Tag: flu shot myths

Myths About Thimerosal in Vaccines

Over the years, especially since thimerosal was removed from most vaccines, the myths about thimerosal have surprising been increasing.

“Currently, the actions taken by the vaccine manufacturers, the FDA and the CDC have increased the possible maximum childhood exposure to mercury from vaccines to twice the level that triggered the 1999 call to remove mercury from all vaccines as soon as possible!”

Rev. Lisa K. Sykes on “Ten Lies” Told About Mercury in Vaccines

Of course, none of them are true.

Myths About Thimerosal in Vaccines

To begin with, there was no “call to remove mercury from all vaccines as soon as possible.”

Instead, as a “precautionary measure,” the AAP asked vaccine manufacturers “for a clear commitment and a plan to eliminate or reduce as expeditiously as possible the mercury content of their vaccines.”

“In addition, today most tetanus shots and the multi-dose Sanofi Menomune vaccine that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still contain 25-micrograms-a-dose mercury.”

Rev. Lisa K. Sykes on “Ten Lies” Told About Mercury in Vaccines

Other myths about thimerosal include that:

  • After “realizing” the amount of mercury in the childhood vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC exceeded all national and global maximum safety limits, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Public Health Service called for the immediate removal of Thimerosal from all vaccines on July 7, 1999. – the amount of thimerosal in the childhood immunization schedule actually only exceeded EPA guidelines and was well below the guidelines of the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR) or the FDA. Also, since thimerosal-free versions of DTaP and Hib have always been available, only “a minority of infants could receive as much as 187.5 mg of ethylmercury during the first 6 months of life.”
  • children are getting even more mercury from vaccines today than when mercury was removed from vaccines, because pregnant women and kids get flu shots now – this theory doesn’t take into account that thimerosal-free flu vaccines have been available since 2003 and until recently, many kids didn’t get flu shots. For example, during the 2008-09 flu season, only 25% infants and toddlers were fully vaccinated against flu and even fewer pregnant women got flu shots (about 15%). The only way this myth could possibly be true would be if these folks all got a flu vaccine with thimerosal each and every year.
  • even as thimerosal was removed from the DTaP, Hib, and hepatitis B vaccines, kids still got exposed to thimerosal from other vaccines, like Menomume, the meningococcal vaccine –  Although Menomume contained thimerosal, it had only been recommended for high risk kids since it was approved in 1981. It was later replaced by Menactra and Menveo, both of which are thimerosal-free, and which were recommended to all kids as they provided better coverage. Menomume was discontinued in 2017 and it is unlikely that many kids got it once Menactra and Menveo became available.
  • kids still get a tetanus shot with thimerosal – yes, they did, at least until the Tdap vaccines were approved in 2006. Tdap is thimerosal-free.
  • Thimerosal has never undergone even one modern safety test. – although mercury can be toxic, the thimerosal in vaccines has been shown to be safe. That’s not surprising – remember, “the dose makes the poison.”
  • Published studies have shown that Thimerosal and its mercury breakdown product contribute to: Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Arthritis, Food Allergies, Premature Puberty, and Infertility. – thimerosal in vaccines doesn’t cause any of these things, but you can probably find a published study somewhere saying that thimerosal causes Alzheimer’s, cancer, or food allergies, etc., but that just points to how important it is to look to trusted sources of information, as almost anyone can publish a bad study
  • Contrary to sound bites you hear on the nightly news, to be “anti-mercury” is not to be “anti-vaccine.” – if this is true, then why did Robert F. Kennedy, Jr write an editorial against University of Colorado students who passed a resolution for meningococcal B vaccines, which are thimerosal-free? And why push so much propaganda about thimerosal?
  • Corresponding to the sharply increasing level of mercury in the immunization schedule globally, which started in the late 1980’s, there has been an increasing rate of autism among children. This also explains why autism among 40-, 50-, 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds is not epidemic, but rather rare. – this is one of the main problems of the anti-vaccine movement… if you believe that autism is an epidemic, then there must be a cause and it becomes easy to blame vaccines. You also have to ignore the fact that there are plenty of autistic adults.
  • Among the Amish who do not vaccinate, the rate of autism is strikingly low. – there are autistic Amish
  • Unused vaccines with a preservative level of Thimerosal, however, are considered hazardous waste because of their high mercury content. If not injected into patients, discarded vials of these mercury-preserved vaccines, therefore, must be disposed of in steel drums, by law. – this is not true – at all… you also don’t have to call a Hazmat team if you break an unused vaccine vial with thimerosal…
  • …instead of requiring immediate removal, the CDC allowed the pharmaceutical companies to save money by using up their inventories of mercury-containing vaccines. By 2003, the industry had finally used up stocks of thimerosal-containing vaccines and Thimerosal is no longer used in these three vaccines. – the only basis for this statement is that the last thimerosal containing DTaP, Hib, and hepatitis B vaccines expired in 2003, but it is important to keep in mind that most vaccines are used well before their expiration date. In fact, many doctors order vaccines every month, so as to not keep large supplies of vaccines in their office, and since thimerosal-free versions were already available, those likely would have been ordered.
  • The term “trace amounts” means less than 1 microgram (mcg). Thimerosal-containing flu shots contain what in biochemical terms is actually a massive dose of mercury: 25 mcg. – vaccines labeled as having a trace amount of thimerosal have less than or equal to 1mcg, while others are clearly labeled as having up to 25mcg.
  • Why do I call that massive? Because the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum exposure limits for methyl mercury is .1 microgram per 1 kilogram of bodyweight, which means a baby would have to weigh 550 pounds to safely absorb 25 micrograms of mercury. At these levels, a growing fetus in a mother receiving the flu shot could get up to a million times the EPA’s safe levels. – wait, what? First, that is the maximum recommended daily exposure limit based on the assumption that the exposure to mercury will continue for long periods of time. That’s not the case when a pregnant woman gets a one time flu shot. And it is the pregnant mother who is getting the flu shot, not the baby. Although some thimerosal will cross the placenta, it is still not in levels that will cause harm, so calling the dose massive ends up just being an obvious propaganda tool to scare folks.
The review, Thimerosal and Autism?, explains why autism and mercury poison really don't share symptoms.
The review, Thimerosal and Autism?, explains why autism and mercury poison really don’t share the same symptoms.
  • Autism and mercury poisoning have the same symptoms. – they don’t… In fact, there are many reports of epidemics of mercury poisoning throughout history that weren’t associated with autism, including in Minamata and Niigata, Japan, exposures from mercury in teething powders and worm medicines (pink disease), and food contamination in many countries.

