2018 Flu Season and Immunization
Well, we're solidly into flu season, and health officials are bracing for a potentially miserable winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October, peaking between December and February, although activity can last until as late as May. The bottom line is that we're in the early stages of peak flu season, and as I said, health officials are expecting a rough one.
The first clue was the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, which was hit hard this summer and fall with a flu strain that's notorious for causing severe illness, especially in seniors. (Note: flu season in the Southern hemisphere is both the opposite of ours and precedes ours. In any case, Australia had a worse flu season than usual this year, with at least 170,000 laboratory-confirmed cases reported to its National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.1 That's almost 2½ times more infections than last year. And most of those were influenza A (H3N2). H3N2 is particularly nasty, and some 81% of the flu deaths in Australia this year came as a result of this strain.
And yes, although strains that circulate in the Southern Hemisphere usually spread to North America and Europe, there's no guarantee that it will be equally problematic in the Northern hemisphere. Still, the odds are better than even, and as Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says, H3N2 is a "bad actor."
As of the beginning of December, the CDC had reported more than 13,400 confirmed cases in the United States, with widespread flu activity reported in 23 states. By the end of December, that had climbed to 36 states. CDC's flu forecasters say there's only a 30 percent chance the season has already peaked, and a 60 percent chance that the greatest incidence will be by late January. In fact, flu season normally peaks near the end of February. But these numbers represent just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The CDC estimates that the flu virus has caused between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses in the U.S. each year since 2010. Those cases resulted in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations, and an average of about 36,000 deaths each year--just about the same as deaths from automobile accidents.
In any case, the earlier start this fall, as well as the increasing activity in many parts of the country, have health experts concerned that, as was seen in Australia, this is going to be a more severe season than usual. In the past, the medical community has claimed that flu vaccines are up to 90% effective in preventing the flu, but as we've discussed in previous newsletters, this claim was based on a ridiculous study that found that flu vaccine was not only effective at preventing flu mortality, it also prevented death from lightning strikes, car crashes, and terrorist attacks. And despite this nonsense, many doctors still cite it. In any case, the CDC now claims a more "reasonable" 40-60% effectiveness in any given year.2 But that all depends on how accurately researchers predict what strains of flu will be circulating in any given season. Unfortunately, it looks like they guessed wrong this year. As it turns out, about half of the H3N2 flu strains in circulation this year are different from the strain included in this year's flu vaccine. That means the vaccine is unlikely to offer adequate protection from the newer strains. In fact, it is the same vaccine that was used during Australia's most recent flu season -- which typically sets a pattern for what the U.S. will face -- and it was only 10 percent effective there. Note: flu constantly evolves, forcing new vaccine to be brewed each year to match the strains specialists expect to cause most illness. And the vaccines have to be designed and made months in advance of flu season. In other words, it's too late to incorporate any changes in this year's vaccine.
Now, just because this year's vaccine is unlikely to prevent you from getting the flu, that doesn't mean it's useless. Vaccination is not just about preventing the flu. It's also about what happens if you get it. A study published just last May in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and the overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.3 The study looked at hospitalized flu patients during 2013-2014 and compared patients who had been vaccinated to those who had not. The observed benefits were greatest among people 65 years of age and older, which is notable because people in this age group are at increased risk of serious flu complications and have the highest hospitalization rate among all age groups. The study found that vaccinated adults were 52-79% less likely to die than unvaccinated flu-hospitalized patients. In other words, an unvaccinated hospitalized flu patient is 2 to 5 times more likely to die than someone who had been vaccinated--all things being equal. (We'll talk later about how you can change those odds.)
And a study published in the Nov. 17 issue of PLOS ONE, found that young children who were fully vaccinated against influenza saw their risk of hospitalization due to influenza infection drop by 60 percent overall.4 Even for children partially vaccinated against influenza (i.e., those who received one dose of influenza vaccine during their first influenza season), risk of hospitalization due to influenza dropped by 39 percent.
The bottom line, if you are to believe the CDC, is "Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season."5
As for safety, the CDC claims, "Flu vaccines have [a] good safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines." Sounds good until you dig a little deeper. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) reports that each year a number of claims are made and paid out for injuries/deaths resulting from the side effects of seasonal flu vaccine.6 These include:
- Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration
- Vasovagal syncope
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome
It should be noted that the flu vaccine consistently tops the NVICP list. For example, according to the Department of Justice, 70 vaccine injury/death claims were compensated in just the last quarter of 2013.7 Forty-two of them, or 60% of the total awarded claims, resulted from the flu vaccine. And most of those were for Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Now, to be fair, these complications are rare given the number of flu vaccinations given each year, but if you or someone you love is the one who gets injured or dies, then rarity is probably not a mitigating factor in your mind. Incidentally, total compensation paid out over the life of the program is about $3.6 billion.8 That's a lot of serious side effects.
