Disappointing 2011 flu vaccination rates

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a comprehensive analysis of influenza vaccination rates of the US population during the 2011-2012 season. Mostly, the numbers continue to be disappointing, even in groups that should have higher rates of flu shots, such as pregnant women and healthcare workers. These numbers continue to demonstrate the difficulty in increasing the vaccine uptake rate in the US.

Public health officials has been pushing to increase the flu vaccination rates of healthcare workers. The numbers are somewhat disappointing, but as more states mandate flu vaccinations for healthcare workers, the rate may improve. The CDC found that about 63.4% of healthcare workers had been vaccinated for the flu as of November 2011, an 8 point improvement over 2010. 

But, according to a report in NBC News, “the group that should have 100 percent vaccination is health care workers. The CDC data show that more than 86 percent of physicians are vaccinated, followed by more than three-quarters of nurses. But the numbers plummet to just half of workers in long-term care facilities, where patients are especially vulnerable to flu.” Continue reading “Disappointing 2011 flu vaccination rates”

The myth of getting the flu from the flu shot

Obama getting his flu vaccination.

As part of my history in medical industry, I used to train sales representatives on new medical products and procedures. Because these sales reps were in hospitals and physicians offices, many medical companies (yes, Big Pharma), a condition of employment was that they were required to be up-to-date on their vaccinations including the seasonal flu vaccine. Not all companies did this, and not all companies made it mandatory, but there was nothing worse than having a large percentage of the sales force out of commission sick with flu, especially if a new product was being launched. And doctor’s offices did not want sales reps walking into their offices sick either, so it was a good business practice. Exemptions were just not given, because it was a job requirement stated clearly in the written job offer, so they had a choice to not take the job. 

It was ironic that these well-paid, well-educated mouthpieces for Big Pharma would make up the most silly excuses for not wanting the flu vaccination. The number one reason, that I would hear, is that “the flu shot always gives me the flu.” And that’s just not these sales reps who would make up this claim, but apparently in a 2010 CDC poll, 62% of Americans also believe the flu vaccine can actually cause the flu. 

Well, let’s just blow that myth right out of the water:

  • According to the CDC, “No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The viruses contained in flu shots are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Flu vaccine manufacturers kill the viruses used in the flu shot during the process of making vaccine, and batches of flu vaccine are tested to make sure they are safe.”
  • In a 2000 study on flu vaccine effectiveness, 2.2% of vaccine recipients vs. 4.4% of placebo recipients had laboratory confirmed influenza illness in 1997-1998. During the next flu season, 1% of vaccine recipients and 10% of placebo recipients had influenza illness. So, the risk of getting the flu is much higher in the non-vaccinated group.
  • According to the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices), rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness, which may mimic flu symptoms, but last only 1-2 days (as opposed to flu which may last 7-10 days).

So, if you think that the flu vaccine gives you the flu, it really doesn’t. And I’m not the only one saying this:

Get your flu shot. Because, you know, Vaccines Save Lives.

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

The importance of flu surveillance

In 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic was an influenza pandemic that was first described in April 2009. The virus appeared to be a new strain of H1N1, which was responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic, that arose from a triple reassortment of bird, swine and human flu viruses that then further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus, leading to the term “swine flu” to be used for this pandemic. Unlike other strains of flu, H1N1 does not disproportionately infect older adults (greater than 60 years), which makes this a characteristic feature of this H1N1 pandemic, and made it especially dangerous to children. The CDC has reported some sobering worldwide statistics for the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, including that between 151,700 and 575,400 people perished worldwide from 2009 H1N1 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.  Continue reading “The importance of flu surveillance”

Flu vaccinations for children with neurological disorders

Flu virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just published a study in Pediatrics on the effects of influenza in children with neurologic disorders. It compared the outcomes, during and after the flu ,between kids with or without neurological disorders. The outcomes studied were deaths and hospitalizations during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, between April 15 and September 30, 2009, by looking at medical records of reported pediatric deaths. Continue reading “Flu vaccinations for children with neurological disorders”

Flu shots are safe for pregnant women

Not that it was required, but there’s even more evidence that flu shots are safe and efficacious for pregnant women, neonates and fetuses. A study published recently in Obstetrics & GynecologyEffect of influenza vaccination in the first trimester of pregnancy, investigated the effects of influenza vaccinations on fetal and neonatal outcomes. 

