Pediatric flu deaths 2015-16 – Update 2

flu mortality 2015-16

In the USA, we’re nearing the heart of the flu season, with pediatric flu deaths peaking during the next 8-10 weeks. So far in the 2015-16 flu season (which generally starts on October 1), the CDC has reported that there have been 7 pediatric flu deaths through the 4th week of December. This is unchanged from the previous report.

Now, I know some of you may say “only 7,” but since pediatric flu is mostly prevented with a vaccine, we could prevent these 7 deaths. Moreover, it’s early. During the last 3 years, there were 171 pediatric flu deaths in 2012-13, 11 in 2013-14, and 148 in 2014-15 – most of the pediatric flu deaths happened after this week.

It seems that the the numbers are lower, so far, than in previous years. However, this flu season may be several weeks late, probably as a result of warmer weather (no, warm weather does not block the flu). Flu mortality across all ages crossed the threshold for an “epidemic” last week, so these numbers might increase. Let’s hope they don’t, but as opposed to what people believe, flu is dangerous.

Continue reading “Pediatric flu deaths 2015-16 – Update 2”

New York City flu immunization requirements – court ruling

On December 11, 2013 the New York City Board of Health adopted a rule – which we will refer to as New York City flu immunization requirements – establishing that children aged 6-59 months attending full time daycares that meet certain criteria to receive an annual influenza vaccine (see Resolution NY Influenza vaccine rule, pdf).

On December 16, 2015 Justice Manuel J. Mendez from New York’s Supreme Court (which, in spite of the name, is not the highest court in New York state) granted certain petitioners’ motion to declare the rule “invalid and unlawful” (see NY mandate decision, pdf). Note that although there is a higher instance, in this case, I doubt the decision – which is well reasoned and appropriate, in my view – would be overturned.

This post explains what the court decided and what it means.  Continue reading “New York City flu immunization requirements – court ruling”

Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – 2015

This article – Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – separating fact from fiction – has been reblogged with permission from Tara Haelle's Red Wine and Applesauce blog.

Editor’s Note: This article – separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – separating fact from fiction – has been reblogged with permission from Tara Haelle’s Red Wine and Applesauce blog. Many thanks to Tara and a host of other people for creating this list.

Note from Tara Haell: This post is co-published with NPR’s health blog Shots. Check out the story for updated information about this year’s flu shot from a CDC medical officer.

Once again, flu season is upon us — and so are all the misconceptions, excuses and worries that have kept so many people away from getting their flu vaccines. Plenty of people are fully informed about the flu vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and simply choose not to get the vaccine, as is their right (as long as they don’t work in healthcare settings where it’s required). But many others may have skipped the shot because they’ve bought into one of the many myths about the vaccine that always circulating with the influenza virus itself. Or perhaps they’ve read something unsettling about the vaccine that has a kernel of truth in it, but which has been blown out of proportion or misrepresented.

Of all the vaccines out there, the flu vaccine is unique in several ways: it’s the only one the CDC recommends for the entire (eligible) population every year, it has the most variability (and nearly always the lowest percentages) in effectiveness, and it has more tall tales told about it than Paul Bunyan. Much of the debunking and explaining you’ll find here is essentially the same as in past years’ posts, but a couple misconceptions have been rearranged, and I spent a bit more time discussing the evidence about potentially lower effectiveness of the flu vaccine in people who had gotten it the previous year.

Finally, I called these items “concerns” instead of “myths” because several of the issues discussed here are not outright “myths.” That is, some of these concerns originated from factual situations, but the details got gnarled and twisted along the way, or else the fact itself doesn’t have the implications people may expect it does. “Concerns” therefore better captures that each of these items is a legitimate concern for many people but is something that simply requires explanation, whether that’s an outright debunking or simply context and clarification.

One thing that needs a bit of clarification is last year’s vaccine’s effectiveness, as I discuss in the NPR Shots blog post that accompanies this one. The overall flu vaccine effectiveness last year was an uninspiring 23%, low enough to legitimately make you wonder why you bothered if you got the vaccine. But as I explain at NPR based on an interview with CDC influenza medical officer Lisa Grohskopf, the overall effectiveness doesn’t capture the effectiveness of each strain within the vaccine.

