The 2018-2019 flu season is starting to hit the historically worst months for flu, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published its interim reports for influenza activity and burden across the USA. As expected, the news isn’t good. Continue reading “2018-2019 flu season interim statistics – 7 million cases so far”
A recent peer-reviewed article by Huong Q. McLean et al., published in JAMA Network Open, showed that repeat flu vaccination does not reduce the subsequent season’s flu vaccine effectiveness in children, ages 2-17 years. In fact, the study may show that children who received the flu vaccine in the prior flu season may benefit from the same vaccine in the current season.
This research may help settle a concern among vaccine experts that previous year’s flu vaccination may reduce current-season flu vaccine effectiveness. A 2017 study from Canada showed that if flu strains used in two vaccines are the same (or very similar), the second season’s flu vaccine effectiveness may be diminished.
This lowered effectiveness in subsequent years is described as the “antigenic distance hypothesis” (ADH). It describes the possibility that vaccine effectiveness of the current vaccine is lowered when the difference, or antigenic distance, between the current vaccine and prior year vaccine, is small, but the actual difference between the vaccine strains and wild circulating strains is large.
For example, the recent issues with the H3N2 influenza A outbreak, where the available flu vaccines had lower effectiveness against the H3N2 strain. The H3N2 portion of the 2017-18 flu vaccine was the same as in the 2013-14 vaccine, but it no longer matched with the H3N2 flu in circulation. The H3N2 variant had “drifted” genetically. Continue reading “Repeated flu vaccination may better protect children – article review”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released reports that detailed adult flu vaccine coverage and the mortality rate from the flu virus. Neither is very reassuring.
According to the first report, only 37.1% of adults, 18 or older, received the adult flu vaccine during the 2017-18 flu season. This was a drop of 6.2 percentage points from the 2016-17, and it was the lowest vaccination rate for adults since 2010-11.
In another report about the 2017-18 flu season, the CDC determine that more people were killed by seasonal influenza since the CDC first started tracking flu mortality in 1976-77 – the data shows a scary indictment of flu vaccine refusal. The CDC reported that:
- 49 million people contracted the flu, which is roughly equivalent to the combined population of Texas and Florida.
- 960,000 people were hospitalized. That is more than the estimated 895,000 hospital beds currently available in the USA (and one of the major reasons why I believe any major outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases could be a disaster).
- 79,000 people died of the influenza virus. The previous high, over the past 40 years of analyses, was 51,000 deaths in 2014-15.
The 2017-18 flu season was particularly harsh because it dominated by a the H3N2 subtype of the influenza A virus. This subtype mutates more frequently than other subtypes, so the 2017-18 seasonal adult flu vaccine was somewhat less effective than in previous seasons.
Although the anti-vaccine tropes wanted us to believe that the vaccine was worthless, it actually was about 25% effective against the H3N2 variant, with a much higher effectiveness for children. This may have contributed to the drop in adult flu vaccine coverage last year, which probably contributed to the severity of last season’s flu burden.
We don’t know what the 2018-19 flu vaccine effectiveness is, but there is a concern about the current production methods for the H3N2 virus may need to be revised to substantially improve effectiveness. That being said, given the mortality rate of the flu, even a 25-30% effectiveness substantially reduces your risk of severe flu complications.
Here are a few points about the flu and adult flu vaccine that bear repeating:
- If you are a healthcare worker and refuse the flu vaccine, you are an epic dumbass. Protecting patients from your infectious diseases is paramount, and pseudoscientific beliefs about medicines, like vaccines, are a good reason to find another career path.
- If you think that the adult flu vaccine causes the flu, you’d be wrong.
- If you think that the flu is a minor disease, maybe you should read this article again. Almost 1 million people were hospitalized in 2017-18, which means expensive hospital bills, lost work productivity, and other issues. And, 79,000 people died.
- If you conflate a common cold with the flu, you need stop. Although they have some overlapping symptoms, colds rarely have serious complications, while the flu is much worse.
- If you think that old people and babies are the only ones at risk from flu complications, you ignore the fact that nearly 1,000 people, 18-49, died of the flu last year. Yes, most of the deaths were among young children and seniors, but think of it another way – getting the flu vaccine may help reduce the risk of passing along the flu to grandma or your little niece.
- If you believe in any of the other tropes and myths about the flu vaccine, stop now. They are all wrong.
- If you believe you are allergic to eggs and can’t get the adult flu vaccine, that’s not true any more.
- If you think that supplements will protect you against the flu, you’d be wrong.
- If you believe that the adult flu vaccine is useless, once again, you’re reading garbage on the internet. The current flu vaccines protect against three or four strains of the flu. The trivalent vaccine protects against the H1N1 influenza A virus, H3N2, and one strain of influenza B. The quadrivalent version protects against those plus another strain of influenza B. The major issue with effectiveness is against only the H3N2 strain, and even there, the effectiveness exceeds 25%. Against all flu strains, the quadrivalent adult flu vaccine was around 40%. It’s not perfect, but only if you fall for the Nirvana fallacy does it mean it’s worthless.
