“I’m not anti-vaccine, I just don’t believe in flu shots.”
They likely get all other available vaccines for themselves and their kids, but for some reason, they skip the flu shot each year.
I’m Not Anti-Vaccine, I Just Don’t Believe in Flu Shots
Are they just anti-flu vaccine? Is that a thing?
Why don’t they “believe” in flu shots?
Typical answers you might get, if you ask, include:
I never get the flu – since about 5 to 20% of people get the flu each year, it is certainly possible that you never get the flu, especially if you aren’t around many other people that could spread the flu virus to you. But unless you live and work in a bubble, there is a good chance that you will eventually be exposed to someone with the flu, might catch the flu yourself, and will spread it to someone else.
I only get sick when I get a flu shot – flu shots are inactivated and can’t actually give you the flu. Even the live virus nasal mist flu vaccine won’t cause you to have the flu. While flu vaccines can cause mild flu side effects, if you get sick after after a flu shot, it could be that you have another respiratory virus, your flu vaccine didn’t have time to work, or that it wasn’t effective.
Flu shots are too expensive – most insurance plans cover the costs of flu vaccines, but if you don’t have insurance, it is sometimes possible to find free flu shots at a local health clinic, or you could get a flu shot for $24 at Walmart with a GoodRx coupon.
I don’t have time to get a flu shot – do you have time to get sick with the flu? Many doctors now offer regular flu clinics that make it convenient to just come in and get a flu vaccine or if that isn’t possible, you can likely get a flu vaccine at a nearby pharmacy.
Someone on the Internet told me to never get a flu shot because they are poison – if you are avoiding a flu vaccine because you are worried about thimerosal, miscarriages, that they contain a vaginal spermicide, or other misinformation, then you likely aren’t just anti-flu vaccine…
Gloria Copeland told me I didn’t need one – Jesus didn’t give us a flu shot and doesn’t want you to die with the flu, or measles.
Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is a form of acute flaccid paralysis.
“AFM can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many of the same symptoms as other neurologic diseases, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome. With the help of testing and examinations, doctors can distinguish between AFM and other neurologic conditions.”
AFM is similar to transverse myelitis, in that they both affect a person’s spinal cord, but a big difference is that TM results from “an immune-mediated inflammatory attack of a person’s spinal cord.”
“This report and others indicate that AFM represents a unique subset of acute flaccid paralysis distinct from GBS and transverse myelitis. GBS typically presents with an ascending paralysis and can be associated with facial paralysis and sensory symptoms. Children with transverse myelitis have weakness and prominent sensory loss, often manifest as a spinal sensory level. By contrast, the majority of children with AFM have focal, poliomyelitis-like spinal cord paralysis with minimal or no sensory symptoms.”
Recognition and Management of Acute Flaccid Myelitis in Children
And AFM has different symptoms from both TM and GBS.
So why try to connect AFM with TM, GBS, and ADEM? Because they think that vaccines cause TM, GBS, and ADEM.
So are there any legitimate reasons to skip a flu shot?
In fact, three very good reasons to skip a flu shot include:
being younger than 6 months of age
having a severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) after a previous dose of flu vaccine or to any component of the flu vaccine
Actually, although folks might have many of bad excuses, there are only two good reasons to skip a flu shot…
So, infants who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated yet, and anyone who has had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose.
Additional precautions, but not true contraindications, do including having had Guillain-Barré syndrome <6 weeks after a previous dose of influenza vaccine and having a moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever when you are planning to get vaccinated.
Even if you have had a severe reaction to eggs, you can still get a flu shot. Just get it get it in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting (such as a hospital, clinic, health department, or physician’s office), so that you can be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.
Are you skipping the flu shot because you never get sick? How lucky do you feel this year? Don’t continue to gamble that you won’t get the flu. Increase your chances of staying well by getting a flu shot, the best way to avoid the flu.
brought the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to CDC
investigated the swine influenza virus vaccine incident, when it was thought that some people developed GBS after getting the new swine flu vaccine in 1976
His work saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Did he ever tell folks to not get a flu shot?
Was he ever concerned about mercury in flu shots?