A poor match with the H3N2 strain — which caused the most illness and the most serious cases — was responsible for the lion’s share of that low number. Meanwhile, the match between the vaccine strains and the virus strains for B viruses, which circulated the most toward the end of the season, was good enough that the vaccine was closer to 60% effectiveness for those strains. This year, changes to the H3N2 strain for the vaccine should boost the effectiveness and offer a better showing than last year’s lousy run, according to Grohskopf.

With that info out of the way, let’s get to the flu vaccine concerns, with two important notes. First, for those who prefer to do their own research, I’ve provided all my sources in the hyperlinks. More than half of these go directly to peer-reviewed research articles, and a fair number go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Second, but very important: I am a science journalist but not a medical doctor or other health care professional. I’ve compiled research here to debunk common misconceptions and clarify common concerns about the flu vaccine. This post does not constitute a recommendation from me personally to each reader to get a flu vaccine. You should always consult a reliable, trusted medical professional with questions that pertain specifically to you. For the CDC recommendations on the 2015-2016 flu vaccines (including information on which vaccines pregnant women, the elderly and children under 2 should *not* get), please consult the CDC flu vaccine recommendations directly. There are indeed people who should *not* get the flu vaccine.

To make it easier to navigate, I’ve listed all 31 concerns at the top followed by the factual information below it. They hyperlinked facts will jump to that explanation. I use “flu shot” and “flu vaccine” interchangeably to refer to any type of flu vaccine, including the nasal vaccine.

Continue reading “Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – 2015”

The flu can kill – get the seasonal flu vaccine

Every year I, and a lot of other pro-science bloggers, write article after article about getting the seasonal flu vaccine, which, of course, prevents most types of flu. I even have a very popular article that calls health care workers who don’t get their flu vaccines “dumbasses.”

The seasonal flu vaccine saves lives. There is almost no evidence contrary to that fact.

And this week, California public health officials confirmed the first flu-related death of the 2015-16 flu season. The flu victim was under 65 years old and lived in Santa Clara County. Yes, the flu can be most dangerous to the elderly, but it’s also dangerous for those with chronic diseases, the very young, and, frankly, everyone else.

And just as frightening, a baby, less than 1 year old, died of the flu this week in Stanislaus County, CA. If the baby was less than six months old, then she wasn’t eligible for the vaccine, so she was at risk of contracting the disease. I cannot think of anything more painful than imagining what these parents are feeling.

Continue reading “The flu can kill – get the seasonal flu vaccine”

Miracle immune boosting flu protection – Big Pharma hates it

So what is this miracle immune boosting flu protection – is it being suppressed by the CDC, FDA, WHO and the Illuminati? And why does Big Pharma hate it – is it keeping them from printing money?

These are the important questions.

And of course, there are no immune boosting flu protection miracles. Well, except for the one actual miracle – the seasonal flu vaccine, and that’s not a miracle, it’s outstanding science that created it.

It is very safe, unless you ascribe to myths about flu vaccines. It is usually very effective, although the vaccine is based on reasonable and scientific estimates of what mutations will be prevalent during the flu season, and sometimes, they’re off.

Your immune system is very powerful, and, except for instances of chronic diseases or malnutrition, it is always very powerful. You cannot boost your immune system through junk science – one of the few ways to “boost” your immune system against flu is the flu vaccine.

And why does Big Pharma hate the flu vaccine? Because if more people got sick from the flu, they’d make an economic windfall from all of the stuff they’d sell to hospitals. And Big Mortuary would be just as happy. Even though flu vaccine uptake is not as high as we want, it’s still keeping the gold bars away from Big Pharma and Big Mortuary.

And that is a good thing.

Continue reading “Miracle immune boosting flu protection – Big Pharma hates it”

Study affirms value of flu vaccination among the elderly

Every month, there are generally 10-20 new papers published in prominent biomedical journals about vaccines. I try to read most of them, but they’re generally boring. Blah blah blah, vaccines are relatively safe and effective.

I mean how many times am I forced to read an article that supports the scientific consensus about the incredible advantages to human health derived from vaccines. Enough already. Let’s publish something more interesting like the overwhelming safety profile of GMO foods. Oh, we’ve done that.

