Saturday, February 20, 2010

The anti-vax movement.

In a not so very different and not so far away world, on a beautiful little farm in Eastern Saskatchewan, my father's sister woke up unable to scream because of an attack of Polio. Nobody knew where it came from, they were pretty isolated way out there on the prairies. A contaminated bird perhaps, a Canada Goose coming back from the southern States, alighting down in the garden. Who knows. My auntie was one of thousands who suddenly ended up in Iron Lungs during the early fifties.
Unlike dozens of her classmates, she is still alive...her body regenerated enough to lay in new muscle over the old and was actually able to come off the machines a year or so later. A lifetime of physio therapy followed but the "new" muscle is not as long lasting as the old stuff. She is in the nursing home now, but all my life when we would go to visit her, she would ask us kids "how are you", and "have you got all your shots?"
Out there, in post war Saskatchewan, they got complacent you see. The chicken pox had never made a visit, the flu was pretty much unknown, and most plagues were found only in the newspaper. Nobody vaccinated for anything. Then the plague horseman visited and everything changed. Most especially attitudes.

So you can see that I have an attitude that vaccinations against "whatever" are by and large a "good thing". I got the H1N1 shot before I traveled to Europe, and wish I could have gotten the seasonal flue vaccine in time to fly because I think I picked up some sort of lung rot a month later which left me coughing for two weeks in Cyprus. (I know....it might not have been the exact one...but I find that colds and flu's are less intense when I have had a shot. Anectdotal evidence of questionable value I know....grin!....but it all I have.)

My friend Shayne is a brand new father, and I am scared to come close to the new baby because there is a residual tickle in the bottom of my lungs even now, two months later, that resulted in a four day relapse. Maybe it was just a common cold. I took precautions though, and I took them because I was flying through five countries through four different airlines, all of which you have to get there by spending literally hours in a cabin crowded with strangers. The wonder is that I didn't get the "hack" from the plane, but probably from a guy coughing up a lung behind me on the train in England! But I also took precautions because I felt that as a teacher, it was my duty. My duty? Well there are young kids at the schools I teach at, and I felt if I got the shots against the flue, at least I would not bear the responsibility of passing on the flue to the kids.

There is an anti-vaccination "movement" which seems to be trying to limit and possibly eliminate vaccines of any kind in the the world today. A very old friend with a brilliant mind sent me a viral video of a nice lady claiming to be the former minister of health of Denmark and in her interview she stated that the vaccine was far more dangerous than the disease. Her dire prediction was that thousands would die from the innoculation, more likely millions. I can find that video if any of my readers actually want me to dig it up, but I shall confine myself to a general commentary. This is only a blog after all. But I am not playing devils' advocate just to get a reaction like some folks do!
Well lets see...the UN called it a pan-demic. Which means it was everywhere. You could not hide from it like I hide from, say, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Government agencies monitored the disease. It targeted (that means it killed) healthy folks rather than the young and the elderly. The elderly seem to not get it because they had a residual immunity from when it went through the population years ago, but when they did get it it targeted them too. (that means it killed them too.) Youngsters got it, just like they get any flu, and natural resilience seems to have kept a lot of them alive (although in severe agony as this virus scarred its way across the delicate small lungs.) News reports are repleate with the "news" that the vaccine is unsafe. This report is a fine example. They point out at least that the term "unsafe" is a relative term. That more people died (per thousand) from Hernias than died from the H1N1 vaccine.
A casual google search for HiN1 deaths from Vaccine will reveal thousands of fluff news reports. Discard any news report which starts off with "parents worried about". We are after facts here... That leaves, what a dozen or so reports with some substance. All of which put the risk of getting hurt from the vaccine as considerably less likely than slipping and falling in the bathtub. Though you know, it just "may" be a little riskier than getting your regular seasonal flu vaccine. I suspect the salt in the Ramen Noodles I will be having for lunch today is a much greater risk! But lets not get carried away here, lets stick to the topic!

Back in November, we had 115 H1N1 deaths and then everybody in Canada got vaccinated. Since then, there have been no more deaths from H1N1 than we would have got from the regular seasonal flu. There is a good chart here and I urge anybody who has read this far down to visit that site. In case the link isn't working, here it is written out in clear. http://gilchrist.ca/jeff/H1N1/index.html

So, we gonna say..."gee, there was no epidemic so I guess we didn't need to get those vaccinations after all eh?" To do so would be to fly in the face of clear evidence to the contrary...we were clearly heading into an epidemic situation, and the fact that so many people got the vaccine simply means that the epidemic was stopped in its tracks. Not just dodged, or avoided, it was STOPPED!
So were we sheep to get the vaccine? Yes. But we are well taken care of sheep! By the time we would have had the town hall debates, and all the facts would have been in, we would have looked back on it and said "damn, we fiddled while Rome burned!" Was it an over-reaction? Ask any of the parents of the 151 people who died before the vaccine kicked in. I don't think it was an over-reaction. Did it turn out that more people died from the seasonal flu than died from H1N1? Well, maybe, but who cares. Thats not relevant.

