I had an email from a friend today, advising against getting a flu vaccine and voicing suspicion at the value of inoculation. Admittedly this particular friend was talking specifically about the flu 'mist' spray that apparently is prevolent in US pharmacies. He also received received some poor medical advice when his GP recommended a TB injection without first doing a 'Mantoux' test but . . . it got me thinking about the value of inoculation and the controversy that it sometimes raises.
We've all got one of those little scars on our left upper arm yes? Was it worth it. I mean as a child I had measles and mumps, I never had whooping cough but often heard my father talking about the diphtheria and polio ambulances taking children away from his working class Manchester street. And even our local swimming baths in Stockport were closed due to a polio outbreak in the early 60's.
When I was at school, it was common to see children in leg calipers, recovering from the debilitation of polio and when I was 10, Sabin syrup delivered liberation and became a mandatory medication, paid for by public health.
Now I'm not for or against flu shots. Had one last year and got a pretty nasty cold, didn't have one this year and escaped the 'flu' even though those around me had some pretty nasty bouts of the real deal. Personally, we provide them for staff members who want them and with varying levels of success but if you're aged, young or vulnerable, I can't see the harm in protecting yourself from a thoroughly miserable state of affairs. Out here, people catch heavy cold and call in sick with 'the flu'. Influenza is worse, you ache, you fever, you feel like your teeth are going to fall out and your head is going to burst. I actually have had real full blown influenza twice in my life. Once as a child, once as an adult and neither experience was pleasant.
A common myth about the flu shot though is that it can actually cause the flu, this is total rubbish. It’s a dead virus in injection form. The bigger problem is that people often wait too late to have the vaccine and have not built an immunity before being exposed to live flu viruses. The other problem is that this rapidly mutating virus has changed and the protection you've received, no longer applies to the new upgraded virus. It's like working on Windows 2000 and not being able to upload SP2 because your system won't allow it. The injection should be administered in March in the Southern Hemisphere and in August in the Northern Hemisphere to allow immunity to develop. But the flu shot used is made from dead influenza viruses, which means that it's impossible to catch the flu by receiving it. You might have an allergic reaction if you have a problem with eggs (the virus is bread in albumen) or soreness on the site but that’s common with injections.
There is a nasal spray flu vaccine which is made from live viruses, it may cause flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever. I don't think it's available here. These symptoms however, hardly require emergency room treatment unless perhaps you have a child with a fibrillating temperature - symptoms are relieved by using paracetamol and bedrest, even if you do feel like death warmed up. Or are we a bit tough out here? Emergency is for when you’re leg’s hanging off or your brain’s squeezing out of our ears and it annoys me intensely that people use casualty departments in hospitals for sniffles and sneezles. There’s absolutely no point going to the emergency department for flu! It’s incurable. Symptoms can be treated with high fluid intake, bedrest and over the counter pain relief. And if you've had a flu shot, and the strain hasn't mutated, 'she'll be right' as we say down under.
The way flu works is it constantly mutates like a cold virus so the vaccines/mists contain amounts of viruses from the previous season – over here, the three most common influenzas from the previous year are included in the following year’s inoculations. Drug companies do need to manufacture flu viruses and other pathogens in order to make the vaccine. Much as other antigens and anti-venines are developed from live cultures. In fact we inject horses with snake and spider venom in order to extract anti-venine from their blood! Now there’s a shot you’d be glad to have in a hurry! Pharmaceutical companies also manufacture or maintain things like like Anthrax/Smallpox - I've even heard Bubonic Plague - but not to kill everyone! Except when a rogue employee decides to pop a bit in envelopes! Oh and the usual ‘reserve’ stocks for potential biological warfare - now there's a bit of viral conspiracy theory I do believe but the dangers of releasing a virus is that it's totally indiscriminate, air or water borne? Doesn't make sense - how do you know you'll only affect your target. Mustard gas or Cyanide is far more effective!
People who should not get a flu shot include:
anyone who's severely allergic to eggs and egg products (ingredients for flu shots are grown inside eggs)As for other inoculations, I am a believer. We’ve all but eradicated TB, Smallpox, Diphtheria, Polio, Whooping Cough, Measles, Mumps, German Measles and many other diseases that used to be endemic in the Western World. We even inoculate teenagers against cervical cancer!
infants under 2 years old
anyone who's ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination (although most people do not experience any side effects from the flu shot)
anyone with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare condition that affects the immune system and nerves
anyone with an existing fever
Unfortunately a belief that a reaction might be severe is preventing some people from inoculating their younglings and these diseases are enjoying a recurrence. Particularly TB and whooping cough. Sure, every one-in-a-million might suffer a debilitating reaction, in which case it sucks to be you, but these diseases are childhood killers and the lives saved are immeasurable.
My mother had TB when nursing infected children in the 50’s. This resulted in a lung lobe being removed at 20 years of age, mere months after she married and a subsequent TWO YEARS of bedrest and sunshine until an appropriate antibiotic was available. Had Streptomycin and a TB vaccine been available then, she would have survived intact with healthy lungs and would have also survived the head on collision that killed her in 1992. The collision punctured her remaining lobe. I certainly wish that there had been a TB vaccine for her those years ago. She'd still be popping in for a cup of tea at 10:30 after her shift!
Even Clare, a total needlephobic to the point of veins collapsing and fainting spells, inoculated herself before her travels. She suffered Hepatitis, Malaria, Cholera, Tetanus and Typhoid injections and luckily has enjoyed robust health during her travels in many far flung and tropical and disease ridden places.
The only conspiracy here is drug companies making a shit load of money out of the production of relatively cheap vaccines and flogging them for a hefty price. Drug companies want us alive and paying for our medication! Quite contrary to my friend's, friend's theory that the Government uses vaccines in an effort to reduce the population.
Hard as it is to watch your kid squirm under the threat of a Triple Antigen or your teenager object to Rubella and Mantoux testing, to my mind, it's worthwhile and nothing that a lollipop afterwards can't fix.
Personally, I think we've dropped the ball on vaccination. We've forgotten that whole Asian, Melanesian and Polynesian populations were decimated by measles and smallpox brought by the white man. We've forgotten that only 30 years ago, smallpox vaccination was mandatory to come to Australia and that curable diseases plagued our indigenous populations - oh yes it was - we all had festering sores on our arms as the then live vaccine did its inoculatory work before we emigrated. Would you believe that in the 60's you even needed a Cholera vaccination if you wanted to travel to Europe.
So my friend. . .much as you might think there's a conspiracy out there, I would rather live in the disease free world that Westerners enjoy today than take the risk of infection. As for the third world, if only they had the ability to pay, I'm sure there would be a vaccine against AIDS! There's no profit in protecting Africans.