Considering that Dr. Langmuir died in 1993, before folks became concerned about thimerosal in vaccines, that’s unlikely. That’s especially so considering that the only place you can find these types of quotes are on anti-vaccine websites.
Still, Langmuir was critical of flu shots.
“From this appraisal of the experience in the past three and one-half years, it is apparent that progress in the control of influenza has not been impressive.”
Langmuir et al. on The Epidemiological Basis For The Control Of Influenza
He didn’t think that they worked well enough. Or more importantly, he didn’t think we had enough information about how well they worked.
“Our information regarding the occurrence of influenza is largely qualitative. Schools close, absenteeism increases, medical services become taxed, virus isolations and serological identifications are made in great numbers, and daily accounts appear in our newspapers and on television. We know we have an epidemic and we know its specific cause, but we have few quantitative measures of incidence, age- and sex-specific attack rates, and character and severity of complications. Further- more, we have only crude data regarding mortality. We do not know what proportion of excess deaths occurs among reasonably active and productive citizens in contrast to deaths among persons who are already invalids suffering from severely debilitating pre-existing disease. Despite this serious deficiency we base our recommendations for vaccine use largely on mortality experience. We undertake major efforts to produce influenza vaccine in large amounts, but we have no meaningful information regarding its actual distribution. We do not know to what extent it actually reaches persons at highest risk.”
Langmuir et al. on A Critical Evaluation of Influenza Surveillance
“The availability of potent and effective measles vaccines, which have been tested extensively over the past 4 years, provides the basis for the eradication of measles in any community that will raise its immune thresholds to readily attainable levels.”
Langmuir et al. on Epidemiologic Basis For Eradication Of Measles In 1967
And concerning all that he did in the field of public health, he is certainly not someone that anti-vaccine folks should be quoting.
“Before the vaccine was developed, the diagnosis of polio required 24 or more hours of paralysis. After the vaccine release, the diagnosis changed to at least 60 days of paralysis. As you can imagine, cases of polio dropped significantly.”
The Myth That Polio Went Away Because They Changed the Diagnostic Criteria
In 1952, there were 21,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States.
But were there really?
Didn’t they change the way they diagnosed polio a few years later, right after the first polio vaccines came out, making it less likely that folks would be diagnosed with polio?
The original diagnostic criteria for polio came from the World Health Organization and included:
“Signs and symptoms of nonparalytic poliomyelitis with the addition of partial or complete paralysis of one or more muscle groups, detected on two examinations at least 24 hours apart.”
It changed in 1955 to include residual paralysis 10 to 20 days after onset of illness and again 50 to 70 days after onset.
“In the past children’s paralysis was often not correctly diagnosed as polio. Stool samples need to be analyzed to be able to distinguish paralytic symptoms from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, transverse myelitis, or traumatic neuritis.”
Polio – Data Quality and Measurement
But you coulld’t just use stool samples, as many kids might have recently had non-paralytic polio, and could test positive for polio (false positive test), but have another reason to have paralysis.
“Isolation of poliovirus is helpful but not necessary to confirm a case of paralytic poliomyelitis, and isolation of poliovirus itself does not confirm diagnosis.”
Alexander et al. on Vaccine Policy Changes and Epidemiology of Poliomyelitis in the United States
Since polio causes residual paralysis, the new diagnostic criteria helped to make sure that kids were diagnosed correctly.
Did We Overestimate the Number of Kids with Polio?
Some folks think that since we changed the criteria, we overestimated the number of kids with polio in the years before the vaccine came out.
Most of this idea seems to come from a panel discussion in 1960 by critics of the original polio vaccine, The Present Status of Polio Vaccines, including two, Dr. Herald R. Cox and Dr. Herman Kleinman, who were working on a competing live-virus vaccine.
None in the group were arguing against vaccines, or even really, that the Salk polio vaccine didn’t work at all though. They just didn’t think that it was effective as some folks thought.
“I’ve talked long enough. The only other thing I can say is that the live poliovirus vaccine is coming. It takes time. The one thing I am sure of in this life is that the truth always wins out.”
Dr. Herald R. Cox on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines
Dr. Cox did talk a lot about the oral polio vaccine. He talked about successful trials in Minneapolis, Nicaragua, Finland, West Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan, and Costa Rica, etc.
