October 29, 2009

Keeping the Swine Flu in Perspective

I have never been comfortable being a "dissident" and I don't identify myself as one. It isn't my nature to be comfortable standing out in a crowd because my beliefs differ from those of the majority. Those who know me would say that I am usually most comfortable blending in and making my waves behind the scenes.

At this moment, however, I find myself sticking my neck out during the biggest mass-vaccine campaign in American history with the counter-message of "Make your own decision." Is that really so radical? And while there is some discomfort for me personally in being identified as one who is sharing a message that is not universally held, my need to educate and assuage fear is overpowering my need to protect my ego.

I have been immersed in research about the Swine Flu steadily for a month now. I have read scientific studies, watched television reports, followed the CDC and WHO, read mainstream medical advice, read alternative medical advice, read articles and interviews, and personally interviewed medical professionals whom I trust. In my post of Oct. 5 on the Swine Flu I made a blanket statement that one should not get the swine flu shot. Due to my continued research on the topic I feel the need to qualify that statement for several reasons:

1) Squalene is not present in the swine flu shot in the US although it was present in the trial vaccine and is present in doses in Europe. The presence of squalene was one of my reasons for cautioning against the Swine Flu shot. There is Thimerosol present however, a mercury-based preservative, in the multi-dose vials of the H1N1 vaccine. It is not present in single dose vials. People who want to avoid thimerosal-containing Swine Flu and seasonal flu vaccines must get the FluMist or the single dose shots. medicinenet.com While everyone should have this choice, single dose vaccines may not be available for every person in every location during every week of the vaccination campaign. The FDA has stated its continuing efforts to remove thimerosol from all vaccines, in particular for children under the age of 6. The reason that it is present in the H1N1 vaccine, and in the regular flu shot in general, is due to expediency of vaccine production.

2) The uncertainty of this disease is more than some people can take. Will I get it? Will I not? What if I do? What if I don't get the shot but I get really sick or make someone in my family really sick? How do I best protect my family and who will take care of the kids if I am sick? The list goes on and on. I feel that for many people their belief in and sense of security around vaccines can outweigh the "what-if's" of developing the disease, and in these cases the ease of mind that comes with the belief system "I am vaccinated therefore protected" can mitigate a lot of stress which could make one more susceptible to illness. These are people who, after doing their work around the safety and efficacy of flu shots, may consider getting a vaccine simply to ease their mind. I have great concerns about children under the age of 9 receiving two Swine Flu shots, which is what has been shown in trials to be necessary for an immune response for that age group. Especially if they are also receiving 2 regular flu shots this year. I would caution parents to exercise their right to request thimerosol-free vaccine, and to ask their doctor a lot of questions, including seeing the package insert that comes with each vial of vaccine and making note of the company who makes the vaccine, the lot and batch number, date of production and any other identifiying information, a list of all ingredients, and possible side-effects, in case there is a vaccine reaction.

3) I can be naive when it comes to the general health of most Americans. While the optimist-naturopathic doctor in me would like to think that most folks take probiotics, Vitamin D3 and cod liver oil every day, stock up on Zinc and Vitamin C, eat whole foods, exercise, rest, drink water and generally pay attention to their overall health and well-being (see my blog posting of 10/5/09), I know that most do not. So perhaps it was irresponsible of me to suggest that one not get the vaccine without better knowledge of the immune and overall health status of my readers. I do believe that one can turn one's health around quickly by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes and this is ultimately what I urge my readers and my patients to do, but if one isn't willing to do the work, perhaps they should protect themselves and those around them with a vaccine.

4) I have since learned more about why pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the flu. In addition to being generally immune compromised there is an increase of blood and fluids in their bodies everywhere including the lungs. As well the diaphragm pushes up on the lungs during pregnancy causing compression and decreased lung volume, decreased lung function and compromises the lung's ability to clear out pathogens leading to a greater possibility of secondary infections. Keep in mind that these physical conditions are present for all pregnant women whether or not a flu epidemic is brewing.

While pregnant women are, along with other immune-compromised folks, or perhaps more importantly their family members, the only people on my list who might consider the swine flu vaccine if this pademic ever really gets off the ground, I feel very strongly that these populations (and anyone at all receiving a Swine Flu Shot) request a vaccine WITHOUT THIMEROSOL.

