We’re rerunning this blog today in light of the recent release of a new video at the Autism Media Channel with some very damning quotes about the effect of the mercury in flu shots when administered to pregnant women.
“You know, in the United States, the only vaccine it’s (Thimerosal) still in is for pregnant women. I can say confidently I do think Thimerosal causes tics. So I don’t know why they still give it to pregnant women. Like, that’s the last person I would give mercury to. Thimerosal from vaccines cause tics. You start a campaign, and just make that your mantra. Do you think a pregnant mother would want to take a vaccine that they knew caused tics? Absolutely not! I would never give my wife a vaccine that I thought caused tics. I can say tics are four times more prevalent in kids with autism. There is biologic plausibility right now to say that Thimerosal causes autism-like features.”
There’s a bite in the air, houses are bright with holiday lights, and the malls are playing Christmas carols incessantly. Yes, it’s that time of year again: flu season. It seems that you can’t go anywhere without seeing a sign telling you to get your flu shot right here! It seems like every pharmacy out there just can’t wait to shoot you up.
When I was younger, most people got their flu shots at clinics sponsored by their employers, when they dragged a nurse and a few thousand needles in once a year. When did that change? New York, my home state, changed the rules in 2008, but apparently we were behind the curve because 47 other states had already adopted similar laws! Wondering whether pharmacists receive any kind of special training in order to be able to dispense vaccinations? Well, according to Walgreens’ website , yes, their pharmacists are “experts” because they “go through an extensive training program.” What kind of training, you ask? (Well, I did anyway, because I’m that sort of person.) Turns out that to qualify to be an “immunizing pharmacist” you have to take a four-hour class and have one hour of practical experience. That’s it. When you walk into your local Walgreens (or, to be a bit more New York, Duane Reade) your pharmacist may have had only one hour of practice before giving you your shot. Not exactly reassuring when it comes to the possibility of “adverse events,” is it?
Speaking of adverse events, we’re constantly being assured of the safety of the flu vaccine (Anyone else hear Nancy Snyderman’s smug voice in your head? “Just get your damn vaccines!”), and that “serious adverse events” are rare. Lisa Marks Smith walked into a flu-shot clinic at her local CVS back in October of 2005 (Vaccine Epidemic, edited by Louise Kuo Habakus and Mary Holland, chapter 16). Within days she was feeling unwell. By the following Monday, she felt like she was going to die. She was rushed to the hospital and discharged with a diagnosis of pneumonia. She returned the following week with spreading paralysis. The nurses asked her immediately if she’d had a flu shot as Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a known “side effect” of the flu shot. The paralysis was spreading, and, as she got sicker and sicker, a nurse told her to “get your affairs in order.” The neurologist, however, told her that her illness was psychogenic and ordered a pneumonia vaccine. Fortunately, she was able to transfer to another, more competent, hospital and she received a diagnosis: postinfectious myositis due to the flu vaccine. She lived, but it took four grueling years to recover from that shot.
Another heart-breaking example of a “serious adverse event” is that of seven-year-old Kaylynne Matten , who was a vibrant, healthy little girl before receiving a flu shot at her pediatrician’s office on Friday, December 2, 2011. She had a headache and fever on Saturday. On Sunday it rose to 102.3, and she started vomiting and became disoriented. Her pediatrician expressed no alarm and ordered Motrin and Tylenol (As you probably know if you come here often, Tylenol is a REALLY bad idea post-vaccination.). Tuesday morning she woke up with her hands and legs purple. She was rushed to the hospital, but stopped breathing along the way. According to the medical examiner “a virus” attacked her heart. Which virus? Influenza A? The medical examiner claims that the flu vaccine is not to blame because extreme reactions are “rare” — which in logic circles is called a circular argument. And how many healthy seven-year-olds die so suddenly and in such bizarre circumstances? The only seemingly healthy children (who were not infants) I’ve heard of who died so suddenly had serious metabolic disorders, or cancer that was supposed to be in remission but returned with a vengeance. Neither was the case for this little girl.
