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Guillain-Barré is associated with influenza, the disease, but not the vaccine, and GBS is rare. Medical events occur regardless of vaccination, and background rates are used to assess vaccine safety by comparing the expected rate of disease or death to the actual or observed rate in any given timeframe. The background rate for GBS in the U.S. is about 80 to 160 cases of GBS each week, independent of vaccination. According to our friends at Science-Based Medicine, “Guillain-Barré syndrome affects 1 to 4 of every 100,000 people around the world every year, and the increased risk from vaccines is currently estimated at no more than 1 in a million.” And that was in spite of other problems in the shaky data used to come to that estimate.

So, 11 oft-repeated falsehoods about getting the influenza vaccine. It requires some digging to get at the truth, but there’s a lot of evidence against each claim. So here’s the truth, no digging. Be sure to pass it around Facebook as generously as the misinformation is being shared. I’m getting my influenza vaccine this week; make sure you get yours!

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Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion, it is not a substitute for medical care. It is for informational purposes only. The information on Skeptoid blog is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. This post does not reflect the opinion of my partners, professional affiliates, or academic affiliations. I have no financial conflicts of interest to disclose.

About Stephen Propatier

Stephen Propatier is a board certified acute care nurse practitioner specializing in spine and sports medicine. He is a member of the Society for Science Based Medicine.
This entry was posted in Conspiracy Theories, Health, Pseudoscience and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to If You Know Anyone Afraid of the Flu Shot, Show Them This!

  1. Great article Stephen. Important facts for pro-vaxxers to know. Thank you.

    Some typos:

    Point 4:

    “Many products are make multiple billions of dollars and are totally safe. ”

    “These costs would probably three to five times greater”,,,

    Point 5:

    “It not because the vaccine is the problem;”…

  2. nelson says:

    Since I get bored to tears debating you guys from Skeptoid and the boss has decided to end responses for his articles I’m glad you have kept them for these blog type articles. I am motivated to write because my blood boils when I read the nonsense that you have written so i will take a few of your more ridiculous points to task.
    “2. Flu vaccines contain other dangerous ingredients such as mercury—Wrong!”

    Wow so you point out what isn’t in the vaccine but don’t bother to mention what actually is. No Mercury because they have switched that out for Aluminum !

    This from the National Institute of Health:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19768413

    The use of adjuvants is being explored as a means of improving vaccine immunogenicity. This is particularly important for the development of vaccines against potential pandemic influenza virus strains. Adjuvants act by prolonging the exposure time of antigen to the immune system, enhancing the delivery of antigen to antigen-presenting cells, or providing immunostimulatory signals that potentiate the immune response. Aluminum salts are the only licensed adjuvant in the United States.

    Oh but don’t worry they have no role in causing Alzheimers right Steve? As you say in the article:

    “All the best evidence at this stage is that Alzheimer’s is a genetic disease. There is no credible evidence for this claim at all.”

    Let’s see about that. This also from the National Institute of Health:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21157018 (AD means Alzheimer’s Disease)

    The hypothesis that Al significantly contributes to AD is built upon very solid experimental evidence and should not be dismissed. Immediate steps should be taken to lessen human exposure to Al, which may be the single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to AD.

    Gee Steve you sure got all you “FACTS” right.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      From the Alzheimer’s Association: “Studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s.”

      http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp

      Furthermore, the amount of aluminum in vaccines is far dwarfed by the amount of aluminum you consume from other sources, such as food or antiperspirant, or dust in the air.

      This claim about aluminum wasn’t included in the article because it wasn’t in the source material, the scare-monger listicle. Nonetheless, it has been thoroughly scientifically debunked and survives only as a totemic claim made by anti-vaccination dogmatists.

    • mudguts says:

      Maybe if you knew what you were talking about Nelson.. google wise is just google wise.. Flap all you like.

    • Thanks Noah well said!
      Also I would like to point out that it wasn’t included in the source article, probably because the evidence for aluminum and adjutants is so insignificant that only the real die hard ideologues try to sell that.

      • mudguts says:

        Hmm..

        Pretty easy to work out.. If there is aan associaation between Al and various diseases, what are the concentrations?

        How do vaccines even rate against common sources in food? (amount in = effect).

