Pointing out anti-vaccine ignorance is nearly my full-time hobby on this website. Sometimes I read stuff that makes me laugh or shrug, sometimes I have to take it on. And today, I’m going to take on anti-vaccine ignorance by someone who really should apologize for her flu vaccine refusal.
In an article, “I Refuse to Get a Flu Shot, and I Won’t Apologize For It,”Jen Glantz author, who is a self-proclaimed “professional bridesmaid,” wants to believe that she’s smarter than immunologists, public health specialists at the CDC, physicians who have spent 8 years in school and another bunch of years training to practice medicine, and real scientists. With typical arrogance and ignorance of the anti-vaccine religion, she pontificates on issues that betray her lack of serious education in any biomedical science.
Look, I don’t think credentials matter. I don’t care if Glantz is a high school dropout or has a Ph.D. in immunology. The only thing that matters is evidence, and Glantz conveniently ignores the vast wealth of evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine to inform her readers of her irresponsible decision.
Why should I care about Glantz’s flu vaccine refusal? Because I’m the cantankerous feathered dinosaur, and I do not appreciate anti-vaccine cluelessness. And besides, Glantz should go back to doing what she does best – being a bridesmaid. Because she is utterly oblivious to any scientific facts about the flu vaccine. I guess her white privilege, that somehow she is superior to the rest of us who understand public health and the real science behind vaccines, allows her the arrogance of her flu vaccine refusal.
Glantz gets one thing right
Right at the start, Glantz does seem to understand that the flu is not a trivial disease:
I’ve had the flu before and it’s never been pretty. I remember being bed-ridden for six days, left without enough energy to even get up and shower. I remember that even trying to keep my eyes open for the opening credits of Game of Thrones during a binge-watch attempt was a no-go. I felt so completely awful. I know the flu is terrible and scary, especially the strains that are traveling around this year. Thousands of people have been sent to the hospital, and the number of children that have died from the flu is unfathomable.
Yes, she is right. The flu isn’t some disease that should be trivialized. We often see people make claims that they’ve had the flu, and they got over it in a couple of days. They probably had a cold – the flu is a serious disease with serious complications.
Maybe Glantz can stand on her high horse of flu vaccine refusal because she isn’t aware of the serious complications of the disease. Or maybe she just conveniently ignores it. I don’t know, and I certainly don’t care.
But let’s be clear, complications of the flu can send you to the hospital. And yes, it can kill you. There’s a type of runaway immune response known as a “cytokine storm” which may be responsible for the high mortality in severe flu pandemics. That’s why 50-100 million people worldwide died of the 1918 flu – don’t dismiss it because it happened way back when. The flu killed young men and women quickly because of how it killed the victim.
In fact, the CDC has estimated that between 12-56 thousand people die every year from the flu. It’s not just the elderly and babies that are risks – but young millennials just like Glantz.
Although Glantz did try to show how serious the flu might be – she couldn’t binge on her favorite TV shows – flu is actually much more serious. And her flu vaccine refusal puts her at risk of dangerous complications, like death.
But after her opening statement, she makes four points that she uses as the defense of her flu vaccine refusal. And, betraying that she did her “research” during an hour or so of employing confirmation bias to support her pre-ordained conclusions about the flu vaccine, she employs the ridiculous and ignorant tropes of the anti-vaccine movement.
Glantz’s flu vaccine refusal – effectiveness
And let’s start with her first ridiculous reason for her flu vaccine refusal:
I remember that it isn’t always effective. The shot’s effectiveness varies year to year, based on whether it matches that particular season’s viruses, and it’s usually reformulated each year. So how effective is the shot this year? Early studies are showing that it only has a 17 perfect effectiveness against the strain known as H3N2, which has been the main culprit of the flu this year in the U.S.
It’s much more complicated than this, and someone with real ability to really understand vaccine effectiveness knows this. But it’s clear that Glantz put “flu vaccine effectiveness” into Google, found the first article to support her beliefs, and voila, we are done.
Except she’s wrong. I analyzed a peer-reviewed paper which made the following important points:
- Approximately 50% of the study patients had received this season’s flu vaccine.
- The overall influenza vaccine effectiveness (combining all four flu viruses in the current quadrivalent vaccine) is approximately 36%.
- Importantly, because children die of the flu, the overall effectiveness for the 6 months to the 8-year-old group was about 59%.
- The overall effectiveness of the H3N2 variant was about 25%, 2.5X higher than the current tropes about the vaccine.
- However, the effectiveness against H3N2 for children was about 51%.
- The total effectiveness against the H1N1 variant was about 67%, and against the influenza B viruses, it was around 42%.
The current vaccine immunizes us against 4 strains of the flu, and for three of those strains, the two B variants and the H1N1 type A variant, the vaccine shows fairly high effectiveness. Yes, the effectiveness against the H3N2 variant is low, but it’s not zero.
Yes, we know that the effectiveness of the current vaccine is low, as a result of how we have to pick and choose antigens. But the H3N2 flu is relatively dangerous, to even young people like Glantz, and 25% effectiveness is way above no effectiveness. Unless you embrace the Nirvana fallacy, that is, if it’s not perfect, it’s useless. Employing that fallacy to support a flu vaccine refusal seems really weak.
Nothing in real medicine is perfect unless you believe in magical medicine like homeopathy.
Glantz’s flu vaccine refusal – side effects
Oh no. They do have minor side effects because all medical procedures have some risk of minor, major, or deadly side effects.