Clearly flu shots are big business since every pharmacist in the land is so desirous of poking every customer that walks through the door. People may be able to convince themselves (against all evidence to the contrary) that vaccine manufacturers and dispensing physicians aren’t making any money on other vaccines, but you know that no pharmacy in the land would be pushing flu shots like they are if there weren’t big money involved. Sanofi Pasteur, maker of the Fluzone line of vaccines marketed primarily to the United States, dispensed over 200,000,000 flu vaccines last year . Assuming an average of $30/vaccine (price I saw in my local pharmacy), that adds up to approximately $3 billion for Sanofi Pasteur and another $3 billion for their retail partners. (I assume the estimate is a bit high, since they claim that their total vaccine sales last year were almost 3.5 billion euros (approximately $4.6 billion), and I found some wholesale prices of about $11-12/vaccine rather than the $15 I assumed, but any way you slice it we’re talking about huge amounts of money.)
And the CDC has been so helpful in this regard! In 2002, they advocated flu shots (two) for every child between six and twenty-three months of age. But wait! There’s more! They added a recommendation soon after that all pregnant women get vaccinated because they are at particular risk of complications from the flu. (Well, there are contraindications if you dig deep, but you aren’t hearing about those, are you?) They’ve also begun recommending an annual flu shot for every child over six months. And now, because recent studies have shown that the “regular” flu shot doesn’t really change the death statistics in the most vulnerable population, they’re recommending the “high-dose” shot for all adults over 65. Whew! That’s a heckuva lot of shots.
According to the CDC, Fluzone, made by Sanofi Pasteur is the “regular” flu vaccine. The package insert (a delightful little 24-page document), gives some interesting information. Page 12, Article 8.1 reads:
Pregnancy Category C: Animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with Fluzone. It is also not known whether Fluzone can cause fetal harm when given to a pregnant woman or can affect reproduction capacity. Fluzone should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed (emphasis mine).
Does anyone else notice a problem here? The flu shot should be given to all pregnant women, but the company that makes the flu shots says that it “should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed.” If it’s “clearly needed” for all pregnant women, why even print the warning? And no animal reproductive studies were done on this drug they want to give to all pregnant women? They have no information on whether or not it will harm your baby or make you incapable of making further babies? I stopped taking a prescription antihistamine once because the package insert thoughtfully included a section on a study of its effects on the reproduction of mice. Based on that I decided not to take it. They did reproductive studies on this drug that I’d never heard of, but they haven’t done them on something that they want to give to all pregnant women? How is that not extreme negligence?
Well, maybe the regular flu shot isn’t the one they give to pregnant women; maybe they give FluMist, the live-virus nasal spray. This is what the CDC has to say about that: “Nasal spray “LAIV” (live attenuated influenza vaccine) approved for use in healthy people 2 through 49 who are not pregnant (emphasis mine).” Nope. They’re not even allowed to give you that one when you’re pregnant. Giving that one would constitute legal negligence, not just moral.
Sidenote on LAIV: It seems that very few people, outside of the kind of people who read our blogs anyway, know that the viruses contained in FluMist are live, and live-virus vaccines shed. This means that people other than the intended recipient are subject to complications from them. One should stay away from immune-compromised people, like, oh, say, most of the kids with autism in your local school, for up to two weeks after receiving the vaccine because you could give them the flu! Anyone ever actually heard a doctor or nurse tell someone this, or even ask the recipient if they had any immune-compromised people or people at “high risk of complications from the flu” at home? Many of my friends dread the flu clinic days at their local schools for this reason. Their children’s classmates get FluMist, and the next thing you know their kids have a nice case of the flu. Gee, thanks!