        Chris posted that Suzanne Humphries is an expert.. whats her PhD in? What has she published in peer review on the matter..

        Brian can write a book.. none of us call him an expert.

        Think I can toddle off for a week…

    • Spencer Smith says:

      Thank you

    • JIMJFOX says:

      Let’s hope you contract polio-and learn a hard lesson.
      Bitten by a dog in Thailand where rabies exists, did I resort to homeopathy? NO, because I’m not an idiot. Treatment means at least 20 injections over several months for Cholera, Tetanus and Rabies. Nevertheless, who but a fool would try ‘traditional’ medicine for such conditions??

      Anti-vaxxers deserve the Darwin Award.

      • SwampWitch7 says:

        A friend of mine didn’t get a flu shot (“next week when I have time….”) and got H1N1. 2.5 MILLION dollars later (thanK you, insurance)/3 months later she tottered out of the hospital and had made a full recovery, but I get a flu shot every year and she gets of flu shot every year because that’s not something you want to try twice.

        I believe that the Darwin Awards are the truest salute to your survival potential: enjoy them, Anti-Vaxxers.

        • KIMBERLY ANDERSON says:

          Not as harrowing as your friend, but last year I also kept neglecting and forgetting to go get my flu shot. I finally resolved to go get it the coming weekend and wouldn’t you know it but I came down with the flu that week before I got the vaccine. I was very ill and then seemed to get better but then developed a respiratory infection and then before fully recovering from that, I ended up with sepsis and pneumonia. I spent 8 days in the hospital – six of them in ICU – and was told by my doctor that I came close to dying. I’ve never been an anti-vaxxer – just a flu-shot-forgetter. I will never forget my flu shot again! This year, I got it the day it arrived at my local Kaiser facility.

          • richard1941 says:

            Kaiser? You are lucky to be alive if you trust them! They are managed by Harvard MBA’s and human resource specialists, not by doctors.

  3. Spencer Smith says:

    This is disgraceful

  4. Chris says:

    You self styled skeptics aren’t skeptics at all – you’re the new religious fanatics. None of you will acknowledge the problem that we’re all faced with – the experts don’t speak with one voice. I posted on a different skeptoid article about what one of the experts, Dr. Suzzanne Humphries, has published that contradicts the vaccine dogma, and Brian replied calling Dr. Humphries a quack. Sorry guys lost me with that one.

    • A common logical fallacy. If I tell you that vaccines are safe and offer reams of good replicated evidence. I then ask for the evidence that supports claims of the anti-vax community? no reasonable evidence is presented! What you get is terrible science, conjecture, and obfuscation to support the idea that vaccines are dangerous. That is dogma, science is not Dogma it a way to systematically, and logically evaluate evidence. It doesn’t provide answers, it is method to determine rigor and respective strength of evidence.
      As to Dr. Humphries…
      Humphries uses this purely anecdotal, unstudied, “feeling” of vaccines’ role in kidney disease to try and justify why her complete lack of training in any relevant field of immunology or vaccines doesn’t disqualify her as an “expert” on the topic.
      She promotes mystical powers of Vitamin C, calling it “the basis of life,” and asserts it magically “neutralizes any toxins in the blood.”[7] Additionally, she woefully misunderstands or willfully misrepresents research to support her ideas. In an article on Whooping Cough, she states that lethargy in chronically ill people is commonly due to Vitamin C deficiency, citing a paper on the antioxidative properties of Vitamin C in the mitochondria as her only evidence. In the same article, she asserts Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is caused by Vitamin C deficiency, yet her sole evidence is a paper which found carnitine supplementation prevented mitochondrial abnormalities in rats with Vitamin C deficiency.
      That is plenty of evidence outside of her vaccine position that she is a quack.

  5. Darrell edmiston says:

    I guess when you carefully avoid any negative effects of anything it sounds great,but what about the 47.500 Indians forced to take polio vaccine and all suffered bad effects.The WHO organization forced this on India.it is quite apparent that your being paid to offer advice your not qualified to give and scare tactics really that’s a good government stooge keep up the lies you seem good at it

    • Noah Dillon says:

      That 47,500 claim is actually incorrect: https://www.truthorfiction.com/bill-and-melinda-gates-polio-efforts-paralyzed-47500-kids/ You’ll notice that it cites the original source of the claim, which says something significantly different.