Then again, in our continuing attempt to be fair and balanced, it should also be noted that these numbers probably represent just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What percentage of families that are harmed by the flu vaccine are even aware that there is a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program? And of those who are aware, what percentage actually marshal up the resources and energy to file? I'm guessing both numbers are very small. And on top of that, only around 50% of all claims are actually awarded. The bottom line is that it is highly likely that the number of people harmed by flu vaccination is many multiples higher than the 42 per calendar quarter we see in the DOJ report. Add to that the number of people harmed in all of the countries outside of the US where there is no compensation fund--and thus no incentive to file a claim--and the numbers are likely to be quite disturbing.
A Quick Note on Thimerosal
As we will see in moment, the issue of thimerosal is moving towards moot, but it's still worth discussing briefly.
I've been accused by the medical establishment of saying that Thimerosal causes autism, but I've never said that. (It would appear that accurate reading is not a required skill for graduation from medical school.) In fact, I think the evidence in support of the thimerosal/autism connection is sketchy at best. But that doesn't mean I think thimerosal is safe. On the contrary. I think it makes no sense to use one of the most toxic, cumulative poisons found in nature, mercury, as a vaccine preservative--especially in children's vaccines--when perfectly viable alternatives exist. By definition, cumulative poisons do not fully clear the body, and they build with each progressive trophic level no matter how much you urinate or defecate. Lead is another example of a cumulative poison.
Thimerosal, which is 49 percent ethylmercury, adds to those levels. Yes, it is true as the CDC says that ethylmercury is different from methylmercury (the kind found in fish) in that its half-life in the body is shorter than that of methylmercury's so that most of it tends to clear the body more quickly than methylmercury.9 But "most" doesn't mean "all," and it doesn't mean it's safe. In fact, studies have shown that what doesn't clear tends to concentrate in the brain even more so than methylmercury.10 And indeed, there have been a number of studies that indicate that ethylmercury is highly problematic.11 And any form of mercury in the brains of children is especially problematic.
In any case, as I mentioned earlier, the question of thimerosal is becoming moot as it has, for several years, been removed from all children's vaccines. Nevertheless, it was, until recently found in all flu vaccines, which have been recommended for all children above the age of six months. This year, that has changed with MOST, but not all, flu vaccine now being thimerosal free.12 Bottom line: if you opt to get a flu shot for your child, just make sure it's a thimerosal free version.
How Flu Kills
According to a recent CDC Press Release, it is estimated that there are between three to five million cases of severe illness worldwide as a result of the flu and some 291,000 to 646,000 deaths each year.13 The CDC also estimates that yearly flu-related deaths in the U.S. range from 12,000 to 56,000.14 They go on to clarify, "Seasonal influenza-related deaths are deaths that occur in people for whom seasonal influenza infection was likely a contributor to the cause of death, but not necessarily the primary cause of death."
According to a recent CDC Press Release, it is estimated that there are between three to five million cases of severe illness worldwide as a result of the flu and some 291,000 to 646,000 deaths each year.
There are several reasons for this lack of precision. First, many people with influenza do not have the tests done to prove the diagnosis. Also, by the time someone is admitted to a hospital, it may be because they now have pneumonia, which leads to heart failure and death. Is that recorded as death from heart failure, or from the influenza that opened the door to pneumonia?
Which leads us to the question: what exactly is an influenza-related" death? And the answer is that almost no one dies from the flu itself. Instead they die from complications associated with the flu, from "doors" that the flu opens.
Sometimes the immune system's reaction to the flu virus is so strong it unleashes what is known as a Cytokine Storm, which destroys so much tissue in the lungs that they can no longer deliver enough oxygen to the blood, and you die.
More often, though, the virus so taxes the resources of your immune system that it opens the door for a secondary infection to take advantage, leading to pneumonia. Pneumonia is simply a term used to describe an inflammation of the airspaces in the lungs usually caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. A bacterial infection in the respiratory tract can potentially spread to other parts of the body leading to septic shock or a systemic inflammatory response that damages multiple organs--including the heart. Unfortunately, I'm very familiar with this sequence of events since that's how my mother died some 30 years ago: flu à hospital à pneumonia à heart attack à death.