When anti-vaccine folks cherry pick quotes from The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion panel, they seem to leave out all of the stuff about how well the oral polio vaccine works.
“Since nothing is available, there seems to be no alternative but to push the use of it. I don’t think we should do so in ignorance, nor too complacently, believing that as long as we have something partially effective there is no need to have something better.”
Dr. Bernard Greenberg on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines
And of course, they did, fairly soon, switch to something better – the Sabin live-virus oral polio vaccine.
Interestingly, using the idea that we changed the diagnostic criteria to make polio go away in an argument about vaccines is known as the Greenberg Gambit.
It tells you something about anti-vaccine arguments, that these folks are misinterpreting something someone said about vaccines almost 60 years ago.
In pushing the idea that polio hasn’t been eliminated, but rather just redefined, they also miss that:
But isn’t polio still around and just renamed as transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and aseptic meningitis?
Let’s do the math.
Using the adjusted numbers in the The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion, there were at about 6,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States in 1959.
While 3,000 to 6,000 people in the United States develop Guillain-Barré syndrome each year, the risk increases with age, and it is rare in young kids. Remember, paralytic polio mostly affected younger children, typically those under age 5 years.
“Transverse myelitis can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families. A peak in incidence rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years.”
Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet
Similarly, transverse myelitis is uncommon in younger children, and there are even fewer cases, about 1,400 a year.
What about aseptic meningitis? That doesn’t usually cause paralysis.
So do the math.
You aren’t going to find that many kids (remember, the incidence was 5-7 per 1,000) under age 5 years who really have “polio,” but instead, because of a worldwide conspiracy about vaccines, are getting diagnosed with transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), or aseptic meningitis instead.
Anyway, kids with acute flaccid paralysis are thoroughly tested to make sure they don’t have polio. And both transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome have different signs and symptoms from paralytic polio. Unlike polio, which as asymmetric muscle atrophy, the atrophy in transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome is symmetrical. Also, unlike those other conditions that cause AFP, with polio, nerve conduction velocity tests and electromyography testing will be abnormal. Plus, polio typically starts with a fever. The other conditions don’t. So while these conditions might all be included in a differential diagnosis for someone with AFP, they are not usually that hard to distinguish.
“Each case of AFP should be followed by a diagnosis to find its cause. Within 14 days of the onset of AFP two stool samples should be collected 24 to 48 hours apart and need to be sent to a GPEI accredited laboratory to be tested for the poliovirus.”
Polio – Data Quality and Measurement
But why be so strict on following up on every case of AFP?
It’s very simple.
If you miss a case of polio, then it could lead to many more cases of polio. And that would tmake it very hard to eradicate polio in an area.
If anything, until the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, it is thought that cases of polio and paralytic polio were greatly underestimated in many parts of the world!
And now polio is almost eradicated.
“DR. SABIN: Let us agree, at least, that things are not being brushed aside. Let us say that we might disagree on the extent to which certain things have received study. But I hope that Dr. Bodian realizes that nobody is brushing things aside. I would not have taken the trouble of spending several months studying viremia with different strains in chimpanzees and human volunteers, and viremia produced by certain low temperature mutants to correlate it with their invasive capacity, if I were merely brushing it aside.”
Live Polio Vaccines – Papers Presented and Discussions Held at the First International Conference on Live Poliovirus Vaccines
If they redefined how paralytic polio was diagnosed in 1955 as part of a conspiracy to make it look like the polio vaccines were working, then why did the number of cases continue to drop into the 1960s?
Shouldn’t they have just dropped in 1955 and then stayed at the same lower level?
And why don’t any of the folks with other conditions that cause paralysis, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) ever have polio virus in their system when they are tested?
Also, if the renaming theory explains why the polio vaccine didn’t work, then why do anti-vaccine folks also need to push misinformation about DDT and polio?
What to Know About Polio Myths and Conspiracies
The near eradication of polio from the world is one of the big success stories of the modern era, just as those who push the idea that has all been faked is a snapshot of society at one of our low points.
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?
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.
“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.