Why do I still wear my lovely COVID face masks? Because of science.

man in white button up shirt and woman in green tank top

Let me get it right out there – I am wearing my attractive (not really) COVID-19 face masks even after being fully Moderna vaccinated. I wear them any time I’m at risk of being close to other human beings. And I intend to wear them until the day Dr. Anthony Fauci quits wearing his.

In the USA, wearing COVID face masks with or without vaccination was based on the honor system, and if there’s one defining characteristic of Americans who reject science, they aren’t honorable. So I don’t want to risk catching some new variant that arises in unvaccinated people who think it’s their right to breathe their contaminated breath on others.

I’m going to continue wearing my face mask for quite a long time, and here are my reasons.

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Vaccine adverse events are very rare – vast benefits outweigh risks

shoenfeld

Like all medical procedures, devices, and pharmaceuticals, vaccines are not perfect – there are rare vaccine adverse events. What matters is that the benefits, not only medically but also economically, outweigh any risks. As far ask I know, no perfect medical procedures, devices, or pharmaceuticals, none, that are perfectly safe or perfectly effective. Sometimes the ratio is small.

For example, there are chemotherapy drugs that only add a few months to a patient’s life, usually with substantial side effects to the medication. Yet, if you ask a patient whether it was worth it, to spend just a few extra months with their children and loved ones, the value becomes nearly incalculable.

But mostly, the FDA and other regulatory agencies demand that new products and procedures must meet or exceed the safety, and meet or exceed the financial and health benefits of currently acceptable versions. Actually, the FDA examines a lot more than that.

They check the packaging, shelf life, instructions, manufacturing practices, and so much more, it would take a book to explain it (and there probably are several). It may not be a perfect process, but it’s better than what we had 100 years ago, and it continues to improve every single day. People tend towards a form of confirmation bias where they remember where a drug may have been found to be dangerous (the best example is Vioxx).

But they forget about the millions of medications and devices that save lives or measurably improve the standard of living. 

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The list of healthcare worker flu vaccine excuses – none are valid

healthcare worker flu vaccine

We’re entering the 2021-2022 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s time for the annual epic Mark Crislip rant about healthcare worker flu vaccine beliefs. For the past nine years at the start of the flu season, I reprint Dr. Mark Crislip‘s hysterical and outstanding rant about “slow-witted Equus africanus asinus” healthcare workers who invent flu vaccine fallacies, tropes, and myths in an effort to justify their belief that the flu vaccine is dangerous, useless, or whatever else that hits their brain.

Dr. Crislip’s humorous compilation of these flu vaccine myths, which were originally published in A Budget of Dumb Asses 2011, describes the different types of vaccine-refusing healthcare worker individuals. I resurrect this list every year at the beginning of the flu season not only for humor (because it is funny) but also to point the finger at flu vaccine deniers who also happen to be healthcare workers.

Any nurse, pharmacist, therapist, physician, or surgeon that refuses the flu vaccine by relying upon pseudoscientific nonsense about the vaccine rather than protecting their patients and themselves is appalling. I may be harsh, but maybe their employment ought to be terminated for their lack of concern about patients.

But the true adherents to the flu vaccine beliefs aren’t just healthcare workers. You know neighbors, friends, family, and even fellow vaccine supporters who refuse to get the flu vaccine. And they rely on the same ridiculous myths as healthcare workers.

These vaccine deniers believe that the flu vaccine is not necessary because the disease is not dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

flu vaccine fallacies

During the 2018-19 flu season (the 2019-20 and 2020-21 flu seasons were skewed by the COVID-19 pandemic), 129 American children died of the flu. But, there’s more:

  • 37.4 – 42.9 million Americans contracted the flu
  • 17.3 – 20.1 million of those had a medical visit because of the flu
  • 531-647 thousand of those had to be hospitalized as an inpatient
  • Finally, 36,400 – 61,200 died
  • Worldwide, it is estimated that there will be approximately 290-650 thousand deaths. 

The flu season is just starting, and it’s almost impossible to not find a place to get the vaccine. Your family doctor, clinics, pharmacies, and many other places currently have the flu vaccine. And I am not a hypocrite – I will have my flu vaccination next week. Of course, my healthcare insurance provides them out for free to all members.

And if you think you can prevent or cure the flu with vitamin C, echinacea, or bone broth (yes, it’s a thing), they don’t work. You are not going to be able to boost your immune system to destroy the flu virus unless you get vaccinated.

We’ve dispensed with many of the cherished flu vaccine beliefs of the anti-vaccine religion. Moreover, many studies have shown that getting the flu vaccine can improve health outcomes.

But too many people refuse this life-saving vaccine.

Continue reading “The list of healthcare worker flu vaccine excuses – none are valid”

Debunking flu vaccine myths – it’s that time again

flu vaccine myths

As we enter the 2021-2022 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, your best weapon to avoid the flu is to ignore the myths and get the seasonal flu vaccine. Despite the known overall safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, the anti-vaccination cult is pushing their ignorant nonsense all over social media, especially Facebook.

Despite all the good reasons to get the vaccine, the CDC estimated that the flu vaccine uptake in the USA in 2020-21 was around 59.0%. This is well below the 80-90% uptake required for herd immunity against the flu.

There are some concerns that because all the measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, that caused the 2020-21 flu season to be almost non-existent, may make the population even more susceptible to the flu during the 2021-22 season.

Thus, it may be more important this year than many others to get the flu vaccine. And for me to debunk the noxious flu vaccine myths.