Getting the shot doesn’t mean you’re in the clear — it can actually mean that you get a little sick. Side effects can include soreness around the injection side, a low-grade fever for a few days, and muscle aches. Now, I know that this may seem like a small price to pay to avoid getting the full-blown flu, but if I can avoid any sickness at all, why not try?
Firstly, even these minor side effects are not common. I don’t get Glantz’s logic – she dismisses the 25% effectiveness, effectively rounding it down to 0% in her brilliant mind. On the other hand, she seems to embrace the low level of adverse effects, essentially rounding it up to 100%.
Secondly, the reaction she describes is precisely how the immune system reacts. She gets a minor immune reaction, maybe, that is easily ignored, to prevent the major viral pathogenic disease, the flu. Which, as we know, keeps her from watching TV.
Glantz’s flu vaccine refusal – toxins
Here we go, with one of the most annoying tropes of the anti-vaccine religion, on the altar of which Glantz appears to genuflect:
Have you ever taken a step back and learned more about what the heck is actually inside the flu shot? There can be many toxins inside the shot, including preservatives, metals, and formaldehyde. The CDC has released an ingredient list that you can look at to learn more before getting the shot yourself. While these ingredients may not faze some people, I would like to avoid any and all toxins when I can.
Before we even start, Glantz’s lack of understanding of science is readily apparent with her comments. If she had even the vaguest notion of toxicology, officially the biomedical study of the biological effect of chemicals, she would understand the overarching principle of toxicology is that “the dose makes the poison.” What that means is that many substances are perfectly safe in tiny levels, such as we see in vaccines. But as the dose increases, the potential of harm increases. There is a dose of water that is toxic and will kill you.
Once again, betraying her utter ignorance about physiology and biology, she would understand the human body produces formaldehyde innately, as a part of several cellular processes. In fact, the human body produces millions of times more formaldehyde every day than is received in any vaccine. And no, there is no magical way that the vaccine dose of formaldehyde (which is at the nanogram level) will suddenly make it toxic.
If Glantz is worried about vaccines, she should quit eating apples and pears – they have a million times more formaldehyde than in the vaccine. And no Jen, buying locally sourced, GMO-free, pure organic apples from your local privileged Whole Foods is not going to reduce that formaldehyde content. It is a natural biochemical process of the apple.
Glantz’s flu vaccine refusal – being natural
There are so many annoying tropes of the privileged anti-vaccine religion, but this appeal to nature fallacy could be one of the most annoying. Here’s what she says:
Staying healthy during flu season is my priority, but I’ve just chosen to do that the natural way. Instead of injecting myself with toxins, I do things like practice good hygiene, take lots of vitamins and natural supplements, and rely on my body and it’s strength to fight off any unwanted bacteria. The human body is an incredible thing, and I trust it. I also like it to ride out things naturally.
I actually agree with one thing she said – yes, the human body is an incredible thing, and it is much more robust in fighting many diseases than we often state. However, once again betraying Glantz’s utter lack of knowledge of anything in the biomedical sciences, the whole purpose of vaccines is to train the immune system to attack viruses or bacteria before they become diseases.
Pathogenic viruses and bacteria, like the flu, have evolved to attack and reproduce faster than the immune system can respond. The immune system, if it encounters a pathogen in the past, can react quickly to destroy it. The vaccine “boosts” the immune system to remember that pathogen before it causes the disease. In fact, vaccines are the most natural way to prevent disease. However, if the immune system lacks a “memory” of that pathogen, then the pathogen wins. And it can kill or harm.
Next up, supplements are useless against the flu. Unless you have a chronic medical condition or chronic malnutrition, excess vitamins are completely useless at preventing any disease. They’re just a huge waste of money, but once again, Glantz’s privilege is showing because she can afford to waste money, despite the lack of scientific evidence supporting this belief.
One more thing – the flu isn’t a bacteria. It’s a virus.
I wish I didn’t have to be harsh to Glantz. My fully-vaccinated daughter follows her on something or another and thinks she’s fun.
Unfortunately, she apparently has thousands of loyal fans who read her every tweet, post, or photo. And if they read this, they’ll think they don’t need the vaccine. So, I guess if someone Googles the article, this one will show up, and they’ll find that Glantz is wrong, so wrong.
I’m sure that Jen Glantz thinks she’s some smarter-than-a-CDC-scientist young woman, who uses the internet to proclaim loudly how smart she is about the flu and the flu vaccine. Except, she is, apart from a point here and there, completely and utterly wrong.
No, this isn’t a “difference of opinion” between me and her. I don’t deal in opinions about vaccines – you either have overwhelming evidence in support of your claims or you don’t. For flu vaccines, we have overwhelming evidence that supports its safety. We also have overwhelming evidence that it’s not ineffective, but it’s fairly effective.
Yes, we have to improve the vaccine. And guess what, the scientific method has helped researchers understand how to improve the effectiveness of the vaccine within a few years.
It’s clear that Jen Glantz’s flu vaccine refusal is based on what she thinks is sound logic. Except it’s not. And it’s not based on sound science. And her lack of any insight into any field of science germane to vaccines is appalling.
Jen, get the damn flu shot. I’ll PayPal you the cost of it if you’re unable to get your parents to pay for it. Because I know that preventing the flu with a vaccine is an important goal for all young adults. Unless you’re a raving narcissist, don’t just think about yourself – you can pass to your bubby, to your friends, to children at a wedding you’re attending. Because of a point that you conveniently missed – you can be contagious before becoming symptomatic with the flu.