The Flu Shot Protects Against More Than the Flu!

The scientific studies on the flu vaccine are quite convincing. The influenza vaccine is 70-90% effective in preventing the flu in young, healthy adults.1 It can even reduce influenza-related death in the elderly by as much as 80%.2-3 In addition, the flu shot has been demonstrated to significantly reduce the risk of an influenza outbreak in nursing homes. 4 Now, a growing body of evidence indicates that regular flu shots can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke better then even cholesterol-lowering drugs!

In December of 2000, Naghavi and others5 reported the results of a small study they did on coronary heart disease patients seen in a single hospital during the flu season. In their study, patients who did not received the flu shot that season were three times as likely to develop a new heart attack than those who did receive the flu shot. Of course, the study was small, so further research was suggested.

Now that research has been done. In April of 2002, the results of a placebo-controlled study6 of 301 heart attack and angioplasty/stent patients was released. In this study, patients were given either the flu vaccine or a placebo. A follow-up interview was performed in six months. Those who received the placebo were slightly more than twice as likely to have a heart attack within those six months than those who received the flu vaccine. Thus, the flu vaccine protects not only against the flu, but also against heart attacks! In fact, the results indicate that the incredibly inexpensive flu shot could end up saving more lives than expensive cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Not only does the flu shot protect against heart attacks, it also seems to protect against stroke. Lavelle and others report on a study7 of 270 patients that found the risk of stroke is roughly twice as great for those who do not get the flu shot as compared to those who do. Once again, this is a small study and needs to be supported by further research. Nevertheless, the data are encouraging.

This research also adds to a growing body of research which shows that some vaccines protect against more than just the disease for which they were designed. Not only does the flu shot reduce the risk of heart attacks and possibly strokes, the DPT vaccine protects against SIDS, and following the standard vaccination schedule reduces the risk of general infection. This, of course, is not surprising, as the data clearly show that the higher the vaccination rate in a population, the more healthy the population.


References

1. Palache AM, “Influenza vaccines: a reappraisal of their use.”, Drugs 54:841-56, 1997. Return to Text
2. Arden NH, Patriarca PA, Kendal AP, “Experiences in the use and efficacy of inactivated influenza vaccine in nursing homes. “, In: Kendal AP, Patriarca PA, eds. Options for the control of influenza., New York, NY: Alan R. Liss, Inc., 155-68, 1986.
3. Patriarca PA, et al., “Efficacy of influenza vaccine in nursing homes: reduction in illness and complications during an influenza A (H3N2) epidemic.”, JAMA 253:1136-9, 1985
4. Patriarca PA, et al., “Risk factors for outbreaks of influenza in nursing homes: a case-control study. ” Am J Epidemiol 24:114-9, 1986
5. Naghavi M, et al., “Association of influenza vaccination and reduced risk of recurrent myocardial infarction.” Circulation 102:3039-3045, 2000
6. Gurfinkel EP, et al. “Influenza vaccine pilot study in acute coronary syndromes and planned percutaneous coronary interventions: The FLU Vaccination Acute Coronary Syndrome (FLUVACS) Study.” Circulation 105:2143-2147, 2002
7. Lavallee P, et al., “Association between influenza vaccination and reduced risk of brain infarction.” Stroke 33:513-518, 2002

Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, Dr. Wile not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.

The REAL Side Effects of Vaccines

Vaccines certainly have potential side effects. Virtually everything does. Every year, approximately 350 people die taking baths1. Nevertheless, we all still take baths. That’s because the benefits of taking a bath far outweigh the risks. It’s the same with vaccines. Vaccines do have risks, but the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks. Thus, unless someone has specific health conditions that prohibit vaccination (these are called “contraindications”), they are much safer being vaccinated than not being vaccinated.

Anti-vaccination advocates try to claim that all sorts of nasty side effects are associated with vaccination. For example, most anti-vaccination websites will claim that certain vaccines can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), even though many controlled studies indicate that the incidence of SIDS amongst vaccinated children is lower than the incidence of SIDS amongst unvaccinated children2-4. In the same way, anti-vaccination advocates claim that vaccines are linked to autism, even though controlled studies show that there is no such link5-8. The list could go on and on.