Flu Vaccination--The Bottom Line
As I mentioned at the top of the top of the newsletter, no one likes what I have to say about vaccinations. The medical community is dismissive of anyone who doesn't wholeheartedly support vaccines, and the alternative health community despises anyone who doesn't wholeheartedly condemn them. Saying, "the issue is more nuanced than that," makes neither camp happy. Alas, it happens to be true.
I think part of the problem lies in the word "vaccinations." By lumping all vaccines together, it takes away our ability to see differences. It's kind of like the word "backpain." Yes, all forms of backpain share certain things in common, but there are also many different causes of backpain, and they all have to be diagnosed individually and treated according to their specific cause. Likewise, each vaccine is different. Each vaccine has its own:
- Level of effectiveness (The smallpox vaccine was almost universally effective; this year's flu vaccine appears to be only about 10% effective.)
- Duration of effectiveness (Smallpox vaccine was good for seven-10 years; the flu vaccine, just one.)
- Side effects (From redness and swelling at the injection site all the way up to paralysis and/or death.)
- Chances of causing serious injury or death (And this is the big one isn't it? Not surprisingly, your odds of suffering a serious side effect from a vaccination are often more nuanced than claimed by the medical community.)
Take the flu vaccine. The odds of serious injury or death from any given flu vaccination are quite low, as claimed by the mainstream. But, remember, with the flu vaccine, you have to get vaccinated every year. That means you face those odds, not just once every 10 years, as with measles and smallpox vaccinations, but yearly. Let me show you how that changes your odds.
Let's say that the odds of you having a bad reaction to the flu vaccine are one in 100. And let's say you get vaccinated every year of your life until you're 100. What are your odds of having a bad reaction? Are they 1%?
- As it turns out, it's easier to ask the question in reverse: what's the probability that you don't have a bad reaction in 100 vaccinations? (It's easier because you're asking for an exact number-- the probability that you'll see exactly 0 bad reactions in 100 vaccinations.) And the answer to that is just the base probability of 99% (you have a 99% chance of not having a bad reaction to any one vaccination) multiplied by itself 100 times, or 0.99¹°°, which equals about 0.366.
- So, you have a 36.6% chance of not having a reaction. By subtraction, that means you have a 63.4% of having a bad reaction at least once in those 100 vaccinations.
- Bottom line: although the odds of a bad reaction to any one vaccination may be low, the more times you're vaccinated the worse your odds get. The medical community never mentions this when they talk about getting a yearly flu vaccine. They present the odds as if you're only getting one flu vaccination in your life. That's pretty disingenuous.
So, what does that mean when talking about getting vaccinated for anything, and then, specifically for the flu?
It means you have to look at each vaccine on its own merits. If you work on a farm, where cuts and scrapes while working in the dirt and exposure to animal excrement are common, the risk of tetanus is high. On the other hand, the risk from a tetanus vaccination is low; it's efficacy is high; and re-vaccination is only required every 10 years. It would be hard to make a good argument against getting vaccinated--especially considering how gruesome death from tetanus is.
The flu vaccine, on the other hand, presents a different scenario. Certainly, the risk of exposure to the flu virus is high, but the efficacy of the vaccine is iffy--just 40-60% on average and 10% for this year's version.15 And although the risk of serious side effects for any single vaccination is low, that risk, as we've already seen, is compounded by the fact that re-vaccination is required every year. It has a saving grace, though, that needs to be factored into any evaluation. Studies seem to confirm that even if a particular vaccination may not protect you against getting the flu, it seems to lessen the intensity of that flu if you do come down with the virus.
Now, Let Me Be Clear
I'm not saying that pharmaceutical companies are good guys or that vaccines are harmless. When it comes to vaccines, the pharmaceutical companies have both exaggerated their benefits and under stated their side effects. And the medical community has colluded (to use the word of the day) in spreading these distortions through the mainstream media. But to be fair, the anti-vaxxer movement is also guilty of bending reality--both overstating the case for side effects and understating the benefits. I am reminded of the woman who wrote in after reading one of my articles on vaccines--focused primarily on measles.
"There is so much evidence against the dangers of vaccines, publishing this article does you no favours! Here in the UK hundreds of thousands of young children's lives have been so terribly damaged by vaccines, they will never live a normal life. Their parents have such a burden to carry, the whole business is beyond words. The government's response................they shut them up!"
"In my article, I acknowledge that vaccines are not as safe as claimed, but "hundreds of thousands" of victims "terribly damaged" in the UK alone seems a skosh high. Do you have any references that can validate that number in any way other than just an article written by someone asserting it? We can find validated numbers that show 3,000 new cases of measles every year in the UK, whereas, just a few decades ago it was virtually non-existent. Incidentally, measles kills 150,000 children worldwide every year. And that number is documented. And that is indeed a heavy burden for parents to carry--beyond words."