What kills Americans? Obesity. Salt. Automobiles. maye even the Seasonal Flu. Not the guvumint and most especially, NOT VACCINES.

I started this rant talking about my Anti Beth, who spent time in an Iron Lung as a child. I hear that the same sort of anti-vaccination rhetoric as we saw with the H1N1 shot is being spouted about common inoculations such as everybody "used to get" when we were growing up. This has resulted in a resurgence of measles. This chart shows his clearly....the result of the untiring efforts of a single man who was trying to start a business promoting a food supplement which would replace the measles vaccine. Andrew Wakefield's study has been discredited, and he is facing severe disciplinary action. The anti-vax movement was largely started in response to this original study, and just because it has been discredited does not make the well meaning fools go away. I regard Jenny McCarthy, the most high profile spokeswoman of the anti-vax movement as a well meaning fool, because the only alternative is that she is an evil person who loves to see suffering.

This is not a new problem....the anti-vax movment has been stirring up shit for as long as I can remember. The silicone sister even has her own web site spouting to the world that vaccinations caused autism in her " crystal child". Oh my Lord, give me the strength to forgive...
(Nope, don't have that strength.)

Then of course, the anti-government people have to weigh in on it. "The guvinment want it so it must be bad!" My take on that is that every farmer with a herd of cattle riddled with brucelosis or cancer will tell you he doesn't want to see the government inspector at the sale barn. If you can't be arsed to get your milk pasturized, you got no business selling it to me and my children. And if you won't get your kids vaccinated, then for gosh sakes, keep them out of my school!

9 comments:

Cerulean Bill said...

All true. And if we could just kill off all the old wives, perhaps we could eliminate their tales.

Course, every so often, the damn things are right.

STAG said...

One swallow doth not make a summer.

C. Van Carter said...

There's no proof flu vaccines actually work.

STAG said...

Mr. Carter, long time no see!

I put two separate links up there to prove that flu vaccines DO work. Did you not look at them?

One may argue, say, against seat belts, since many of us never heard of a person who was saved by a seat belt. Yet we have all heard of people who have been "thrown clear", or trapped by their seat belt under water or in a burning car. In fact, I was nearly strangled by a seat belt in a wreck back in the mid '90s, and had to cut myself out of it. Yet I still use seat belts because I am fully aware that nothing is fool proof. Not seat belts, not speed limits, not vaccines.
I go with what I hope to be my "best chance". And as the links prove, my best chance for survival in a flu epidemic is to have had the vaccine.

I know, I'm pissing against the wind here. A google search of the efficacy of a flu (or any other) vaccine is kind of hard to measure, and there are always anomalous cases, such as the seat belt example above which seem to "prove" to the nay saying folks that I am wrong and they are right. As if it was a sporting match! Hmmmph.

Fact is, diseases have to be spread. We never DID find a vaccine for Yellow Fever, what we did was kill the mosquitoes that spread the disease. The Panama Canal was able to be built after we eliminated the carrier mosquitoes. Vaccines are not a "cure" to the disease, they only prepare the blood stream to allow the body to fight off the disease better on its own, and this "immunity" will keep the disease from being spread to the next poor sap.

Failing to get the flu shot means you will possibly become a carrier. As a teacher, this is not a risk I am prepared to demand my students take.

C. Van Carter said...

See here.

STAG said...

I examined that link closely. The author pointed out that influenza vaccine does not work against "inflenza LIKE infections", and was warning about that.

Ars.Gladius said...

I know I am a little late to the party. Bill you may find this blog interesting (and possibly depressing): http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/

It deals with the stupidity of anti-vax and other woo medicine.


As for why H1N1, and the earlier Spanish flu of 1918, saw an increase in mortality of other wise healthy people (not young or old) that are typically resistant is a result of their healthy immune systems. Essentially the virus kills via a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body's immune system) which explains its unusually severe nature and the concentrated age profile of its victims. The strong immune systems of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths.


Also it is worth mentioning that the WHO designation of "pandemic" does not mean worldwide armageddon and people dropping like flies.

It simply means that a given infectious disease (that is not endemic to that area) is affecting the population in a large geographical area. There are no mortality requirements for the designation.

STAG said...

Yes, I actually mentioned that in my post...pan-demic means it goes everywhere. Unlike Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lime disease, whose vectors keep them confined to limited geographic areas. So, um, yes, I agree.

STAG said...

Oh, and I am a long time lurker on Orac's blog.

Thanks for the link though.