If you are interested in learning the REAL side effects of vaccination and their frequency, you can simply go to the Center for Disease Control’s website. The CDC monitors (and often initiates) the latest studies on vaccination and compiles a detailed list of each vaccine and its side effects. If you want to make an informed choice regarding vaccination, please look at scientific sites like this one. You might also want to look at our article entitled “A Small List of the Lies Told by the Anti-Vaccination Movement” to see that many of the side effects that anti-vacciantion advocates claim are simply not real.


References

1. Budnick, L.D., and Ross, D.A., “Bathtub-related drownings in the United States, 1979-1981.” American Journal of Public Health, 75: 630-633, 1985.
2. Essery SD, et. al. “The protective effect of immunisation against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) in relation to sudden infant death syndrome.” FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol 1999;25:1-2, 183-92
3. Hoffman HS, et al. “Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis immunization and sudden infant death: results of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Cooperative Epidemiological Study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Risk Factors.” Pediatrics 1987;79:598-611.
4. Walker, A.M., et al. “Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis immunization and sudden infant death syndrome” Am. J. Public Health 1987;77:945-951
5. Taylor B, et al. “Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association.” Lancet 1999;353:2026-9.
6. Kreesten Meldgaard Madsen, et al. “A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Autism” NEJM 2002;347:1477-1482
7. Peltola, H., et al. “No evidence for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine-associated inflammatory bowel disease or autism in a 14-year prospective study.” Lancet 1998;351:1327.
8. Immunization Safety Review Committee, Stratton, Kathleen, et. al., (Ed) “Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism” Immunization Safety Review Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001 ( Available online)
Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.

Vaccines are Safe

In order to try to get you to refuse vaccination, the anti-vaccination propagandists will often try to convince you that vaccines are unsafe. They will tell you that vaccines cause debilitating disease and sickness. However, such claims ignore the medical literature, which says something quite different. Before I tell you how we know that vaccines are safe, let me spend a moment discussing what “safe” means in terms of medical science.

Would you consider taking a bath to be safe? Did you know that roughly 350 people die every year because of taking baths1? If so many people die every year taking baths, why do we continue this “dangerous” practice? We continue it because it is significantly more dangerous to not take baths than to take baths. If you decide to stop taking baths due to the alarming statistic quoted above, you are opening yourself up to all kinds of diseases. Thus, even though it is possible for you to die taking a bath, the benefits of taking that bath far outweigh the risks. As a result, we continue to take baths, despite the fact that some people die from it every year.

That’s exactly the kind of reasoning used to determine what is medically safe. Virtually every medicine and activity comes with risks. Even vitamins can cause liver damage, bleeding problems, heart injury, and bone problems, especially when taken in high doses.2 Thus, no matter what you do, you take risks. The question when evaluating any medical procedure is simply this: Do you risk more by refusing the medical procedure than by accepting the procedure? In the case of vaccinations, the medical research is quite clear. You are significantly more at risk if you refuse the standard vaccinations than if you get them.

How can I state this so definitively? All you have to do is look at the data that has been collected on this point, and it is quite clear. First, we know that over the past several years, the vaccination rate has increased in the United States. During this same time period, children in the United States have become significantly more healthy. Consider the following data3:

Now do these graphs prove that vaccines are safe? Of course not. There are many factors that contribute to health and mortality, and there is no way from this study to conclude whether the increase in vaccination rates actually caused the increase in children’s health and the decrease in mortality rates. However, this graph presents a huge problem to anyone who wants to claim that vaccines are dangerous. If vaccines are so dangerous, why are children becoming healthier while the vaccination rate is increasing?

