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Entries in vaccines (1)

Thursday
Nov012012

Flu vaccine unveiled

The flu vaccine has been poking its ugly head in my field recently in ways both unusual and personal.

The Research

First, a University of Minnesota study was published this fall that shows that the vaccine isn't nearly as effective as researchers and physicians have expounded for so many years. (That is, if you believe they really provide the protection that they boast at all--immune systems do not respond the same to vaccines as they do to getting immunity through illness.)

After reviewing optimal influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness studies from 1967 to 2012, the CCIVI research team found that injectable trivalent inactivated influenza vaccines (TIV):

  • Protects healthy adults 18 to 64 years of age at a rate of approximately 59 percent
  • Lacks consistent evidence of protection in children age 2 to 17 years of age
  • Inconsistent evidence of protection in adults 65 years of age and older

A review of optimal influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness studies from 1967 to 2012 found that the nasals spray live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV):

  • Protects young children 6 months to 7 years of age at a rate of approximately 83 percent
  • Lacks consistent evidence of protection in adults 60 years of age and older
  • Lacks evidence of protection in individuals 8 to 59 years of age

According to CCIVI researchers, these figures are problematic because they demonstrate one of the primary barriers to new influenza vaccine development: perception that current influenza vaccines are already highly effective.

The take away for me is that even according to its proponents the flu vaccine doesn't work as well as they have stated in the past, and even less so for the most vulnerable to the flu, the very young and the elderly. The take away for the researcher is that everyone should still get the flu shot but should also promote giving money to more research on flu vaccines.

Pharmacists' confusion & Fairview Hospital's policy

From a more personal vantage, I have a neighbor, a Caucasian woman, who was diagnosed several years ago with a rare blood disorder that usually only affects African men. It's not cancer but she's gone through multiple rounds of chemo and, most recently, she had a bone marrow transplant. She was at Fairview Hospital recovering. Friends and family were warned not to come visit unless you have had a flu shot, show no signs of having a cold and have not been around snotty kids. If one chooses not to get a flu shot, then one can't see her until mid-January (assuming she lives that long).  So, another neighbor of mine called a pharmacy, explained the situation and asked how long would one have to wait for the vaccine to be effective?  No wait necessary, he assured, it's effective immediately. Not being retarded, my neighbor knew that the idea that the body could develop immunity immediately is ridiculous and called another pharmacist. This one said it takes six weeks to build immunity; that sounded more reasonable. But, she thought, why not ask the nurses at Fairview. She called the ward that our friend is on and asked the head nurse the same question. Again the answer was that there is no need to wait; just come in once you have had the shot. Apparently the vaccine is most effective against liability rather than flu virus.

The neighbors get the flu shot                      

So, I went to get a flu shot, as did my other neighbor. Even waiting the six weeks, we'll be able to see my sick neighbor and give her an imagined protection (her peace of mind is worth it, we figure) about a month earlier than if we didn't get it. Since my health insurance doesn't cover the shot, I was offered it free if I filled out a form. Apparently there are gobs of federal monies slated to cover these pharmaceuticals. Side effects of the shot include pain and inflammation around the site of injection (not for me, however) and "flu-like symptoms". It's not the flu, my pharmacist explained carefully, because you are getting the flu shot which contains dead virus, not live. But you may feel sick for the next week; feel free to take NSAIDS. I flashed to every person I've ever known to get flu shot telling me how they are sick but that they "know it isn't the flu because they just got the flu shot." (Picture me hitting my forehead with my open hand, aghast at the failure to connect the dots.)

Traditional medicines all expound the importance of individual response to environment and pathogens. This was part of the debate when germ theory was in its infancy. But the idea of individual response lost and germ theory chose not to deal with the problem of why one person will get sick and another won't when exposed to a pathogen. Seems to me that this vaccine "side effect" proves traditional medicines' claim.

Now I'm sick

So, now I'm sick--intentionally--when I wouldn't have been otherwise, most likely. And if I had become sick, I would have developed real immunity for much of my life, not a chance at the possibility of immunity for an unknown length of time (a year?? longer?? The CDC website has pages on the subject of flu vaccine effectiveness, but nowhere does it mention for how long the vaccine is supposed to be effective.) My eyes are achy, my sinuses inflamed and I'm fatigued. Could be worse, I suppose, and I'm glad it's not.

Remind me again why we are doing this?!