Mike the Mad Biologist

TEH SWINEY FLOO! Woo: The Vaccine Is Safe…

…as any other vaccine. One of the things that was frustrating about the recent report of some (a few) nurses who were concerned about the safety of the swine flu vaccine was the utter ignorance by medical professionals of how the vaccine is made: the swine flu vaccine is no different in terms of manufacture than other influenza vaccines. And since the seasonal flu vaccine is different every year, there’s never extensive testing (i.e., months and months) of each year’s vaccine. If there were, the vaccine would never be released in time. But don’t believe the Mad Biologist, I CAN HAZ EXPERTZ (italics mine):

Confirming the centers’ anxiety that many Americans are reluctant to get swine flu shots, Consumer Reports released a poll late Wednesday showing that half of all parents surveyed said they were worried about the flu, but only 35 percent would definitely have their children vaccinated. About half were undecided, and of those, many said they feared that the vaccine was new and untested.

One worrying aspect, said Dr. John Santa, the director of health ratings at Consumer Reports, was that 69 percent of parents who were undecided or opposed to shots said they “wanted their children to build up their natural immunity.”

“Your body produces exactly the same antibodies, whether it’s from a ‘natural’ infection or from a vaccine,” Dr. Santa said. “If your child is the one that dies, you’ve paid a very high price for ‘natural’ immunity.”

…Dr. Schuchat argued that the vaccine was neither new nor untested.

It is attached to the same “genetic backbone” of weakened flu virus as the 100 million seasonal flu injections given each year, grown in the same sterile eggs and purified in the same factories. And test injections done in September found that it had the same side effects, most of which were sore arms and mild fevers.

Like I said, we do this every year. But the “natural immunity” argument is so stupid–that’s what vaccination does. So, when it’s available, get your flu shot, and save the rest of us from being infected by you.

Comments

  1. #1 ebohlman
    October 3, 2009

    What they mean by “building up their natural immunity” is “protection through righteous living”; in other words, following “wellness” doctrines, particularly those that define “good foods” and “bad foods.” It’s the old “disease is the wages of sin” argument wrapped up in postmodern clothing; it’s just that “sin” is now polysyllabilized into “unhealthy lifestyle choices.”

    What these people are really saying is that their children don’t need vaccines because they’re better than the unwashed masses.

  2. #2 NewEnglandBob
    October 3, 2009

    Great report, Mike. This should e in bold:


    “Your body produces exactly the same antibodies, whether it’s from a ‘natural’ infection or from a vaccine,” Dr. Santa said. “If your child is the one that dies, you’ve paid a very high price for ‘natural’ immunity.”

  3. #3 revere
    October 3, 2009

    Mike: Whether the antibodies are the same with vaccine and natural immunity is not quite so clear. One gets better immunity from inactivateds but intact virion vaccines than from the split virus (where there is purified but specific antigen), although the side effects are less from the latter. There are many antibody responses to the virus we don’t know about because it is very difficult to assay for them (see our post here on this). It seems to me the most crucial difference between acquiring immunity naturally versus from a vaccine is that with the former you have a much, much, much greater chance of dying from your immunity acquisition and the same for killing someone else from it.

    Note also that Bob Blendon at Harvard did a poll at the same time that said people are anxious to get the vaccine and we need to prepare for a demand surge.

    Flu is messy. Every time I say something about flu, the viurs thumbs its nose at me and shows me how I was wrong. That’ll probably be the case with this comment, too.

  4. #4 Jane Banks
    October 3, 2009

    My daughter participated in the swine flu vaccine trial. She’s 2.5 yrs old. This will be a shocker to many parents, but SHE’S JUST FINE! Even more importantly, she’s protected against a very un-mild virus that likes to kill kids.

  5. #5 D. C. Sessions
    October 3, 2009

    It seems to me the most crucial difference between acquiring immunity naturally versus from a vaccine is that with the former you have a much, much, much greater chance of dying from your immunity acquisition and the same for killing someone else from it.

    I’d put that at #3, actually.

    #1 would be that “naturally acquired immunity” requires that the pathogen be circulating in the wild. Not a good way to eliminate measles, mumps, smallpox, etc.

    #2 would be that a wild-pathogen infection involves a massively greater load of antigens. Not too surprising that the immunity is a bit longer-lasting, but whether that’s worth the upfront cost …

  6. #6 revere
    October 4, 2009

    DC: #1 isn’t a requirement, really. Variolation could be done without a smallpox epidemic. #2 is true, but would be a reason to get natural immunity, not a reason NOT to get it. My point was the reason to get vaccinated, not nat’lly immunized.

  7. #7 Jesse
    October 7, 2009

    Though you make relevant points about the importance of vaccinating against the H1N1 flu strain, the nurses you cited as ignorant do have some valid concerns. Flu vaccines are not always effective, and in actuality depend from year to year. See this link for the particulars:
    http://chemistry.about.com/cs/howthingswork/a/aa011604a.htm
    I will not diverge on the particulars of the content of this link, it is common knowledge that vaccines have been known to fail on occasion.
    I feel the swine flu virus has not been adequately studied since its recent emergence and there may be several strains unaccounted for, especially in individuals that deceased before the H1N1 strain was even discovered. These hypothetical strains have the potential to be even more deadly, even more so if they induced death. Additionally, the virus definitely has the potential to continue to evolve in a very short amount of time given its reproduction rate and relative ease of transfer. Thus, there are potentially even newer strains of the swine flu that have varied extensively, and subsequently rendering the current vaccine obsolete.
    In all honesty, I am a firm proponent of vaccinations against potentially lethal viruses. This is especially important in populations that are at high risk, including the elderly and young children. Vaccinations allow the immune system to recognize invading viral materials and permit effective destruction of said invaders before infection can even occur. However, it is important to note that the H1N1 vaccination may not be completely effective and individuals who have been administered it should be just as careful in their daily habits to avoid infection. Though vaccinated individuals are safe against known swine flu strains included in the injection, there are other strands that may be unaccounted for (i.e. Newly evolved strains or strains that were just “missed”), leaving vaccinated individuals just as vulnerable. The vaccination was released to the public so quickly, I am doubtful about how successful it will be and the masses should be made aware of this. Nevertheless, it is utterly important to practice safe habits and hygiene during this epidemic whether regardless if an individual decides to receive the vaccination or not.

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