Of course, the only way to make a strong scientific conclusion when it comes to medicine is to do controlled studies. Many such studies have been done, and the conclusions are that vaccinated children are healthier than non-vaccinated children. For example, one study looked at 496 vaccinated and unvaccinated children, comparing the health of the vaccinated children to that of the unvaccinated children. It found that children who received immunizations against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, Hib, and polio within the first 3 months of life had fewer infections than those who did not. Surprisingly enough, even the rates of infections unrelated to the vaccines were lower in the vaccinated group than in the unvaccinated group.4 Several other studies5-7 reach similar conclusions. These studies clearly show us that the risk of not vaccinating is higher than that of vaccinating, because unvaccinated children are sicker than vaccinated children. You can choose to ignore such studies, but you do so at your family’s risk!

The other way we can see how risky it is to not vaccinate people is to observe what happens when vaccination rates go down. For example, in 1975, Japan imposed a moratorium on the use of the pertussis vaccine, due in part to hysterical anti-vaccination propagandists. As a result, the vaccination rate dropped significantly. In the three years before the moratorium, there were 400 cases of pertussis and 10 associated deaths. In the three years following the moratorium, there were 13,000 cases (33.5 TIMES as many cases) of pertussis and 113 associated deaths (11.3 TIMES as many deaths). Of those that didn’t die, more than 200 experienced convulsions and about 15 have permanent brain damage. Due to these alarming statistics, the government started promoting vaccination again, and vaccination rates increased dramatically. As a result, pertussis rates went back to their pre-moratorium levels.8 That’s the risk associated with not vaccinating – innocent children die or suffer permanent injury.

This kind of tragedy occurs in the United States as well. Between 1990 and 1991, there was a measles outbreak in Philadelphia. The outbreak was traced back to a church whose members refused immunization on religious grounds. In the outbreak, 1,600 children were infected. Of those, nine died. Of the nine innocent children who died, seven were from that church. The other two who died were babies who lived nearby and had not yet gotten their MMR vaccination9. Had the church not been anti-vaccination, these nine precious ones would still be alive today. If you would like to learn more about the ravages induced on innocent children by the anti-vaccination movement, please see our discussion entitled, Small Decision, Large Impact: Why Not Vaccinating Your Child Is Dangerous or Individuals Who Have Suffered or Died Because They Were Not Vaccinated.

Before I end this discussion, I must spend a moment discussing the contents of vaccines. Anti- vaccination propagandists will often list the contents of vaccines in order to try to scare you. Many of the contents of vaccines sound scary, and some (like mercury) are even known to cause biological harm in certain situations. As a result, the anti-vaccination propagandists will tell you that vaccines contain poisons. Of course, if this were true, the studies I listed above (references 4-7) would have reached radically different conclusions. If vaccines were toxic, then vaccinated children would not be healthier than unvaccinated children! Nevertheless, the studies demonstrate that they are.

How can a vaccine containing things like mercury be safe? The answer is quite simple, and anyone with a modicum of training in chemistry should know this. Whether or not a substance is toxic to the body depends on its concentration. Substances like mercury are toxic only if they reach a high enough concentration. It is important to note that even things we think of as “healthy” are also toxic at high enough concentration. For example, if you take too many vitamins, you risk damaging your health (see reference 2). Thus, the concentration of a substance is instrumental in determining whether or not it is a poison.

At the concentrations found in vaccines, mercury (and other supposed “toxins”) are not toxic. How do we know that these substances are not toxic at the levels found in vaccines? Because study after study has demonstrated this. First of all, in order to get licensed vaccines must undergo a long-term, rigorous approval process that includes animal studies and controlled studies on volunteers. These controlled studies are specifically designed to look for maladies that might arise from any of the additives in the vaccines. Secondly, follow up studies are constantly being done to monitor vaccine safety. Finally, the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System (VAERS) investigates all reported cases of what appear to be reactions to a vaccination. As a result, we have a wealth of data regarding the effects of vaccines, and the data continually point to the fact that it is much more risky to refuse the standard vaccinations than to accept them.