“Yet mercury had long been the every-day treatment of infants at the time of teething in the form of teething powders.”

Ann Dally on The Rise and Fall of Pink Disease

Although it is hard to believe now, mercury wasn’t taken out of teething powders until 1957, after which time pink disease quickly disappeared. Why was mercury in teething powders in the first place? Unlike thimerosal in vaccines, I don’t think it was acting as a preservative, as it sounds like it was present in very high doses. So there was a lot of risk with no benefit.

Sounds like the opposite of what we had with thimerosal in vaccines – lots of benefit (vaccines didn’t get contaminated) with no risk.

But taking thimerosal out of vaccines was risk-free too, wasn’t it?

Nope. That’s another myth.

“Unfortunately, the precautions taken by the AAP and CDC calling for thimerosal removal from vaccines appears to have led to unintended risks. In particular, inappropriate recommendations by autism advocacy groups regarding treatment of autism (e.g., use of chelation) and avoidance of vaccines (e.g., influenza vaccine) may mislead parents to place children at unnecessary risks.”

Hurley et al on Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines and Autism: A Review of Recent Epidemiologic Studies

In addition to anti-vaccine folks continuing to push myths about thimerosal to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, some missed out on getting vaccinated and caught life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.

What to Know About Thimerosal in Vaccines Myths

Don’t believe any of the myths about thimerosal in vaccines. Vaccines are safe and necessary.

More on Thimerosal in Vaccines Myths

Why Does the FDA Warn About Mercury in Fish, but Not Mercury in Flu Shots?

The FDA and EPA began to warn certain high risk groups about eating fish that might be contaminated with high levels of mercury in 2004.

Although it was known that “nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury,” this wasn’t thought to be a health concern for most people. Higher levels of mercury in certain fish could be though, especially for young children, nursing mothers, pregnant women, and women who might become pregnant.

