More on the flu vaccine…

Having just been through a bout of Something Flu-ish, and living in a household with two small but generally healthy children, I’ve been paying more attention to the whole flu vaccine debate than I perhaps normally would.  People’s passions are running very high, and the whole question of herd immunity (i.e. if enough crazy fringe people refuse the vaccination, they may be endangering the rest of the population, say the pro-vac people) takes it out of the “do what’s right for you and your family” area where most parenting decisions can semi-comfortably reside.

So…another post about the flu and the whole vaccination debate.

There’s a lot of good stuff being written out there.  There is also a lot of pretty senseless dopey stuff being written out there.  I’m going to try to use this post to link to various articles and sites and discussions I’ve found, and I will try to include balanced debate that doesn’t just hold up my own opinion of things. 

I plan to update this particular posting as often as I find new info to add; please, if any of my readers have found other good sources for info or discussion, I’d be delighted if you’d add them to the comments. 

And let me also just say: What I would like to find, more than anything else, is a documented scientific study which demonstrates that flu vaccination actually does prevent a person from getting the fluThat is an aspect of the whole thing that pro-vaccine people seem to take as an assumption, because it’s been done for so many years and fewer people seem to be dying of the flu.  But the article I cited in my last post, from the Atlantic, referred to another study which pretty much demonstrated that the vaccine for the ever-changing battalion of influenza viruses, unlike more static diseases like polio (which vaccination has pretty much eliminated), actually may not work at all or make any difference in the progression of the illness in the general population.  And I’m still waiting for the scientific document that debunks it.  (When the response to an article is “Oh for God’s sake that’s ridiculous, of course vaccination works, look at polio, and besides we’ve been doing it for years and fewer people are dying of the flu so of  course it works,” that isn’t enough for me.)

So: TO VACCINATE OR NOT? LINK ROUNDUP:

The original article I cited in my first post, from The Atlantic, asks, “Does the Vaccine Really Matter?”–with some startlingly good documentation and statistics. (It’s long, but worth reading all 5 pages.)

A commenter on my original post offered a rebuttal and an article with interesting insights into the herd immunity thing from The Economist.

Dr. Sears and Dr. Jay Gordon also both weigh in on the vaccine topic.

PhD in Parenting, a really amazing blog, unapologetically engages the question “Are people who don’t get the H1N1 vaccine idiots?” –after citing and heavily quoting another blogger (Chad Skelton of the Vancouver Sun) who says they are.  This is a good balanced post with also a lot of pretty good and balanced debate in the comments–including one by a woman who knew (I think) a child who died of the flu (actually, she refers to “a child in our area,” which makes me take the account with a slight sodium chloride crystal), and another whose son is 5 years after birth still dealing with vaccination-triggered health problems.

(One of my favorite quotes from the above, from the blog author herself but in the comments: “A comment that I read somewhere that made a lot of sense and that I tweeted about was this: – When someone with an underlying condition and swine flu dies, they died of swine flu – When someone with an underlying condition who got the H1N1 vaccine dies, they died of their underlying condition”  Hmm.)

The Wikipedia article on the vaccine has a lot of just basic info about its production and stuff. You’ll also want, of course, to check out what the CDC and flu.gov have to say. (UPDATE: a reader in the comments also pointed me to another CDC vaccine effectiveness site, this one with some real science and statistics behind it.)

My aunt worked in Yemen with the State Department for a year. While there, she learned that Al Jazeera is actually a really amazing source of “real” (i.e. light on CAFO sewage) news.  After reading this web article detailing which manufactures of the flu vaccine contain thimerosal, which are nasal spray, which contain egg protein, which contain live virus, which are licenced in the U.S., and so forth, I have to agree.  It’s one of the more info-filled, least hype-driven, most balanced articles on the topic I’ve yet read.

WebMD reports that there were 19 new child deaths of H1N1 last week.  This is, of course, terrible. However, the article does not specify at all where those deaths occurred, or what the circumstances were; I really wish I knew more.  It’s very vague.

A fairly terrifying article from the Washington Post posits CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) pork farms as incredibly efficient breeding and mutation grounds for various flu bugs, and no one is testing the pigs for the disease.  (By the way, it’s also clear, as is everything you read anywhere with any sense, that you can’t get the flu from eating pork.)

UPDATE: There’s a theory out there that Vitamin D deficiency may have something to do with who contracts the flu and how bad it is. I don’t quite get it, but there it is.  And that flu season coincides with when the sun becomes less available and kids don’t play outside much any more…maybe? I’m skeptical of this one.