To be fair, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that the regular flu shot causes miscarriage. That, of course, is not the sum total of damage a drug can do to a fetus, as we well know. Thalidomide didn’t cause miscarriages either. There is, however, some very disturbing evidence in the VAERS database with respect to the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine, dispensed during the 2009/2010 pandemic . There was a huge spike in the number of miscarriages reported following vaccination with the H1N1 vaccine. Specifically, the miscarriages were associated with the H1N1 vaccine, but whether they were due to that vaccine alone, or to the fact that doctors were vaccinating women with both the H1N1 and the regular seasonal flu vaccine that year is not clear . Exactly what is so different about the H1N1 vaccine that it would kill so many fetuses? Was it just that those women received a double dose of Thimerosal? If all it takes is a doubling of a dose to kill a fetus, it’s a pretty good bet that a single dose is doing some harm. If I had received that double vaccination during pregnancy, you’d better believe I’d be monitoring my child even more closely than I would be already.
The package insert for Fluzone tells the doctor or nurse to “inform the patient or guardian that Fluzone contains killed viruses and cannot cause influenza.” I like that, you know why? Because it can cause fever, malaise and “shivering.” It strikes me as a bit like splitting hairs to say you can’t get the flu from something, but you can get all the symptoms of flu. I know this because the insert includes the results of the few safety studies they conducted. Three percent of adults 18-64 had some fever, six percent some shivering, thirty percent some myalgia, and thirty percent some headache. Longer, more significant, symptoms were experienced by about five percent of test subjects, and about one percent experienced symptoms that were described as “incapacitating, unable to perform usual activities.”
Now to put this in context, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of 28,000 people in 100 countries, recently did an evaluation of the studies on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine . One thing to keep in mind when discussing effectiveness is that every year is something of a crapshoot, because the flu vaccine is made up of what the World Health Organization believes to be the three most likely flu strains to predominate that year. They can be wrong about one, two or all three of the selected strains. In addition there are over 200 viruses that can produce “flu-like illness.” So what’s the Cochrane Collaboration have to say? Best case scenario, perfect match of vaccine strains and circulating strains, one case of symptoms is prevented for every 33 shots given. In the average year it takes 100 flu vaccines dispensed to prevent one case of symptoms. So you have a one percent chance of developing incapacitating symptoms of flu from the vaccine, and a one percent chance of preventing a case of flu from getting the vaccine. Hmmmm . . . in my book, that’s not great odds.
So exactly why is it that a vaccine with so little payoff is so highly recommended by the CDC? My own personal answer is, of course, that there’s a huge profit potential, and the staff at the CDC all own shares in Sanofi Pasteur — the medical equivalent of insider trading. However, what we’re told by people like Julie Gerberding (ex-head of the CDC now in charge of the vaccine division at Merck, who testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 12, 2004), is that “CDC scientists estimate that an average of 36,000 people die from influenza-related complications each year in the United States.” That’s a big number that gets thrown around a lot (A recent article on Discovery News said 35,000, and of course, if true, we’d like to reduce it significantly, but how much could universal flu vaccination really affect this number?
First you have to understand that there is no count of influenza-related deaths anywhere, so any number quoted is actually an estimate. How do they arrive at the estimate? Well, essentially they are taking the spike of respiratory-illness-related deaths that happen in winter, when influenza viruses are likely to be circulating, and assuming that they are influenza-influenced deaths. There will be some that happened in summer that are not counted that way, but there are also winter deaths that will not actually be due to influenza viruses.
So perhaps it’s a decent first draft, except that only 7-15% of the “flu-like illness” that may be the instigator in these deaths (the vast majority of which are attributed to pneumonia) are actually caused by an influenza virus. And, of those, an even smaller percentage can be attributed to the three strains contained in the flu shot. Fifteen percent of 36,000 is 5,400. So in an “average” year, the maximum number of deaths that could be affected by the flu vaccine is 5,400. Now that, of course, assumes a perfect match between vaccine strains and circulating viruses, when in reality the match is usually more like one or two of three, reducing the average year’s maximum to about a third to two-thirds of that, or 1,800–3,600. This is all assuming 100% effectiveness of the vaccine. We know that is not the case. According to the Cochrane Collaboration, at best the effectiveness is about 60%, cutting the potentially avoided deaths even further to: 1,080-2,160.
