Thursday, October 22, 2009

Does the Flu Vaccine Matter?

I was reading The Atlantic today while waiting online to get a seasonal flu shot. Does the Vaccine Matter?. While my first instinct was to disregard it, it did make some reasonable points about the lack of controlled studies.

"Whether this season’s swine flu turns out to be deadly or mild, most experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by a truly devastating flu pandemic—one that might kill more people worldwide than have died of the plague and AIDS combined. In the U.S., the main lines of defense are pharmaceutical—vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread of flu and prevent people from dying from it. Yet now some flu experts are challenging the medical orthodoxy and arguing that for those most in need of protection, flu shots and antiviral drugs may provide little to none. So where does that leave us if a bad pandemic strikes?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vaccination is as much about the collective community health of the organism (in this case humans) as it is about the indvidual health of any single organism.

The efficacy of any vaccine in an individual varies from complete protection to none, depending on the vaccine itself and the immune response of the individual.

Influenza viruses typically spread by jumping from host to host (in droplets coughed or sneezed) or by surface transfer. If the influenza virus is denied a sufficient density of susceptible hosts, the virus cannot spread. This is the core principle of the concept of herd immunity, and it applies to almost all immunization programs.

Unfortunately, there are many for whom the flu vaccine offers little or no protection - infants, the elderly, or anyone else who has a compromised immune or cardio-pulmonary system. For these people, the only line of defense is herd immunity.

So, if you are basically healthy, your personal need for a flu shot is subject to debate as the worst that is likely to happen to you is a couple of really lousy days stuck in bed if you become infected.

Of course, for others, your decision has potentially deadly consequences.

As for me, I got my flu shot a few weeks ago, for two reasons.

First (Alturistic): By getting vaccinated, it does help prevent the spread of the virus through the community, and therfore, lessens the chance that an at-risk person (child, senior citizen, some with underlying cardio-pulomary problems or a compromised immune system) gets infected and suffers or dies.

Second (ego-oentric): Why would I want to risk getting sick myself (who is to say I won't be one of the severe cases), and why would I want to feel really crappy for a week when I don't have to.

As far as I'm concerned, it's worth the risk; I believe that I am at more personal medical risk by not getting the flu shot and potentially getting infected, than I am by getting the flu shot and having an adverse event due to the shot itself. (Full Disclosure - my upper arm was a bit sore for about a day after the shot).

As far as the moral obligation to those who are at greatest risk if infected with an influenza virus, and for whom the flu vaccine offers little or no protection, maybe some can turn their backs on those folks in order to lessen their own perceived personal risk.....

I cannot.