      Are you being paid for your misinformed comment? Why would you suspect that someone has to be bribed for this? This blog is volunteer-run and you can see the citations for each claim. Vaccines save lives.

    • Torchwood says:

      Dear Mr. Edmiston: Please provide your objective documentation for your 47,500 Indians suffering bad effects from the polio vaccine, please. Also, similar objective documentation for those Native Americans who got polio before the vaccine was available and after, the survival rates, and the after effects of having the disease as opposed to getting the vaccine.

      Verifiable fact talks, horse***t walks.

  6. James says:

    The way you can determine a fake skeptic from a genuine one is by their virtues. A fake skeptic will use “skepticism” as a guise to shun those who were the original skeptics of dangerous and powerful belief system. Any *genuine* “skeptic of a skeptic” will take the extra time to note the skeptic’s values which led them even to incorrect viewpoints. Some are interested in skeptical inquiry because they understand it as a way to greater knowledge, but others for its effective utility for towing the party line. Realize when you’re hearing from someone isn’t adequately critical of themselves.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      Toeing a party line isn’t skepticism. Virtue has nothing to do with evidence; data points aren’t virtuous. Skepticism is about scientific evidence. I’m not sure who your criticism is aimed at, and I don’t understand from this who you think is a “genuine” skeptic and a “fake” skeptic, but this line of argument is usually used to criticize skeptics who follow evidence and don’t hew to non-scientific demands to keep an open mind about homeopathy or vaccine fear-mongering or whatever.

  7. SharonH says:

    My husband caught the flu after getting vaccinated. Badly. This happened twice. With a temp approaching 105, delirium etc., I was terrified he wouldn’t make it through. It is now on all his medical records-no flu shots.

    No, I am not against all vaccines but nothing will work 100% of the time. All the research in the world doesn’t mean a thing if one gets the very disease the vaccine is supposed to prevent.

    • SharonH
      I don’t know the details of your husbands case. That said in the US No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.
      Whatever happened to your husband is either an abnormal allergic response. Or a case of the flu that he got before he was immune, or a strain that he was not protected from. It was not the flu from injectable vaccine.

      • SharonH says:

        It happened not once but twice, several years apart. He is never going to take that chance again. His symptoms of delirium and high fever may point to something other than the vaccine, but when it happened a second time that was it. I’m sure many would feel the same and not want to roll that dice a third time.

        • mudguts says:

          die.. its die.. dice is plural

          • SharonH says:

            No, dice–it happened twice!

          • KIMBERLY ANDERSON says:

            Sharon, Mudguts is correct – if you insist it is dice, then it is “roll those dice” a third time. “That” implies a singular. Your pronoun does not match your noun.
            In any event, your husband is a fool. He did not get the flu from the vaccine – he got it in spite of the vaccine. I’ve also got the flu after having a vaccine because the vaccine doesn’t protect against all strains that will evolve over the months after the flu is manufactured.

  8. Rod Kerr says:

    It does not matter what anyone says these days someone always wants to beak off against it. I am all for vaccines and believe they are made to help human kind. I have had some good no flu years with the shot and some bad flu with the shot. It is not perfect or right for everyone all the time. They do the best they can. Thanks for the article.

  9. Blame Whitey says:

    The potential consequences of vaccines are clearly written in the vaccine insert. Also, if vaccines are so safe, why do the pharmaceutical manufactures require blanket immunity from civil lawsuits?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      They actually don’t really enjoy blanket immunity. They have to pay into a fund whether lawsuits are successfully brought or not. Many of the lawsuits that have been brought to the special court system designed to deal with this are frivolous. Some are given awards even if they have no evidence and are without merit. Lawsuits that do have merit are also awarded from that fund. Imagine having to pay for something, even when there is no evidence of your culpability, or even a harm.

      There are problems with having a special legal system set up to deal explicitly with this kind of claim. But suggesting that they are protected from lawsuits is silly.

      And yes, like all medicines and medical procedures that have scrutiny and regulation, their side effects and risks are listed on the packaging. Seems like a good thing, if you ask me. I’ve never seen that on any supplements—not the useless ones, not the harmful ones, not the ones made out of grass clippings and junk, nor those that kill people. I’ve never seen it on a measles virus, or mumps, or influenza, etc., either.