Now the next important thing to consider is that influenza-related deaths spike in association with a very specific, somewhat more deadly strain of virus: H3N2. So you’re really only likely to see significant reductions in flu-related deaths due to flu shots in years where the H3N2 is widely circulated and the vaccine contains that strain. Keep in mind that in an average year you’re going to have to vaccinate 100 people for every case of flu avoided, and that deaths from flu occur in only a small fraction of the number of people who actually get the flu. The usual flu epidemic mortality rate is about 0.1%, which means that you would have to vaccinate approximately 100,000 people to avoid one death. At a cost of $30/vaccine that’s, $3,000,000 spent to avoid one death. Not exactly cost-effective is it? (Especially when you take into account that washing your hands frequently and supplementing with vitamin D work about as well.))
But you say you don’t care about the cost? Every potential life saved is worth whatever it costs? Okay, fine. But what about the other non-monetary costs, those “serious adverse events”? Or even the not-quite-as-serious adverse events? Multi-dose vials of Fluzone contain Thimerosal, dispensing a 25mcg dose . Despite the CDC’s prevarication on the subject, there is a mountain of evidence to show that Thimerosal causes neurological damage, especially in people who have trouble detoxifying. A study run by Paul Verstraeten of the CDC — who eventually published extremely watered-down numbers — obtained by a FOIA request, showed that children who received more than 25mcg of mercury from Thimerosal-containing vaccines in the first month of life had a relative risk for autism of 7.62 (Evidence of Harm, by David Kirby, Chapter 13). That means a child who received that dosage of Thimerosal was nearly eight times as likely to have autism as a child who had zero in the first month. (Note: a relative risk of two is generally considered evidence of causation in a court of law.) Remember, this vaccine is “recommended” for all pregnant women and all children over six months of age.
Oh, and the mercury is even more toxic when combined with aluminum, which is also neurotoxic and is used in salt forms in a number of adult and children’s vaccines (administered at the same time as the flu vaccine at a “well-baby” visit) as an adjuvant. An adjuvant is a substance that is added to the vaccine to stimulate a stronger immune response. Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s, though no one has yet proven a causation.
I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the seasonal flu vaccine does not contain any adjuvants at this time. (Though the H1N1 swine flu scare of 2009-2010 brought up the possibility of adding them in the future to reduce the amount of antigen necessary to produce an immune response.) I find that a little encouraging, as the ability of a number of adjuvants to cause autoimmune conditions (including rheumatoid arthritis and Gulf War Syndrome) is well-known, and the prevalence of autoimmune conditions in autism families is also well-known. However, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a well-known adverse event associated with the flu vaccine, is an autoimmune disease. So, despite the lack of adjuvants, the flu vaccine is clearly capable of inducing autoimmune illness.
The main reason I was interested in this question is that it is frequently stressed how important it is for people with asthma (an autoimmune illness) to get flu shots every year. I suspect that vaccines are largely responsible for the genesis of asthma, so it seems counter-intuitive to encourage people with autoimmune conditions to get more vaccines. I’ve had asthma for 39 years, have never had the flu vaccine and rarely get the flu (maybe three times in my life), so perhaps I’m not a good test case. To be scrupulously fair, I do know people with asthma who swear by flu shots. (Note: As this blog was being prepared I found a 2009 study that shows a three times higher risk of hospitalization for complications of influenza in children with asthma who have received the flu vaccine over those who have not. The article claims that this does not show that the shots cause the hospitalization, but logically and statistically it’s unlikely that they don’t cause the hospitalizations.)
So there you have it. The long and short of the flu vaccine: If we vaccinate everyone,we might be able to save the lives up to 2,000 people per year at a cost of $3,000,000 per person, with significant long-term health risk to an additional 98,000 people per life saved. Personally, I’d rather spend our health care dollars on things much more likely to improve the national health. But that’s me.