Having said that, the H1N1 vaccine has not been tested on pregnant women, nursing women, and children according to vaccine package inserts. Also according to flu vaccine package insert, immune compromised folks and those taking immunosuppressive drugs may not have a beneficial and protective immune response from the vaccine. Yet children, pregnant women and immune compromised people are the populations being targeted by the H1N1 Vaccine campaign.

Getting a vaccine does not guarantee prevention of the flu. A vaccine will help the body launch an immune response which may be enough to prevent one from getting sick or it may give the body's body's immune response a head start so that symptoms are lessened; you get sick, but less severely and for a shorter duration.

Yet in July the CDC stopped tracking the spread of Swine Flu and created a new reporting system. The rationale was: why waste resources testing for H1N1 flu when the government has already confirmed there's an epidemic? The new reporting system, up and running as of Oct. 1, lumps together all influenza-like illness including influenza A (of which Swine flu is one) pneumonia, and influenza B. As an example: I was looking at the U.S. statistics for the week of Oct 10-17 on the CDC website. There were 12,943 cases tested for influenza nationally, 4,844 were positive for H1N1, 11 were Influenza B, the rest (8,000) were undetermined. If 8,000, or 2/3, of tests performed were negative for Swine Flu, where is the epidemic? And why are we lumping together all influenza-like illness (ILI) when we haven't even hit the high season for Influenza B yet? And what about the other 8,000 unidentified illnesses? Aren't they the cause of most illness?

A study released by Purdue University Researchers and published in the Oct. 15 edition of the European Scientific Journal Eurosurveillance, claims that at this point the vaccine will have little effect on the number of infections because as much of 60% of the population has already been infected. The researchers went on to report that up to 60% of seasonal influenza infections are asymptomatic. That means that one may not present with classic flu symptoms, or have any symptoms at all, but will still be building antibodies against the seasonal virus.
Yet, although the CDC is no longer counting cases, they are recommending that anyone with "presumed" H1N1 without a lab test, even if diagnosed by a doctor, still get the H1N1 vaccine.

So let me make sure I got this right: the CDC stopped counting H1N1 cases in August saying that it wasted too many resources to keep up with the mounting pandemic, so they suggested that all influenza-like-illness be lumped into one category. Many, including CBS news after three months of investigation, believe that H1N1 numbers are overestimated as the cause of most ILI this fall. And the Purdue researchers say that most folks have already been exposed to H1N1 and as a result the timing of vaccine so late in the pregression of the epidemic may not prove to help quell numbers at all. The CDC says that Swine Flu numbers are underrepresented due to the small fraction of cases being tested and reported, suggesting that much higher numbers have been infected, yet still recommends mass-vaccination except in cases where one has had a positive H1N1 test.

If your head isn't spinning by now you aren't paying attention!!

Many scientists believe the cause of death in the Swine Flu pandemic of 1918 was primarily bacterial due to secondary illness, not viral. The theory is that the swine flu weakened the immune system making it more vulnerable to further attack by the regular slate of opportunistic pathogens such as respiratory syncytial virus, bocavirus, coronavirus and rhinovirus that cause the symptoms known as "influenza-like illness". It is common, in a flu season, to have no known cause for up to 2/3 of "flu" cases.

The other thing that really concerns me about this supposed epidemic and its relationship to the vaccine, is the protection, or immunity from liability, that the American government has granted the five vaccine manufacturers. If we are so certain about the efficacy and safety of this vaccine that we are putting our pregnant women and children on the front lines, why then aren't the vaccine manufacturers held responsible?

Ultimately I believe that the public health goal is a noble one, to protect the rights and lives of all people. I believe that individuals, under expert advisement, should make their own decisions about their health, not the government. I believe that there is no better way for the American Government to ensure the safety of the American people than by educating them about their health options and empowering them to choose what is best for themselves and their children. So far we still have that freedom despite the current pressure of the U.S. vaccine campaign. Let's stick our necks out and make ourselves uncomfortable to keep it that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for this great article