Over a 5 year study period, a total of 8,690 women received a seasonal trivalent inactive influenza vaccine during the first trimester, and delivered babies at the study institution. Some of the key results were:

  • Women vaccinated during pregnancy were significantly older with more pregnancies than women who declined vaccination.
  • About 2 percent had a baby with a major birth defect, such as a malformation in the heart or a cleft lip, identical to the rate among almost 77,000 pregnant women who did not get the vaccine.
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower stillbirth (0.3% compared with 0.6%, P=.006).
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower neonatal death (0.2% compared with 0.4%, P=.01).
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower premature delivery rates (5% compared with 6%, P=.004). Continue reading “Flu shots are safe for pregnant women”

Dumb Asses and Vaccines

Though published last fall, prior to the flu season, Biodork (great name), reprinted key parts of the 2011 edition of A Budget of Dumb Asses by Dr. Mark Crislip, who takes anti-anti-science to a new level of snark.  It’s hidden in Medscape, so unless you have an account, you can’t read it it, but we have it here for you.  It’s all about flu, but you can replace flu with any other vaccination.  For your educational and humorous pleasure, and thanks to Biodork, here we go:

I wonder if you are one of those Dumb Asses who do not get the flu shot each year? Yes. Dumb Ass. Big D, big A. You may be allergic to the vaccine (most are not when tested), you may have had Guillain-Barre, in which case I will cut you some slack. But if you don’t have those conditions and you work in healthcare and you don’t get a vaccine for one of the following reasons, you are a Dumb Ass. Continue reading “Dumb Asses and Vaccines”

Connecticut reduces influenza rates with a simple step–vaccination

On January 1, 2011, Connecticut mandated that any child between 6 and 59 months old must be vaccinated for influenza if they are to be enrolled in a licensed Connecticut day care center.  So the vaccination rate for kids in that age group went from around 54% in 2009-10 to 85% during the 2010-11 flu season.  

Emergency department visits for flu and flu-like illness dropped from 34% in 2008 to 30% in 2011, or around 72,000 visits.  There was also a 30% decrease in emergency department visits for children in the 6-59 month age range.  Like many of these diseases there’s a myth that they are not that dangerous.  Except a significant portion of these kids who contract the disease will have other, more serious, issues like pneumonia or even death. 

The vaccination program benefits both children and adults that come in contact with the children (though it would be better if the parents were vaccinated too).  And vaccines save lives.  Period.  End of debate.

via Conn. flu rates decline after new vaccine requirement | Vaccine News Daily.

BBC News – La Nina ‘linked’ to flu pandemics

BBC News – La Nina ‘linked’ to flu pandemics.

An interesting article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences correlates the La Niña conditions in the equatorial area of the Pacific with flu pandemics.  The authors propose that the La Niña conditions (which upwell colder water to the surface, changes migration patterns of migratory birds.  Since birds are one host for the influenza virus, these changed migration patterns may change how the birds interact with other species moving new influenza subtypes into different parts of the world.

We are, however, a long way from predicting a pandemic based upon a La Niña event.  Right now, the authors can only correlate pandemics and the Pacific circulation patterns in just four cases:  the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, The Hong Kong Flu of 1958, and the Swine Flu of 2009.  It’s hard to make a case for causality based on these four data points, but the authors do lay out a compelling argument.

Whenever I critique a correlation vs. causation argument, I first determine if the causality is even possible.   I often make the argument that MMR vaccinations cause broken arms in 12-16 year old girls, because a small, but significant proportion of kids being vaccinated get broken arms (or car wrecks, gastroenteritis, an itchy nose, and angry comments to their parents).  However, there is no physiological, biological, or scientific reason why a broken arm might result from a vaccination.

In this article, the authors do make a scientifically plausible case that avian migration patterns do change in La Niña events, so they are on the path to providing outstanding evidence to support this hypothesis.