That’s why the EPA and FDA recommended that those high risk groups not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish (have highest levels of mercury) and limit eating other fish that are lower in mercury.

Why Does the FDA Warn About Mercury in Fish, but Not Mercury in Flu Shots?

So why do experts warn about mercury in fish, but don’t warn about mercury in vaccines?

Trace Amounts on “Ten Lies” Told About Mercury in Vaccines
Trace Amounts thinks that they have uncovered “Ten Lies” about mercury in vaccines

While that is a good question, the most obvious answer is that there are a very limited number of vaccines that you can get that contain any mercury (thimerosal), while if there was no warning, you could theoretically eat a ton of fish that are contaminated with at least some mercury.

And since 2001, thimerosal-free versions of non-flu vaccines have been available. There has also been an increasingly large supply of thimerosal-free flu vaccines available since 2003.

So how much mercury from vaccines could pregnant women and young children really be getting?

Remember, the only routine vaccines that pregnant women get are Tdap (never contained thimerosal) and the flu vaccine. And all of the routine vaccines young children receive are now thimerosal-free, including DTaP, Hib, IPV, Rotavirus, and Prevnar. All children should also get a flu vaccine once they are six months old, but like the flu vaccines for pregnant women, thimerosal-free flu vaccines are available.

Still, if they didn’t get a thimerosal-free flu shot, it would mean that they got the amount of mercury from one flu shot each year, or 25mcg. Some children could get up to 50mcg if it was their first season getting a flu vaccine, as they might need two doses of the flu vaccine.

The FDA and EPA offer very specific recommendations on how much fish to eat to avoid mercury.
The FDA and EPA offer very specific recommendations on how much fish to eat to avoid mercury.

How much mercury do you ingest when you eat fish? It depends on the fish, which is why the recommendations on which fish to eat and avoid are so specific. In general, it can range from 4mcg for salmon, 60mcg for canned albacore tuna and 170 mcg for swordfish.

While you are supposed to avoid the fish with the highest mercury levels, you might be eating the other fish each week, so unless you don’t like to eat fish, it is almost certainly going to quickly add up to much more than you get from your yearly flu vaccine, which you likely avoided anyway by getting a thimerosal-free flu shot.

And with fish, the mercury is in the form of methymercury, 95% of which is absorbed into your bloodstream. In contrast, thimerosal in vaccines breaks down to ethylmercury and is eliminated from your body quicker than methylmercury.

But if fish contains mercury, why not just tell people to avoid eating fish?

“Most fish are an excellent source of high quality protein. Fish are also important sources of selenium, zinc, iodine, iron, and other minerals needed by the body. Fish are natural sources of many B vitamins, and oily fish provide vitamins A and D. Studies with pregnant women have found that the nutritional benefits of fish, like other protein-rich foods, are important for their children’s growth and development during pregnancy and childhood. Most fish are low in fat, and most of the fat that is present in fish is healthy polyunsaturated fat. The polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are also present in many types of fish. Research is still underway to determine the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.”

Questions & Answers from the FDA/EPA Advice on What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know about Eating Fish

Fish have a lot of important nutrients, so are good to eat. So you balance the benefits of eating fish with the risks of mercury contamination and we get the sensible advice to limit the amount of fish you eat.

When you do the same kind of analysis of the risks and benefits of vaccines, even those with thimerosal, the benefits are still greatly in favor of getting vaccinated to prevent life-threatening infections. Remember, thimerosal was removed from vaccines as a precautionary measure and not because it was proven to be dangerous. In fact, many studies have shown that thimerosal in vaccines is not harmful.

What to Know About Mercury in Fish and Vaccines

Comparing mercury in fish and vaccines is like comparing conventionally grown apples and pears, at least it would be if someone figured out how to make an edible vaccine in the form of a pear.

More on Mercury in Fish and Vaccines

I Refuse to Listen to Bad Advice About Flu Shots, and I Won’t Apologize for It

The only thing that seems to be more rampant than the flu this season are the articles pushing people to skip a flu shot.

POPSUGAR moms will hopefully go somewhere else for advice about flu shots.
POPSUGAR moms will hopefully go somewhere else for advice about flu shots.

They. Are. Everywhere.

I Refuse to Listen to Bad Advice About Flu Shots

Why are we seeing so many folks attacking flu shots lately?