      • KIMBERLY ANDERSON says:

        And the fund is set-up because there are so many bulls**t claims of “vaccine injury”, that pharmaceutical companies would go out of the vaccine business altogether if they had to fight all of them since it would be so expensive and they don’t make that much from them. We need them to continue making vaccines.

        • Noah Dillon says:

          Precisely. It seems that most people who point to that fund as evidence of harm haven’t actually read anything about it except for insinuations. It is troubling, as I said, that they have a separate legal framework to deal with claims. But I also understand the logic of it and wish our tort system could distinguish better between rational lawsuits and frivolous ones.

  10. SharonH says:

    Back when the polio vaccine was distributed, everyone lined up to get the free dose, no questions asked. Our parents didn’t think twice about taking us to the local junior school to receive it. The awful results of having polio were all it took to convince people to get the vaccine. The picture of an “iron lung” was enough to give us nightmares.

    • mudguts says:

      I was part of a generation that saw the effects of Polio, Measles and even Chicken Pox bite us all on the bum.. What ever pleading comes after those days is called “denialism”.. I love how denialism and conspriracism goes hand in hand.

  11. Bill Morgan says:

    B.S. I took my last Flu Shot in 1985. Before that I got the flu shot each year and most years I still got the flu. I stopped getting flu shots in 1985. In the last 31 years I have not gotten the flu. How can a scientist explain this? Or is it that you just don’t want to hear stories like this?

    • mudguts says:

      Nice plead there..

    • SharonH says:

      I still have a scar on my forehead from where I had knocked off a scab that had formed over one of the blisters from chicken pox. Usually people don’t see it unless I point it out. That was the only mark I was left with. But to so many who caught it in the past it could be disfiguring.

      • SharonH says:

        My comment went in the wrong place 🙁 This is in reply to mudguts previous post regarding the vaccines we all received as children. Sorry I don’t know how that happened. Can’t find a delete so I can move it.

    • Jon Tardiff, PA-C says:

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your interesting question.
      I am a PA working in family medicine at a non-profit community health clinic. We administer all recommended vaccines and often answer patients’ questions about them. There are several possible explanations for your experiences:

      1. You’ve had good luck not getting the flu in the past 31 years.

      2. When you became ill during the years you received the flu shot, you were actually ill with a common cold or other illness, not the flu. (patients often misdiagnose their illnesses as the flu, when in fact they had the common cold, or a common GI illness, etc). Flu is: fever, chills, body aches, profound weakness, prostration, dehydration, and kills thousands of Americans every year. Common cold: sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, but one can function, work, etc, and almost no one dies.

      3. If your illness was indeed the flu during the years you received the vaccination, you may have contracted the flu before your immune system could respond to the vaccine and make you immune to the flu virus. Patients sometimes get exposed to the flu a few days after their vaccine. But the vaccine takes about 2 weeks to work, so you can still get sick during those 2 weeks.

      4. Or the vaccine may not have protected you that year, due either to ineffectiveness of the vaccine or to your immune system’s inability to respond to it sufficiently. Some years the flu vaccine is not very effective. Last year was an example of this: the vaccine was only ~ 20 – 25% effective in protecting people against the flu. Most years it is much better, but no vaccine is 100%. And patient’s individual immune systems have varying capacity to respond to vaccines.

      Hope this helps,
      and stay well!

      —Jon Tardiff, PA-C

      PS: Kudos to Stephen Propatier, NP, for his excellent article.

  12. kmccusker says:

    Anecdotal evidence is not scientific proof of anything other than your own perception of events. Do we know you got the shot before being infected? Do you know that for a fact? When in doubt go with evidence that has been tested and verified, not your personal perception. People will often claim cures from placebos. It is part of human nature. It is time that we became thinking beings instead of believing beings. I think the two concepts are antithetical.