To be fair, occasionally there are published articles that try to provide evidence that vaccines are dangerous or ineffective. Almost always, those articles are almost always published in very low impact journals, some of them with, at best, cursory peer review.

Given all of the mountains of data that support the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, a dues-paying member of the anti-vaccine world has little choice but to cherry pick articles, though they know that the ones they do pick are often poorly done and published in obscure, very low ranked journals.

Generally, their next step is to then cherry pick a sentence or tiny piece of data out of a larger positive article, so that they can say “see, there’s a conspiracy going on, they’re hiding data.” Let’s take a look at a recent published article where some of this nonsense is happening.

Continue reading “Study affirms value of flu vaccination among the elderly”

No no no. The CDC did not say the flu vaccine was worthless

Seasonal_Flu_Logo-LG

Updated 6 December 2014.

Here we go again. The popular press is once again misinterpreting and overstating infectious disease issues (Ebola anyone?).

NBC reported that CDC Warning: Flu Viruses Mutate and Evade Current Vaccine! Uh oh.

The Guardian blared headlines that Flu vaccine protects against wrong strain, US health officials warn. Run away, it’s the apocalypse!

At least the Health Ranger hasn’t posted anything on Natural News. I should have waited another day. The Natural News publishes its version, CDC issues flu vaccine apology: this year’s vaccine doesn’t work!, using its typical provocative and deceitful headline click-bait.

Time to get a cup of coffee and look at this story a bit more rationally, without the explosive headlines. Continue reading “No no no. The CDC did not say the flu vaccine was worthless”

Did you get your flu vaccination?–2014 version

flu-shot-calendarThere is substantial scientific evidence that the flu immunization is both very safe and very effective. Unless you follow the ramblings of a non-immunologist, non-virologist, non-epidemiologist, non-scientist, Peter Doshi who has published outright fabrications about the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, you probably fall on the side of getting vaccinated. Maybe.

But some people refuse the flu vaccine because of adherence to easily debunked myths and misinformation. If you are on the fence about the flu vaccine, read Tara Haelle’s It’s Baaaaack! 33 Flu Vaccine Myths You Don’t Need to Fear. She worked hard to put that list together, so if you’re on the fence about the flu vaccine, read it before the flu season takes off. You won’t be sorry.

Or you can be a real dumbass and accept the lamest excuses for not getting the flu vaccine.

OK, what is your flu vaccination status? And if you have any comments, just drop them into the Disqus comments below. We’d especially like to hear from people on the fence, maybe we can give you some gentle persuasion to get the vaccine!

The zombie anti-vaccine lie–Peter Doshi and the appeal to authority

flulaval-flu-vaccine

Updated 4 November 2014 to add some ironic analysis of Doshi’s “not-an-epidemiologist” background.

A few  months ago, I wrote an article about Peter Doshi, a Ph.D. who is doing some postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University, one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the USA. Doshi is truly not very notable in science, except last year, he wrote an article about flu vaccines, basically employing the Nirvana Fallacy that because flu vaccines aren’t 100% effective they are worthless. Since vaccines are fundamentally a medical procedure to mitigate risk with a very low risk of adverse events, even 50% effectiveness will save thousands of lives. But we’ll get back to that.

The article he wrote is not actually based on real research, but appears to be an opinion paper–kind of like the opinion papers written by creationists who want to convince anyone who will listen that dinosaurs lived with humans. Doshi denies that most flu’s are even caused by the influenza virus. I guess the CDC’s high tech diagnostic tests for influenza are all wrong. But then again Doshi presents no evidence.

Because of the zombie myths of the antivaccination world, myths or papers that are reanimated every few months because the vaccine denier community actually lacks any fresh evidence to support their nonsense. So Doshi’s paper from 2013 is resurrected in the antivaccination press. A few days ago, an obscure pseudoscience promoting website started banging the drum about Doshi’s comments. The article, found in the Realfarmacy website, has this scary headline: “Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines.” Makes it sound like Doshi wrote another article. Which he didn’t. Continue reading “The zombie anti-vaccine lie–Peter Doshi and the appeal to authority”