References

1. Budnick, L.D., and Ross, D.A., “Bathtub-related drownings in the United States, 1979-1981.” American Journal of Public Health, 75: 630-633, 1985.
2. Illnesses and Injuries Associated With the Use of Selected Dietary Supplements, U. S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 1993 (Available online)
3. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2002 (Available online) “General Health” is given as the percentage of children (Age 0-18) in very good or excellent health. “Infant Mortality” is the number of deaths of children under 1 year of age per 7,500. “Child Mortality” is the number of deaths of children age 1-4 per 150,00. “Preadolescent Mortality” is the number of deaths of children age 5-14 per 300,000.
4. Otto S, et al. “General non-specific morbidity is reduced after vaccination within the third month of life-the Greifswald study.” J Infect. 41:172-175, 2000.
5. Black SB, et al. “Apparent decreased risk of invasive bacterial disease after heterologous childhood immunization.” Am J Dis Child. 145:746-749, 1991.
6. Davidson M, , et al. “DTP immunization and susceptibility to infectious diseases. Is there a relationship?” Am J Dis Child., 145:750-754, 1991.
7. Essery SD, et al. “The protective effect of immunisation against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) in relation to sudden infant death syndrome” FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol, 25:1-2, 183-92, 1999.
8. Gangarosa, AM, et al. “Impact of Anti-Vaccine Movements on Pertussis Control: The Untold Story” Lancet 1998; 351(9099) 356-361.
9. Anita Manning, “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: Parents worry about safety-which worries health officials,” USA Today, July 17, 2000.

Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.

Dr. Murch Retracts Claim

One of the most popular claims in the anti-vaccination literature is that vaccines (usually the MMR vaccine) are linked to autism1. One reason that this claim remains popular is that there is one study2 that anti-vaccine advocates use to “support” their claim. This study examined 12 patients and suggested that there might be a connection between the MMR vaccine and a bowel obstruction from which they suffered. The authors of the study then speculated this bowel obstruction could cause a loss in nutritional absorption in the small intestine, which could lead to developmental disorders such as autism. Of course, any study that even hints of such a connection should be taken seriously, but the tiny sample of patients certainly cast doubt on the conclusions. Thus, larger studies were implemented to determine if, indeed, there was a link between the MMR vaccine and bowel disorders or autism. As discussed elsewhere on this site subsequent large-scale studies showed absolutely no link.

In the medical community, those studies put the case to rest. However, anti-vaccination advocates will not discuss the results of these large-scale studies and instead continue to hype the claims of the original small study that was published in 1998. Well, Dr. Simon Murch, one of the authors of that study has finally had enough. In a letter to the editor published in the Lancet, Dr. Murch stated:3

“There is now unequivocal evidence that MMR is not a risk factor for autism – this statement is not spin or medical conspiracy, but reflects an unprecedented volume of medical study on a worldwide basis.”

Why did Murch come forward to denounce his own study? There seem to be two reasons. First, he recognizes that because of the effectiveness of anti-vaccine propaganda, the vaccination rates in the UK (where he resides) have reached a low of 84%. This means that measles is being reestablished in the UK and that deadly epidemics are possible this winter. Perhaps he feels somewhat responsible for this, despite the fact that he is not to blame. Only those who misuse his research are to blame. His study hinted at a possible problem. It is good scientific procedure to publish the study so as to encourage further research. However, now that the subsequent research overwhelmingly shows that his initial conclusion was wrong, it is also good science to admit that and move on.

There seems to be a second reason. Dr. Murch is a medical doctor and, as such, cares for his patients. He is astonished at how the parents of his patients completely ignore medical science when it comes to their own children. In his words:

“We’ve seen well over 300 children with autism, and even in cases where there is clearly a genetic cause of autism or when there were problems manifesting in the first year, parents are still fixated on MMR,” he said. “It’s a natural human reaction. They want something to blame for such a tragic event.”4

It is time for the anti-vaccination advocates to come clean. When one of the authors of the only study to which they can point clearly says that the study was wrong, it is time to stop referencing the study. Of course, given the track record of the anti-vaccination movement, I doubt that this will happen!


References

1. See, for example, (Think Twice)
2. Wakefield AJ, et al., “Ileal lymphoid nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and regressive developmental disorder in children.” Lancet, 351:637-41, 1998.
3. Murch, S., “Separating Inflammation from Speculation in Autism” Lancet 362:1498, 2003
4. Ibid

Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.

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