It’s simple. A bad flu season reminds people that they should get vaccinated and protected. We see the same thing when there are outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis, etc.

And then those folks who are truly anti-vaccine have to come out and justify why they still don’t believe in vaccines.

That leaves us with arguments like this:

“Whenever I start to get worried that I’ll end up with the flu if I don’t get the shot, I remember that it isn’t always effective.”

Jen Glantz on Do You Need To Get A Flu Shot?

It is true that the flu shot is not always effective, but if you are only going to use things that are 100% effective, then why would you take “lots of vitamins and natural supplements” when you have the flu, things that have been shown to be ineffective?

“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?”

Jen Glantz on Do You Need To Get A Flu Shot?

Uh, if you want to try and avoid any sickness, why not get a flu shot? Even when it isn’t as effective as we would like, a flu shot can help reduce your chance of hospitalization, serious flu complications, and of dying with the flu.

“Have you ever taken a step back and learned more about what the heck is actually inside the flu shot? ”

Jen Glantz on Do You Need To Get A Flu Shot?

I know exactly what’s in the flu shot.

Does anyone at POPSUGAR?

Got something you want published online? Head over to POPSUGAR...
Got something you want published online? Head over to POPSUGAR…

Even with a disclaimer from an Editor, POPSUGAR should be ashamed of themselves for publishing an article that says the flu shot is filled with toxins. In addition to an ingredients list, the CDC explains that “all ingredients either help make the vaccine, or ensure the vaccine is safe and effective.”

Flu shot ingredients are not toxins!

“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.”

Jen Glantz on Do You Need To Get A Flu Shot?

The flu is a virus, not a bacteria, but I get the point that the author is attempting to make. The thing is though, that while the human body is certainly incredible, relying on it to get you over the flu is not always an easy ride. We often have to pay a high price for natural immunity.

And the people who die with the flu don’t die because of poor hygiene or because they don’t take enough vitamins and supplements. They die because they have the flu. And more often than not, especially in the case of children, because they are unvaccinated.

“For some people, getting the flu shot is at the very top of their to-do list, but for me, it’s something I refuse to do. And that’s OK too.”

Jen Glantz on Do You Need To Get A Flu Shot?

It is certainly OK that Jen Glantz doesn’t get a flu shot each year. At least it is OK as long as she doesn’t get the flu and give it to someone else.

It is not OK that POPSUGAR gives her a voice on such an important topic. Don’t listen to them.

It’s not as big a deal when she writes about the “importance” of drinking both hot and cold water each day, drinking apple cider vinegar for bloating, the best baby names of the year, or how to pee when wearing a wedding dress. That’s the kind of clickbait type content you expect from a POPSUGAR type site.

But scaring people and making them think that there are toxins in flu shots?

Save it for GOOP.

What to Know About Bad Flu Shot Advice

This year’s bad flu season wasn’t limited to folks getting sick… There was also a lot of bad flu shot advice going around.

More on Bad Flu Shot Advice

Can Vaccines Cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

People with Guillain-Barré syndrome develop the rapid onset of muscle weakness and then paralysis. They may also have numbness and a loss of reflexes.

Unlike some other conditions that cause weakness and paralysis, GBS is a symmetrical, ascending paralysis – it starts in your toes and fingers and moves up your legs and arms.

What Causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

If you want to avoid GBS, skip raw milk, not your vaccines.
If you want to avoid GBS, skip raw milk, not your vaccines. (CC BY 2.0)

GBS is an autoimmune disorder and often starts after a viral or bacterial infection, especially one that causes diarrhea or a respiratory illness.

One of the biggest risk factors is a previous Campylobacter jejuni infection, that is often linked to drinking raw milk, eating undercooked food, drinking untreated water, or from contact with the pet feces.

In less half of cases, no specific cause is found.

Fortunately, although progress can be slow, many people with GBS recover.

Can Vaccines Cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is actually a table injury for the seasonal flu vaccine.

“On very rare occasions, they may develop GBS in the days or weeks after getting a vaccination.”

CDC on Guillain-Barré syndrome and Flu Vaccine

It is not common though.

For example, the increased risk of GBS after getting a flu vaccine is thought to be on the order of about one in a million – in adults.

Flu vaccines have not been shown to cause GBS in children.