  13. ron says:

    I believe everything you have written and encourage everyone to take their flu shots. That will at least make me safer from the flu. Having said that, my purely “anecdotal” experience is that every time I have taken a flu shot, I have developed symptoms that are indistinguishable (to me at least) from flu symptoms. I agree that I did not come down with a flu at any time as a result of the flu vaccine. I also understand that no mater how consistent my data has been, it is only anecdotal and not supported by sound scientific statistical data. Therefore, I agree with you and firmly believe that the flue vaccine does not cause flu and did not cause me to come down with the flu.

    However, I am not willing to risk yet again experiencing flu symptoms [which I hasten to add are not the flu] for the sixth time merely on the grounds that my data is only anecdotal, and not supported by sound scientific statistical data.

    I also note that during the 50 or so flu seasons that I did not receive a flu vaccine, I did have the flu some of those seasons and did not have the flu other of those seasons. However, 50 plus data points is not statistically significant, and the inconsistent flu data does not support any conclusions regarding cause and effect. Also, I am sure there is no significance to the fact that the symptoms caused by coming down with the flu intermittently were also indistinguishable from the symptoms I experienced consistently during the years when I did not come down with the flu as a result of the protection afforded by the flue vaccine.

    Again, I firmly believe that the flu vaccine is safe and effective and encourage everybody to avail themselves of its protections.

  14. Wordwizard says:

    Why does it say in 4. that you are an orthopedist? That’s not what it says at the bottom of your articles.

    “I am an orthopedist with no financial interest in vaccines in any way. We don’t even have them available to give to our patients, any more than I have antibiotics.”

    “About Stephen Propatier
    Stephen Propatier is a board certified acute care nurse practitioner specializing in spine and sports medicine. He is a member of the Society for Science Based Medicine and is adjunct faculty for both Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School and Rhode Island College Graduate School of Nursing.”

  15. jESS says:

    I’d -e interested in the no. of folks in North America who suffer from influenza any given “flu season”.
    The actual flu.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      The numbers vary from year to year based on a bunch of factors. The CDC used to say that about 36,000 people die every year from flu, but that calculation has changed a bit on review of more data. Here’s a news report about that process: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2010/08/26/129456941/annual-flu-death-average-fluctuates-depending-on-how-you-slice-it

      According to WebMD, about 5–20% of Americans contract flu each year, again varying based on several factors. You can find that here: http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-statistics

      Obviously, kids and the elderly and those who are already afflicted with other illnesses, people with compromised immune systems or who are taking immune inhibitors, etc. are all more likely to catch and die from flu. That’s how my grandmother died. She was pretty ill already, toward the end of her long and lovely life, and then contracted flu from my cousin’s kids, who were visiting, and died not long after. But there are a lot of other people who aren’t at the end of their life and are also at serious risk.

      • mudguts says:

        save us all a lot of time and money wrt employment alone if flu shots were free and fully available..

        its not as if you can even feel them nowadays

      • Kimba Anderson says:

        I almost died indirectly from the flu. Two years ago, I kept forgetting to go get a flu shot and got the flu. I was very sick for about ten days with fevers as high as 103. Then I got a respiratory infection. I thought I was over that but all of a sudden I had pneumonia and sepsis. I was in the hospital in ICU for 8 days and almost died. I missed almost three months of work. Last year, I got the flu shot the first day that Kaiser had it available and I already got it for this year last week. I will never miss it again!

        • mudguts says:

          If the flu was considered a really undesirable thing to have.. people would stay at home ..

          The number of people that go visiting when they are ill.. or drag their ill kids around when visiting is mind numbing..

          Hospital and aged care facility Directors of nursing would wish thay had gun licenses ..

          • Kimberly Anderson says:

            If rhgey are running around visiting, they probably dont have the flu. It’s more likely a cold. One is usually incapacitated with high fevers and severe weakness. When I’ve had it, I could hardly walk and certainly couldn’t safely navigate a car.

          • mudguts says:

            so you say Kimberly.. but yer wrong.

          • Kimberly Anderson says:

            Wrong about what? How bad the flu is? No, those are the symptoms of the flu as described by medical science i.e. high fever, chills, delirium, body aches, weakness. You must be one of those who gets a cold and calls it flu.

          • mudguts says:

            wrong about people getting around and spreading the virus.. For goodness sake.. go and argue with your kitchen vegetables..

          • Kimberly Anderson says:

            Lol…the vegetables would have better arguments than yours!

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