UPDATE: A few days ago, a Toronto teen named Evan Frustaglio died of the flu very suddenly and unexpectedly. This understandably set off a huge firestorm of panic…he did not appear to have any underlying conditions, and the news reports say that his official cause of death was the flu. Explanation for the suddenness of his symptoms coming on could be an immune over-response called “cytokine storm,” where the immune system mounts a too-strong attack against the invaders and winds up killing the victim–thus a partial explanation why death is more likely in young and “healthy” individuals as opposed to children or elderly whose immune systems are compromised in some way. (The Washington Post has an article about what’s happening in Mexico City, related to this…)  (Thanks to EcoYogini for alerting me to the Toronto situation!) (UPDATE on Evan Frustaglio: apparently an autopsy was not conducted, despite notes from news sources confirming that H1N1 was the cause of death. So there is no way to be sure whether there was an underlying or exacerbating condition–like meningitis, speculated by many–that caused the death.  Not to downplay the boy’s tragic death at all, but again, it’s all very vague…) (thanks to Karen for the heads-up in the comments! )

EcoYogini herself has a nice balanced post that’s worth a read too…

UPDATE: This post on ScienceBasedMedicine.org is also pretty good, talks about both the successes and the limitations of influenza vaccinations as a whole, and why it’s so difficult to even test whether they are effective, and how effective they are.

UPDATE: CBS News addresses the abrupt decision by the CDC to stop tracking H1N1 cases.

*********

Does anyone else have any good places where they’ve gotten info or insights? Again, please remember, I’m not looking for further citations of what the CDC says, anecdotal tales of how you were vaccinated and no one in your family caught it, how it’s no different from regular flu vaccinations (whichever side of the debate that puts you on), and stuff like that–I’m looking for as-close-to-actual-scientific-fact-and-news as possible here.  Recognizable sources, legitimate info, you know what I mean. 

For me–one of my life philosophies has always been, “don’t just do something, stand there!”–as in, I will generally refrain from action until I am satisfied that taking action will have some substantive result; I don’t usually act for the sake of acting, and certainly not just because it’s what everyone else is doing. (One could say I’m very grounded and wise; one could also say I’m possessed of a bone-deep laziness. I’ll never voluntarily divulge which it is.)  So we are not vaccinating.  But I’m really interested in actually learning about what’s out there…

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Posted on November 1, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. so interesting- I read your post and thought, weird I was thinking of writing about my experience today.

    Thanks for such fantastic links- it is tricky to find legit stuff out on the big internet.

    My post probably isn’t what you’re looking for though- being Canadian-based and all. I was surprised to read so many differences!

    I do know that there have been two child Canadian deaths in the past week. One of a 13 year old boy who collapsed Sunday and passed away Monday. No underlying medical concerns. The other I can’t quite remember- but I do know there were also no health concerns other than the virus. Parents, understandably, have been panicking since then and Ontario has been inundated with irate, scared and frustrated parents trying to get vaccinated for their children.

    strange times.

  2. I know you’ve talked about the CDC advice, but have you checked out the studies that the CDC references? They only refer to three studies, but they’re multi-year, multi-state studies. They’re not specifically for the H1N1 flu, but they discuss the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in general, they break it down by age and condition, and they talk about years when the vaccine wasn’t well-matched to the strain as well as years when it was.

  3. “What I would like to find, more than anything else, is a documented scientific study which demonstrates that flu vaccination actually does prevent a person from getting the flu.”

    I’m afraid you won’t find that anywhere… not rock-solid proof, anyway. May I quote from the documentation from the Canadian vaccine (I would assume the US version has something similar):

    “As with all vaccines, AREPANRIX™ H1N1 may not fully protect all people who are vaccinated.”

    Re: the boy in Ontario, it was a really sad case and I feel awful for his parents. But there is no hard evidence that H1N1 killed him, as there was no autopsy done. He apparently did come down with the virus, but some speculate that it was meningitis or some other infection that actually killed him. No one knows for sure – but it sure lit up the vaccination campaign, nationwide.

  4. greenmomintheburbs

    Karen–
    Thanks for your comment–the note about the boy in Ontario is interesting too; the news reports all seemed to say that he’d been autopsied and H1N1 was the official cause of death…If you have any links to this I’d appreciate it! (I’ll go poking around a bit too…)

    The freaky thing about the vaccine seems to be that it works least on the “highest risk” populace (elderly and infant) and best on those least likely to catch or have a serious case of the illness anyway. The herd immunity question seems to have some validity, but even so…

  5. http://www.nationalpost.com/m/story.html?id=2149855

    They did schedule one for the Tuesday after he died, but apparently it never took place… some sites say the parents declined, others say the coroner’s office didn’t do one.

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