“The risk of GBS is 4–7 times higher after influenza infection than after influenza vaccine. The risk of getting GBS after influenza vaccine is rare enough that it cannot be accurately measured, but a risk as high as one case of GBS per 1 million doses of flu vaccine cannot be reliably excluded.”

Poland et al on Influenza vaccine, Guillain–Barré syndrome, and chasing zero

It is also important to keep in mind that you are far more likely to get GBS after a natural flu infection than after the vaccine, plus the flu vaccine has many other benefits.

What about other vaccines?

“In this large retrospective study, we did not find evidence of an increased risk of GBS following vaccinations of any kind, including influenza vaccination.”

Baxter et al on Lack of association of Guillain-Barré syndrome with vaccinations

No other vaccines that are currently being used routinely have been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

In fact, many studies do not even find an association between GBS and the flu vaccine.

What to Know About Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccines

Guillain-Barré Syndrome may be associated with the flu vaccine in adults in about 1 in a million cases, but does not occur with any other vaccines, and occurs far more commonly after a natural flu infection.

More on Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccines

Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Is this going to be the worst flu season in history?

The editors from The New York Times really want to know if this is the worst flu season since...
The editors from The New York Times really want to know if this is the worst flu season since…

That certainly seems to be how the media is playing it.

Have you read any of these articles?

  • California’s deadly flu season could be worst in a decade
  • Defending against this season’s deadly flu: 5 things to know
  • The CDC says this year’s flu may reach ‘epidemic’ proportions
  • Worst of deadly flu season may still be to come, Dallas County officials say
  • Texas Is Suffering Through its Worst Flu Outbreak in Decades
  • Hospital Overrun By Flu Cases Having To Turn Them Away
  • Get ready, some medical experts are predicting the worst flu season in history

Worst flu season in history? Really?

Flu Season Hazard

Flu season can be deadly.

That’s not hype.

That’s why every one should get a flu shot each year.

Early flu seasons can be bad.

Why? They overlap with RSV season. That means that everyone is sick at the same time with bronchiolitis, croup, colds, and the flu.

They are especially bad because many people haven’t taken the time to get their flu shot yet.

And an H3N2-predominant flu season can be especially bad. In addition to high levels of pediatric flu deaths, the CDC reports that the four flu seasons that were H3N2-predominant in recent years were “the four seasons with the highest flu-associated mortality levels in the past decade.” H3N2 virus strains drift easily, so that flu vaccines are less effective.

Flu Season Hype

Right off the bat, one big problem with most of these headlines, and the way that this year’s flu season is being hyped, is folks going out of their way to use the word “deadly” every chance they can.

Every flu season is deadly!

And guess what?

Flu season reaches “epidemic proportions” each and every year!

“The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year. This time of year is called flu season.”

CDC on Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season

And we get to the point, in many cities, where a hospital fills up for a few days and has to turn away flu cases. It happens with RSV too. Its called a “code Yellow” in some hospitals.

The biggest problem with the current news coverage though, is that there hasn’t been much evidence that this is going to be the worst flu season that we have seen, although it is starting to live up to some of the hype.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu season runs from about September to May. Most years in Texas, a number called the ILI percentage — the number of patients doctors see with flu-like symptoms — checks in at about 2 percent or 3 percent during the offseason and crests to about 6 percent during the worst of the flu season. This year, according to a model developed by a Carnegie Mellon University team led by Roni Rosenfeld, Texas’ ILI percentage has already risen above 13 percent.”

“This is really record-breaking. In the last 20 years [the estimated number of people presenting flu symptoms] hasn’t reached that height,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s the highest it’s been this early in the season, and it’s the highest it’s been period.”

Dallas Observer on Texas Is Suffering Through its Worst Flu Outbreak in Decades

Do you know what is wrong with that report in the Dallas Observer?

texas-flu-season-ili

It misses that the ILI percentage was above 14% in Texas during the 2014-15 flu season too! So no records were being broken.

texas-flu-ili-more-years

The ILI percentage was actually between 10 to just over 14% for three out of four years recently.

Will hyping the flu to make it sound even more dangerous scare folks into getting a flu shot?

Probably not, as the media is also doing a good job of scaring folks into thinking that the flu shot isn’t effective this year!

