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ventilatorIt has come to my attention recently that there are people with CF, or CF in their family who are anti-vaccination. This baffles me. It’s the beginning of fall right now in the northern hemisphere, and pharmacies are starting to advertise the Flu shot that is available to customers. There’s always been confusion in the general (healthy) public about getting the flu shot, and with the disinformation spread around social media, the confusion is increasing. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to read that a few people in the CF community have been fleeced into believing various anti-flu shot related discourse.

Let’s start with a few statistics. Last year in America, there were over 100 deaths of children with the flu. 90% of those children were unvaccinated. 40% were healthy and with no previous health complications.[1] The CDC reports that in the last two flu seasons, only around half of children were vaccinated against flu. This is appalling. It’s not just children who are at risk either, last year’s flu hit adults pretty hard too, overwhelming many clinics and hospitals with ‘Influenza Like Illness’ and killing an undocumented number of adults, both in healthy and high-risk groups.

So why do people still refuse to get flu shots? Especially if they are, or are living with someone who is, in a high risk category? This is the list I’ve compiled of the most frequently mentioned excuses for not getting immunized, and my answer to them. It hardly covers everything I’ve ever heard, but it touches the most important points:

I used to get the Flu vaccine every year, but I still got Flu anyway.  The flu vaccine is not 100% effective, no vaccine is, but it does protect the vast majority of the population, and reduces your risk significantly. The flu shot is not a live virus, so it cannot give you the flu, only a mild immune reaction from the shot. The nasal spray is live but weakened, and is not recommended for anybody who lives with someone, or is in a high risk group. The flu shot takes about 2 weeks to give full protection, so if you got the flu after getting a flu shot, you were already infected and it took some time to manifest symptoms.

Finally, a cold is not the flu. Too many people mistake feeling severe cold virus symptoms as the flu. If you have CF, the flu will probably knock you on your ass, land you in the hospital, and make you think you’re dying. This is not preferable compared to feeling miserable and missing 3 days of work. Now, if you are one of the very rare cases who got a flu shot, and still got actual flu, it’s because you got a strain that was not covered in the current year’s inoculation, or the vaccine protected you from a more severe course of illness.

I never get the flu vaccine, and I never get sick. Well haven’t you been lucky! But you do realize those two statements have no causal relationship, right? If you get sick this year, it will be because you didn’t get the vaccine. More importantly, if when someone else gets sick this year, it could be because you didn’t get the vaccine.

The flu vaccine is full of toxins, and chemicals that are classified as carcinogenic by the FDA. Vaccines often contain ingredients that can sound scary, or have a bad reputation. The first thing to remember is, the dose makes the poison; every chemical can be lethal, even water. The dosing in a vaccine is very precise, and specified as such after lengthy and high quality examination which concluded them to be well below the confines of what is considered safe levels. Secondly, these ingredients are not just thrown in to poison an unsuspecting public. They have a purpose, and are necessary for the efficacy and preservation of the vaccine.

The ingredients typically decried in the flu vaccine are thimerosal and formaldehyde. Thimerosal has mostly been removed from all vaccines, period, but still remains used as a preservative in multi-dose flu vaccines, which is not what most people get anyway. The reason people think it’s scary is because it breaks down to ethylmercury, which has the word mercury in it, so it must be a poison.  Factually, ethylmercury is a larger, safer molecule than the accumulative neurotoxin methylmercury, and is eliminated by the body in just a week. See what a difference one letter can make in chemistry?

Formaldehyde gets a bad rap because it preserves body parts in glass jars in creepy science labs. Reality is that formaldehyde is created in our bodies as a byproduct of our metabolism, as it helps form amino acids. In a typical flu vaccine, there is between 5-100 µg (micrograms) of formaldehyde. To give perspective, a single pear contains 39,000-60,000µg of formaldehyde. [2]

Other scary sounding chemicals like Triton X-100, and elements off the periodic table which have been used in detergents or antifreeze or insert-skull-and-crossbones-product here make people feel uneasy about what the ingredients they’re being injected with are. However, as with all things in chemistry, a component of a poison, is not the poison itself, and everything in the flu vaccine has been studied thoroughly, and found to be safe in that dose.