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Flu vaccine unrelated to miscarriages – getting the facts right

flu vaccine miscarriages

A while ago, the Washington Post dropped this provocative headline, “Researchers find a hint of a link between flu vaccine and miscarriages.” Add this to the long list of anti-vaccine tropes, which include the HPV and COVID-19 vaccines, that somehow, in some magical way, these vaccines cause something bad to fertility or pregnancy.

Of course, a more thorough review of the research shows that the flu vaccine does not miscarriages. A careful reading of the Washington Post article shows that it is filled with nuance and hedging because the underlying published article does not actually provide robust evidence that any flu vaccine increases the risk of miscarriages.

The Washington Post made several points that are important to consider, and we’ll examine the underlying research in more depth. But the most important point they made is that,

The findings suggest an association, not a causal link, and the research is too weak and preliminary, experts said, to change the advice, which is based on a multitude of previous studies, that pregnant women should get a flu vaccine to protect them from influenza, a deadly disease that may cause serious birth defects and miscarriage.

I wonder how many anti-vaccine radicals will fail to make that point, instead, screaming that “vaccines are dangerous and the worthless flu vaccine causes miscarriages.”

Well, of course. Del Bigtree isn’t known for his scientific knowledge.

Well, we don’t cherry-pick our evidence here, so we’re going to look at the broad body of evidence with respect to the flu, flu vaccines, and pregnancy. Because that’s how we roll here. And because we think pregnant women deserve the best information possible to protect themselves and their developing babies. Because that’s also how we roll here.

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Vaccine safety – a huge systematic review says they don’t cause autism

vaccine safety

Not that most of us need to be convinced, but there’s another huge systematic review that examined vaccine safety. Unsurprisingly, it shows that there are no major safety signals post-vaccination, plus no vaccine is linked to autism.

It’s ironic that this study is a high-quality systematic review and meta-analysis, the top of the hierarchy of biomedical research, while anti-vaxxers rely upon retracted articles published in predatory journals.

So, I want to do a quick review of this new article so that we can continue to support the settled science of vaccine safety.

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COVID vaccine updates – large clinical trials will be unnecessary

covid vaccine updates

The questions I keep getting are will we need COVID-19 vaccine updates and how fast could we get them. These are important questions going forward, especially since there are some dangerous variants that seem to be spreading widely.

I think we should look at the model for flu vaccines – each year the antigens are targeted by the vaccine are changed slightly to improve effectiveness. Admittedly, with the flu vaccine, it’s hard to do since the influenza virus can mutate rapidly.

However, regulatory agencies worldwide do not require massive clinical trials for the new formulations, as long as nothing else changes except for the antigens. That’s the model that we will probably require for future COVID-19 vaccine updates in the future.

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COVID-19 pandemic effect on 2020-21 flu season – good and bad news

COVID-19 pandemic flu season

The COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing but bad news, but the near disappearance of the 2020-21 flu season has given us one tiny bit of good news among a metric tonne of public health bad news.

Despite the weird and unfounded myths from the COVID-19 deniers, the only reason why this flu season is so mild is because of the public health strategies to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s it – it’s nothing more dramatic than that. 

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Influenza activity and COVID-19 – not a conspiracy, and get the vaccine

COVID-19 influenza

With all of the bad news across the world regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the one tiny bit of good news is the substantial drop in influenza incidence during the 2020-21 flu season. Despite the weird and unfounded myths from the anti-vaccine and COVID-19 denier crowds, there is no conspiracy that someone is hiding the flu numbers by boosting COVID-19 numbers. 

The only reason why the influenza incidence has dropped precipitously is because of the public health strategies to contain COVID-19. That’s it – nothing deeper than that. 

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Massachusetts influenza vaccine mandate withdrawn – an analysis

Massachusetts influenza vaccine mandate

This article about why Massachusetts withdrew its influenza vaccine mandate for children was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On August 19, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced that the influenza vaccine will be required from all children “6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities.”

The requirement was only for children attending in-person (not online) education and had a deadline of December 31, 2020. A lawsuit was filed against the mandate, apparently, according to the anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), funded by that organization, and brought by the law firm they habitually employ, Siri & Glimstad LLP (In 2019, ICAN paid the law firm $1,263,432 for “legal services” out of over $3.4 million the organization took in as income, according to their 990 filings).

After the Massachusetts Department of Public Health pushed off that deadline to February, they decided to withdraw the influenza vaccine mandate on January 15, 2021.

The Public Health Department explains in a letter:

Preliminary data show that this has been a mild flu season to date, presumably as people have received their seasonal flu vaccine and have been adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing due to COVID-19. Given the intensive Commonwealth-wide efforts regarding COVID-19 vaccination, DPH wants to alleviate the burden to obtain flu vaccination and focus on continuing our COVID -19 vaccination efforts. DPH continues to strongly recommend that everyone age six months and older receive their seasonal flu vaccine each year.

ICAN is celebrating this as a victory of their lawsuit. We do not know which other considerations went into the decision, and the lawsuit may have had an effect, if only by adding to the already full plate of the department during a pandemic.

But the reality is that given the jurisprudence on vaccine mandates, and given the deference most courts show public health authorities during a pandemic, if there were good grounds to insist on the mandate, the department would likely have held its grounds. A number of other factors likely fed into the decision, including, as pointed out, a relatively mild flu season (in part thanks to public health measures against COVID-19), Massachusetts stated desire to bring children back to in-person education, which may have led the department to seek to remove barriers, and the need to focus on the COVID-19 vaccine effort.

Plus, it is mid-January. The benefit of being distracted by a fight over an influenza mandate this late is probably less than the harm to other important efforts.