Routine CDC Telebriefings during flu season used to be a good way of keeping this kind of hype down. We don’t seem to have them anymore…

(We did finally have one the week after I first posted this article though…)

Flu Season Hype or Hazard

What does any of this mean for this year’s flu season?

The New York Times had a good story, with a good headline to match:

They unfortunately followed it up with one that didn’t really seem to fit what the CDC is telling us…

An important take away from their first story? It actually reported on a lower hospitalization rate (at the time, it has since increased) this year than the 2014-15 flu season.

So far, this year's flu season is closely following the 2014-15 flu season.
So far, this year’s flu season is closely following the 2014-15 flu season.

Why is the 2014-15 flu season important?

For one thing, looking at real data and not just trying to scare folks, we can say that this year’s flu season has looked a lot like the 2014-15 flu season. That was also an H3N2-predominant flu season that got off to an early start, but tragically, ended up killing at least 148 children.

The 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like the 2012-13 flu season.
The 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like the 2012-13 flu season.

I’m sure that few people remember, but the 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like another  H3N2-predominant flu season – the 2012-13 flu season. That year, we also got off to an early start and again, tragically, we ended up with 171 pediatric flu deaths.

So, is this going to be a bad flu season?

Is there ever a good flu season?

“This season now looking like the 2014-15 season where H3N2 predominated.”

Dan Jernigan, MD, MPH Director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

It’s hard to predict, but the odds are strongly against this being the worst flu season in history.

This year’s flu season is starting to live up to some of the hype though.

“The overall hospitalization rate is higher than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-2015 season; the most severe season in recent years.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

On the other hand, fewer pediatric flu deaths have been reported so far (84 pediatric deaths) this year than at the same point in the 2014-15 (86 pediatric deaths) flu season.

Flu is still widespread in 48 states, but some evidence that we are peaking.
Flu is still widespread in 48 states, but some evidence that we are peaking.

And ILI has finally peaked (hopefully).

At 7.5%, it is the highest we have seen since the 2009 pandemic.

“The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States during October 1, 2017 through February 10, 2018 were characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2017–18 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”

CDC Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report

And we don’t have a mismatched flu strain or a strain that has drifted to be concerned about.

That doesn’t mean that the flu vaccine is going to work perfectly, by any means, but initial reports are that this year’s flu vaccine is much more effective than expected.

It's sad that Inside Car News had a better headline for their story on the effectiveness of this year's flu vaccine than Fox News, the WSJ, and HuffPo.
It’s sad that Inside Car News had a better headline for their story on the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine than Fox News, the WSJ, and HuffPo.

The best news, besides a very good supply of flu vaccines and anti-viral medicines, like Tamiflu, this year?

We saw the same H3N2 strain in the United States last year. Although that might not guarantee immunity if you had the flu last year, it should offer some protection against severe disease.

Also, we have some new flu vaccines, including the cell-based vaccine, Flucelvax, and high dose flu shots and flu shots with adjuvants for adults 65 years of age and older.

Still, like most H3N2-predominant flu seasons, it will at best be a moderately severe flu season.

Worst ever? That’s doubtful.

Ignore the hype, but don’t ignore the advice to get vaccinated and protected against the flu. It’s never too late to get a flu shot. Even with an early start, flu season will continue into the spring.

What to Know About Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Like other H3N2-predominant flu seasons, this year’s flu season will be moderately-severe, but warnings that it could be the worst flu season ever are likely just hype.

More on Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Updated February 17, 2018

Vaccine Billboards

Have you heard about the vaccine billboards?

A billboard in Minnesota educates parents about the benefits of the chicken pox vaccine.
A billboard in Minnesota educates parents about the benefits of the chicken pox vaccine.

Good idea, right?

Billboards to educate people about the importance of getting vaccinated and protected certainly do sound like a good idea.

That’s likely why some folks co-opted the idea and has started putting up their own anti-vaccine billboards pushing classic myths and anti-vaccine talking points.

Vaccine Billboards

Would seeing a billboard remind you that vaccines are necessary?

 

A billboard warning about the oversized influence of Hollywood celebrities who are anti-vaccine.
A billboard warning about the oversized influence of Hollywood celebrities who are anti-vaccine appeared by the Denny’s on Sunset Blvd and Van Ness Ave in Hollywood, CA.