Too many Americans refuse to get the adult flu vaccine out of ignorance, laziness, or some other nonsensical reason. But despite the irrational claims of too many vaccine deniers, the flu is a dangerous, deadly disease.
Get the flu vaccine.
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We’re coming upon the 2018-2019 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere. And every flu season, for the past seven years, I reprint Dr. Mark Crislip‘s epic rant about Dumb Ass healthcare workers who invent flu vaccine myths in an effort refuse to receive the flu vaccine.
Dr. Crislip’s humorous compilation of these flu vaccine myths, which were originally published in A Budget of Dumb Asses, describes the different types of vaccine-refusing healthcare worker Dumb Asses. 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 flu vaccine myths true believers 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. And everyone forgets that the flu is a dangerous disease – 172 children died of the flu during the 2017-18 flu season.
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 get 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 myths 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.
For my loyal readers (and a whole bunch of disloyal ones), my support of the flu vaccine is pretty obvious. It may not be perfect, but it is incredibly safe, and it protects against a dangerous, and often underrated, disease. According to a newly published article, we have evidence that the flu vaccine for nursing mothers is safe and effective. Continue reading “Flu vaccine for nursing mothers – don’t worry moms, it is safe and effective”
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. Continue reading “Jen Glantz, you really should apologize for your flu vaccine refusal”
On March 6, 2018, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in a federal district court against Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The Department was suing on behalf of Barnell Williams, a certified nursing assistant in Lasata Care Center, a nursing home, who was claiming emotional distress from being forced to get a flu vaccination for work when getting one contradicted her religious beliefs.
This is not the first lawsuit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the issue of the flu vaccination for healthcare workers, the claims are not new, and the lawsuit seems well founded. I was not going to write about it because there really is nothing new there, but following several news articles on the topic (here and here), people had questions about it, so this is a short post addressing legal issues surrounding flu vaccination.
This article will list a few key points that are important considerations Continue reading “Healthcare worker flu vaccination – examining lawsuits about the vaccine”
Immune system myths are one of the common claims of the junk medicine crowd, especially the anti-vaccine activists. The pseudoscience of the immune system is pernicious and possibly dangerous.
It’s frustrating that the pseudoscience from the junk medicine crowd claims that this supplement or that food is critical to boosting the immune system – hang out for a day on Facebook, and you’ll probably see way too many memes saying that all you have to do to boost your immune system is eat a blueberry kale smoothie. I still see that dumb banana claim that it cures cancer.
The problem with these immune system myths is that they overlook or ignore a basic physiological fact – the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevent invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens and other antigens every single day.
And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system, it does not make it so. One can claim all day long that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it scientifically accurate. Nor does it create an accurate description of the immune system.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, something rare on this blog. During the week ending 3 February 2018, the CDC reported that there were over 4000 flu deaths in the USA (see Note 1). Yes, you read that right, the US flu death toll was over 4000, many of which might have been prevented by the flu vaccine.
According to the CDC, 10.1% of 40,414 deaths reported in the USA during that week were attributed to the flu or side effects of that flu. And the news will get worse over the next few weeks. The flu death toll is expected to grow even more because flu activity is still rising, and deaths usually follow flu activity.
Furthermore, hospitalization rates as a result of the flu are high, an indicator of potential mortality. So far this flu season, total hospitalization numbers are nearly equal to what we see for a full flu season, not half-way like we with the current flu outbreak. Continue reading “Flu death toll – 4000 Americans last week, more reasons for flu vaccine”
We have just passed the halfway point of the 2017-18 flu season, and if you are watching the news, you could get the impression that things are pretty bad. CDC reports that for this week, the cumulative hospitalization rate was 51.4 per 100,000, which is higher than the 43.5 per 100,000 reported at this same week during the 2014-2015 season. If that trend continues through the season, the number of influenza hospitalizations may exceed 710,000.
Furthermore, the CDC provided evidence of how bad this flu season actually is:
Last week, the number of people even in the clinic that had influenza-like illness was 6.6%. This week it is 7.1%. We’ve had two seasons in the last 15 years that were higher than that. The first was the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which peaked at 7.8% and the 2003-2004 season, which was a high severity H3N2 season, which peaked at 7.6%.
Furthermore, at least 53 children, under the age of 18, have died of influenza or complications of the virus. And because reporting lags by a few weeks, the numbers are undoubtedly going to be higher. These are all families that have to deal with a tragic loss of a child from a disease that many anti-vaccine people classify as “not dangerous.”
Because there is a lot of myths and tropes out there about the 2017-18 flu season, I thought I would list out some of the reasons why it’s so bad – but it’s mostly your fault. Continue reading “Why is the 2017-18 flu season is looking bad? Plenty of things to blame”