Natural immunity is better than artificial immunity. There’s that word again. Natural. Followed by better.  For some reason anything artificial is considered bad when, in actuality, it is not. In the case of immunity, the very same antibodies are created whether you were exposed to the pathogen through a shot, or survived a harrowing illness filled with fevers, breathlessness, pain, and mucus. Also something to consider, when you are sick with the flu virus, your immune system is lowered because of the severity of what it’s fighting. This leaves you vulnerable to pneumococcal pathogens and other diseases. By getting your immunity the “artificial” way, you keep your immune system armed for the other viruses and bacteria that you’re prepared for.

Making a new vaccine each year only makes the flu virus stronger. Simply put, no, the flu doesn’t become more dangerous as new vaccines are created. The science behind viral evolution is complicated, and not something I am qualified to explain, however, it’s not the vaccines that are causing genetic changes each year within the influenza genome. It is true that the flu is constantly changing, as its genome replicates and rearranges segments. There are two types of change, antigenic drift and antigenic shift. Basically drift amounts to small changes that are phylogenetically similar, and can all be covered by an umbrella of what is called “cross-protection” within the immune system. However, once those changes have accumulated enough to become unrecognizable to the antibodies in your system, there comes a need to update the vaccination to appropriately recognize the new changes.

In contrast, an antigenic shift is when there is a sudden abrupt change in the virus, such as when an animal subtype introduces different proteins into the genome and humans have no immunity to it yet because it is not even remotely similar to anything we’ve fought before. This is what happened with the severe H1N1 flu virus, or swine flu. Shift happens only occasionally, and is not a sign of the virus becoming stronger. Influenza type A can be subject to both antigenic drift and shift, where as Influenza type B will only undergo antigenic drift. [3]

Vaccinations are just Big Pharma’s way to bring in guaranteed annual income. The faceless conglomerate “Big Pharma” admittedly has some shady practices that they profit from. That doesn’t mean that what they’re selling doesn’t work. In the case of vaccines, they make very little profit compared to the billions that they would make in hospitalizations and clinic visits if everyone were to not get vaccinated and the flu spread like wildfire across the population. So what if they make money. They’re a business. They also keep millions of people alive with products that have been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy before hitting the market, an upfront cost which needs to be recouped and marked up if they are going to be able to invest anything into future products.

I can avoid the flu with a healthy diet and regular hand-washing.  While those two things are important, and should be done, they can’t protect you the way a vaccine can. The flu doesn’t care how good of nutrition you consume, or how clean you keep your hands and home. It is an airborne virus that can infect anybody, healthy or not. Additionally, it can kill anybody, healthy or not.

Vaccination is not just done to protect the individual, it is to protect the public. Herd immunity is a real thing, and the people who cannot vaccinate, say because they have had a transplant, or are undergoing chemotherapy, or are a tiny baby, all depend on the rest of us to keep them from catching that virus that could kill them. Most CF patients have experienced lung disease to a point where they know how hard it is to breathe and live with pain, exhaustion, and congestion. Imagine how much worse it would be with a serious infection like the flu.

The major point I want to convey about the seasonal flu vaccine is this: You exist in a world with other people. As such, it would be selfish and irresponsible to neglect vaccination when you are healthy enough to get one. You may be comfortable with the idea that you can handle the flu, but how well will you carry the knowledge that whatever anecdote or paranoid myth that prevented you from getting a flu shot was the reason another person got sick or died.

AUTHOR NOTE:

I realize that some people reading this will dig in their heels over this information. I can’t help them, no amount of facts can change their belief, and unfortunately this post may prove useless in reaching the people who really need to be reached. If you believe that the CDC, FDA, and Big Pharma are out to get you; to kill you, profit off you, whatever illogical plot you have conjured up in your head, then you are too far gone to be reached. I cite government sources because they are factual, accurate, and based in science. I get paid nothing for this, I just want to live in a world where people don’t die from preventable illness.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/children-flu-deaths.htm

[2] http://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_fa/files/formaldehyde.pdf

[3] http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/change.htm