Protect your children. Immunise.
A billboard in Australia to boost immunization rates.

HPV Vaccine is Cancer Prevention.
A billboard in Chicago for the HPV vaccine.

Fact: Vaccines save lives.
A billboard in Springdale, Arkansas that encourages passersby to vaccinate.

The best shot is a flu shot.
Flu shot billboard in Chicago.

Get your flu vaccine.
Flu shot billboard in Missouri.
Vaccines Save Lives Get Vaccinated Today

This billboard of the from Immunisation WA was vandalized with graffiti to display the name of an anti-vaccine group.
This billboard from the Immunisation Alliance of WA was vandalized with graffiti to display the name of an anti-vaccine group.

A vaccine billboard in Texas.
A vaccine billboard in Texas.

immunity-bb
Vaccines Save Lives! billboard in San Francisco.

An HPV vaccine billboard in Wisconsin.
An HPV vaccine billboard in Wisconsin.

Need to learn the risks of ignoring these billboards and their advice to get fully vaccinated and protected?

In the pre-vaccine era, we had outbreaks of polio, and other, now vaccine-preventable diseases.
In the pre-vaccine era, we had billboards warning us of outbreaks of polio, and other, now vaccine-preventable diseases.

Get educated and get vaccinated.

Vaccines are safe, vaccines work, and vaccines are necessary.

What to Know About Vaccine Billboards

Vaccine billboards are one way to help educate folks that vaccines are safe and necessary and remind them to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Vaccine Billboards

How Effective Is the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine works.

How well does it work?

It depends…

How Effective Is the Flu Vaccine?

What does it depend on?

“The vaccine effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccines is a measure of how well the seasonal influenza vaccine prevents influenza virus infection in the general population during a given influenza season.”

WHO on Vaccine effectiveness estimates for seasonal influenza vaccines

Is the flu virus that is going around the same strain that was picked to be in the flu vaccine?

Once upon a time, we didn't have flu vaccines to help keep us healthy.
Once upon a time, we didn’t have flu vaccines to help keep us healthy.

Has the flu virus drifted, even if it is the same strain that is in the flu vaccine, becoming different enough that your protective flu antibodies won’t recognize it?

Is the H3N2 strain of flu virus the predominate strain during the flu season? H3N2 predominant flu seasons are thought to be worse than others.

In general, the flu vaccine is going to be less effective in a season where there is a poor match between the circulating strain of flu virus that is getting people sick and the strain that is in the flu vaccine, especially if it is an H3N2 strain that has drifted.

That’s why, since the 2004-05 season, the average flu vaccine effectiveness has been about 41%.

How Effective Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine?

It’s probably also why, every year, we seem to hear the same questions:

  • Should I get a flu vaccine? – yes, definitely
  • Will we have enough flu vaccines? – while historically there have been some delays and shortages, we have a very good supply of flu vaccine this year, between 151 to 166 million doses
  • How effective is this year’s flu vaccine???

Unfortunately, we usually don’t know the answer to that last question until this year’s flu season really gets going.

What about reports that the flu vaccine effectiveness will be as low as 10% this year?

It is important to note that those reports are not based on flu activity in the United States and it has been a long time since we have seen flu vaccine effectiveness that low – the 2004-05 flu season. That was the year that because of a drifted A(H3N2) virus, “only 5% of viruses from study participants were well matched to vaccine strains.”

The 10% number is instead based on reports of Australia’s flu season, in which early estimates found that the A(H3N2) component of the flu vaccine was only 10% effective. Importantly, the overall vaccine effectiveness was much higher. Including other strains, the flu vaccine in Australia was at least 33% effective this past year.

“In the temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere, influenza activity typically occurs during April – September.”

CDC on Influenza Prevention: Information for Travelers

Couldn’t we see a drifted A(H3N2) virus this year?

Sure, especially since an A(H3N2) virus will likely be the dominant strain, but so far “data indicate that currently circulating viruses have not undergone significant antigenic drift.”

“It is difficult to predict which influenza viruses will predominate in the 2017–18 influenza season; however, in recent past seasons in which A(H3N2) viruses predominated, hospitalizations and deaths were more common, and the effectiveness of the vaccine was lower.”

