Published in the Sheridan Press April 1, 2004

A few thoughts on the article from March 19, 2004 entitled “More vaccines, clinics planned”.

The current (2003-04) flu season has not been the “worst season in recent memory” unless your memory is very short. The 2002-03 season was considered mild. Prior to that year, the cases of flu were about the same as the current year. As recently as the 1999-2000 season, flu deaths exceeded the epidemic threshold for 31 of 33 weeks and peaked at 11.2% of all deaths during mid-January, higher than the reported 10% for this year, as stated in the article.

Dr. Jennifer Gordon Wright of the CDC said in a recent press conference “Overall, preliminary data do not suggest that this past influenza season was unusually severe with regard to children. Rather, it appears that there may have been increased recognition and reporting of the illness.”

While it is always tragic when a child dies, people need to know that of the 135 children who died, half of them had underlying medical conditions that made them more susceptible to complications from the flu. The vast majority of people who contract flu recover with no complications, and obtain a lifelong immunity to that strain of flu, something the vaccine does not provide.

The impression that this was a particularly bad year was largely due to two things.

  1. The early start of the flu season led to predictions that this would be a bad year and kept news stories circulating, especially about the vaccine “shortage”. This in turn caused people to panic.

  1. Prior to this flu season, flu was not a reportable disease. Starting in October of 2003 the CDC asked physicians to report cases of flu, and implemented a new tracking system, which inflated the numbers of reported cases, but not the number of actual cases. This also supplied the media with reportable data earlier in the season.

County health officials say they will place more emphasis on flu shots for children 6-23 months old, and pregnant women. I hope they will remember that most flu shots contain mercury, and order ample mercury free (pediatric) vaccines for those choosing to vaccinate. Current research is finding a strong link between mercury exposure and neurological and behavioral problems in children. Mercury free vaccines were not widely available this year.

In February, the three companies that make flu vaccines for the U.S. market -- Aventis

SA, Chiron and MedImmune Inc. presented testimony at a meeting of the U.S.

House Government Reform Committee. They asked congress to help ensure their profits by a “universal recommendation” which would expand to include flu shots for all people, not just those at risk for complications. Recommendations usually lead to mandates, which mean children entering school, and certain employees could be required to get vaccinated every year.

While studies are ongoing, preliminary data on this year’s flu vaccine show a very low rate of effectiveness (Colorado Healthcare Workers Study).

The Fujian strain of flu, which caused all the panic this year, will be added to next year’s vaccine. It was difficult to isolate in laboratories, therefore did not make it into this years mix. If it is a new strain, as is being reported in the news, I wonder if they will have ample time to do safety studies before injecting it into the general population. I remember the Swine flu disaster of 1976. The rush to vaccinate for swine flu started in October, and by January of 1977, more than 500 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) had been reported in vaccinees, with 25 deaths.

To vaccinate or not should be an informed decision left up to individuals. Vaccines are not benign substances, and not without risks and side effects. People have a right to know what risks they are taking before they, or their children are asked to stick out their arm to ensure the profit margin of the pharmaceutical companies.

Erin Adams