Not surprisingly, I never heard back from her. Lies have their own momentum, no matter which side of the debate they come from. As long as something supports what people already believe in, it will be circulated on the net, gaining power with each share. It doesn't matter if it's one doctor telling another about a study she read "proving" that the flu vaccine is 90% effective or someone in the UK forwarding on a claim that vaccines have terribly damaged hundreds of thousands in the UK alone. Either way, it's fake news.
Once you step back and choose to look at things as they are rather than how you preconceive them to be, things are pretty simple.
- Vaccines don't work as well as promised
- Aren't as safe as advertised
- But also, not as useless as the anti-vaxxer movement claims
- Nor as dangerous as they assert
Yes, you can find people who have been damaged or even killed by a vaccination. Absolutely! It happens. But you have to weigh that against, the hundreds of thousands or millions who die each year from the diseases in question. I do not say this lightly. As I've told you all before, my youngest brother suffered severe brain damage from the triple shot he received back in the early ‘60s. There is a reason the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has paid out over $3.6 billion dollars in the US alone. But that needs to be balanced against the millions of people who have not been damaged or killed by diseases such as smallpox, polio, or measles as a result of vaccinations. And I do not say this lightly either. As I explained earlier, my mother died of complications from the flu. You better believe I wonder if things would have been different had she been vaccinated. (She wasn't.)
The bottom line is that if everybody chills out and backs off from the false facts that underlie the arguments on both sides, there is room for a reasoned discussion on the issue of vaccination. Sadly, that does not appear to be a likely option anytime in the foreseeable future.
So, What Do You Do?
Any vaccination, whether it's for you or your children, should be a personal choice. (Sadly, many states are moving away from that option.) But that choice should be based on facts, not fear and emotion. Don't be bullied by the medical community and their media shills into believing that every vaccine is 100% effective and perfectly safe. None of them are, and each vaccine is different as to where it falls in terms of those criteria. And don't be bullied by friends and family who insist that no vaccine or doctor is to be trusted since it's all a conspiracy orchestrated by big pharma to kill you and your children. It's not. Again, each vaccine is unique in terms of how effective it is and what risks it carries. When it comes to vaccines, there are no guarantees--only odds, and they vary from vaccine to vaccine. Make your decision based on facts, not bloviation.
And what about the flu vaccine specifically? Again, base your decision on the facts. And no, the medical community does not have exclusive access to facts. As we've already stated, some of what they say about the flu vaccine is pure nonsense, such as claims of 90% effectiveness and 100% safety. But keep in mind, vaccination "may" be useful in lessening symptoms even if you get the flu despite being vaccinated--no better than a coin flip, of course, in its best years.
In any case, whether you get vaccinated or not, you will want two things in your medicine cabinet:
- A natural immune enhancing formula to lessen your chances of getting sick in the first place. A strong immune system is still your best bet in avoiding the flu. Not to mention the fact that if you do get vaccinated, the stronger your immune system, the more effective your body's response to the vaccine will be.
- A natural antipathogenic formula to lessen the burden on your immune system if you do come down with the flu. This will drastically reduce your chances of experiencing a cytokine storm, minimize your odds of succumbing to a secondary infection, as well as shorten both the duration and intensity of any flu that you do get--regardless of whether or not you've been vaccinated.
And finally, keep your eye out for the next generation of flu vaccine. Instead of targeting specific vulnerabilities in specific flu strains (the current approach--and one that needs to be repeated every year), new research is taking an entirely different direction.
A virus has been described as looking like a ball with lollipops stuck all over its surface. The candy balls on the top of the lollipops are the proteins hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. Hemagglutinin attaches to human cells to initiate an infection; neuraminidase, on the other hand, plays a key role in spreading the virus once infected. Currently, all flu vaccines target these two proteins. Hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, by the way, are the H and N in flu names such as H3N2. From year to year, those proteins change enough to fool your immune system, and that's why you need a new vaccine every year. New research, however, is successfully looking at ways to attack the stem of the lollipops. That's harder to do, but if you can pull it off, the stems don't change from year to year. You're now talking about one vaccine and one vaccination per decade that would:
- Prevent all strains of flu regardless of how much the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase change
- Not need to be changed from year to year
- In fact, not need to be given every year
- Last for at least 10 years before requiring a booster shot
In terms of moving the odds in favor of getting a flu vaccination, that's potentially a game changer--depending on side effects.
For more information on vaccines in general and the flu vaccine in particular--including a more detailed discussion of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase and the different strains of flu--check out Vaccines: Good or Bad?
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