CDC on Update: Influenza Activity — United States, October 1–November 25, 2017

Again, it is too early to predict how effective the flu vaccine will be, but based on an undrifted H3N2 virus that is matched to the vaccine, you might expect an effectiveness between 30 to 40%.

It might be less if theories about egg-adapted mutations are true and are a factor this year.

“…some currently circulating A(H3N2) viruses are less similar to egg-adapted viruses used for production of the majority of U.S. influenza vaccines.”

CDC on Update: Influenza Activity — United States, October 1–November 25, 2017

It is also important to keep in mind that vaccine effectiveness numbers from Australia and the United States don’t always match up.

For example, in 2009, Australia reported an interim flu vaccine effectiveness of just 9%, but in the United States, the flu vaccine ended up being 56% effective! On the other hand, in 2014, the flu vaccine worked fairly well in Australia, but vaccine effectiveness was found to be just 19% in the United States.

Vaccine Effectiveness by Year
Australia United States
2007 60% 2007-08 37%
2008 NE 2008-09 41%
2009 7% 2009-10 56%
2010 73% 2010-11 60%
2011 48% 2011-12 47%
2012 44% 2012-13 49%
2013 55% 2013-14 52%
2014  50% 2014-15 19%
2015  ?% 2015-16 48%
2016  ?% 2016-17 42%
2017 33% 2017-18 ?%

What does all of this mean?

Not much.

“This season’s flu vaccine includes the same H3N2 vaccine component as last season, and most circulating H3N2 viruses that have been tested in the United States this season are still similar to the H3N2 vaccine virus. Based on this data, CDC believes U.S. VE estimates from last season are likely to be a better predictor of the flu vaccine benefits to expect this season against circulating H3N2 viruses in the United States. This is assuming minimal change to circulating H3N2 viruses. However, because it is early in the season, CDC flu experts cannot predict which flu viruses will predominate. Estimates of the flu vaccine’s effectiveness against circulating flu viruses in the United States will be available later in the season.”

CDC on Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season

The reports about what happened in Australia should not have made headlines beyond Australia.

Folks should have waited for the yearly report on flu vaccine effectiveness from the CDC, which usually comes out in the middle of February. This year, that report states that:

  • the overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against influenza A and influenza B virus infection associated with medically attended acute respiratory illness was 36%
  • vaccine effectiveness was estimated to be 25% against illness caused by influenza A(H3N2) virus, 67% against A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, and 42% against influenza B viruses
  • the flu vaccine offered statistically significant protection against medically attended influenza among adults aged 18–49 years with an adjusted vaccine effectiveness of 33%

What about kids?

“…among children aged 6 months through 8 years, the interim estimates against any influenza and A(H3N2) virus infection were higher; the risk for A(H3N2) associated medically-attended influenza illness was reduced by more than half (59%) among vaccinated children. Also, with interim VE estimates of 67% and 42% against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 and B viruses, respectively, vaccination provided substantial protection against circulating A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, as well as moderate protection against influenza B viruses predominantly belonging to the B/Yamagata lineage, the second influenza type B component included in quadrivalent vaccines.”

CDC on Interim Estimates of 2017–18 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2018

So the flu vaccine ended up being a lot more effective than folks predicted, especially in younger, higher risk kids, although it is still far from perfect.

Unfortunately, this year’s flu vaccine was not effective at preventing medically-attended influenza illness (flu case that sends you to see a doctor) for the 9 to 17 year old age group for some reason. That’s still not a good reason to skip the flu vaccine if your child hasn’t had it though, as the flu vaccine might still work to help your child, even if doesn’t fully prevent a case of the flu.

The Flu Vaccine Works

Getting a flu vaccine has many benefits with few risks and can:

  • reduce your chances of getting the flu
  • reduce the chances that your newborn gets the flu if you get your flu shot while pregnant
  • lead to milder symptoms if you do get the flu
  • reduce your risk of being hospitalized
  • reduce your risk of dying from the flu

And while it isn’t perfect, getting a flu vaccine is certainly better than remaining unprotected and simply taking your chances that you won’t get the flu and complications from the flu.

What to Know About Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

Although the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year, depending on how well matched the vaccine is to circulating flu virus strains, which strains are dominant, and whether they have drifted, it is always a good idea to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Flu Vaccine Effectiveness