Wednesday, October 28, 2009


There has been a lot of discussion lately on some of the internet sites I frequent concerning whether or not people should get the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine. Apparently there are a lot of women out there who think its unsafe, or at least that not having it is safer than having it.

This boggles my mind. I just can't wrap my head around the reasoning going into this. Here are some arguments I have heard, sometimes directly, sometimes implied:

"The mercury in vaccines is dangerous." OK. I know mercury is not good for you, but kids used to PLAY with mercury on table tops. The amount is so tiny, and it has been tested every which way with no replicable evidence showing any harm done by the amount of mercury in vaccines. (It's all in the science! Read the studies... I think there is one floating around saying it causes all sorts of issues and a million saying there is no effect).

"The swine flu vaccine hurt a lot of people 40 years ago". First - the definition of "a lot" needs to be considered, the vast majority of shots still had no negative effect. Second, do you know how much medicine has improved since then? 40 years ago birth control caused all sorts of potential complications including instant death from blood clots... so do these same women not use birth control because at one time it was unsafe?

"All vaccines carry a risk of serious side effect." True. But the risk is tiny. I would like to see someone showing with widely accepted data that the rate of death from the vaccine is higher than that from flu, particularly in high risk groups. I seriously doubt the evidence is there.

"Vaccines do not actually work, you still can get sick". True, but again, incredibly unlikely. In general, vaccines are offered to the public because they reduce the chance of infection significantly for each individual who has one and work at preventing the spread of the disease as a whole through society.

What bothers me the most about all of these reasons is that they all seem to rely on an underlying assumption that naturalists have some secret information or knowledge that the scientific and medical communities lack as a whole, or that the medical community does not have peoples best interest at heart (which frankly implies some conspiracy). I have said this before and I will say it again. The reason that doctors and the medical community recommend people have the flu vaccine is because on average statistically speaking it is better for a person to have it than not have it, and the more people get it, the better off society as a whole will be. To those people who disagree, especially those scientists and doctors who disagree, I want to say prove it! The medical community is a scientific community. Do the study that shows you are right, and publish it in a peer reviewed journal. It WILL get attention, if its scientific. I feel like the fear mongering by those against the vaccine is as bad (if not worse) than fear mongering done by the media.

Glad to have that out of my system.


Laurelyn said...

I agree. Interestingly, the majority of learned people with whom I've lately been in contact absolutely refuse to get the vaccine, citing anything from "I know someone who died last time" to "they're all made in China, and that's just frightening". My biggest problem with getting it is literally GETTING it due to shortage.


Brooke said...

I couldn't agree more.

jannypie said...

" To those people who disagree, especially those scientists and doctors who disagree, I want to say prove it! "

Since I was a scientist who disagreed, I would like to say that NONE of those reasons you pointed out (conspiracy? really?) are reasons I would claim to question vaccines; scientists and doctors DO support flu vaccines for at-risk populations, even if they have questions about the long-term side effects of them as well.

Basically, "long-term side effects" requires a *long term* in which to conduct clinical trials upon any substance injected into the body. Creating newly formulated vaccines annually simply does not allow for that. I would feel the same way about anything being mass produced and distributed while under severe time and resource limitations. The build up effect of annual vaccinations on a mass scale is so new that there simply can't be a determined answer. I certainly hope there is no negative result, and I support those at-risk populations decision to take it. But to just accept it and not want to track the result is short-sighted at best.

In science terms, it is called a longitudinal study- observing a population for long periods of time or for a lifetime. Saying that a particular flu vaccine decreased susceptibility once (a cross-sectional study), so all the rest must be equally effective and safe, is not only unscientific, but irresponsible. There is a reason that, for example, the pharmaceutical industry has such a long development span. Just 1 drug could take dozens of years from formulation to availability, because of the testing required. The willingness of people to just accept these vaccines immediately truly surprises me.

I normally admire your balanced approach to controversy, trying to look at a topic from both sides, and being respectful of opposing viewpoints. You've even played Devil's Advocate to get other people talking and questioning their stances. I'm pretty surprised here, actually, that you would be so vehement and call out scientists and doctors to prove something to you. I hope that my response gives a little understanding into the other viewpoint.

Manday said...

Sorry it took me so long to post your reply Janny, I normally do not moderate but I must have a setting based on length or something, and I just noticed this today.

Once someone shows me a study that says "people who regularly get the flu vaccine have a higher risk of X" or "people who got the flu vaccine in 19-- have a higher risk of x" I will give this argument some credence. Seasonal flu vaccines have been around long enough for these types of studies to be done if the scientific community thought there was a need for them.