Over the past many weeks, I've encountered a great number of people who are misinformed about vaccinations/immunizations and the concern of the novel Influenza A H1N1. Previous posts have addressed the science and statistics behind this but I am constantly bombarded with "it was rushed through" or countless "personal stories" (anecdotes).
I must first say that anecdotes would be more useful if they weren't regularly complete lies. I had a follower of my blog (who wishes to remain anonymous) send me an email about statements posted on Facebook relating to Gary Null and a response that he (the facebook user) had sent to someone about the video. Much of what he had sent (as a response) was spot-on. He provided many links and valid questions that people should be asking about Gary Null (not a real doctor, by the way - at best he paid the shipping and handling on a fake Ph.D.).
What followed, yesterday, was amazing. A response from someone (not known to my blog follower, he suggests) who called him "uneducated" (among other things) and then suggested that someone close to her received a shot and couldn't walk or talk after that.*
Other points that were made (and I see and hear them all the time) were:
"We stopped testing for H1N1 on September 30 so any numbers about deaths are just guesses"
"The flu shot causes GBS" (this girl even went as far as to say that IN SARNIA in a dentist office of only 4000 clients, they have 7 people with GBS)
"It is all hype"
"It is no worse than the common flu"
And, as expected, a link to "Dr Mercola"'s site. (Note "Dr" Mercola is not an MD, he's an osteopath)
First, let me say, that dealing with idiocy is an uphill battle. It takes a long time to dispel myths and falsities - longer than many people are willing to focus on a particular issue. The anti-vax movement wins because people don't understand the real issues at hand and they don't put much value on the protection of the lives of others.
The suggestion that we "stopped testing for H1N1" is possibly an accurate one as it relates to testing everyone who presents with symptoms. With an overwhelming percentage of the samples tested coming back as H1N1, the need to keep testing everyone who presents with flu like symptoms disappears. It is a confirmed FACT that the 2009 Pandemic H1N1 is present in all Canadian provinces. We don't need to keep testing to prove that.
We are, however, still "testing" for deaths, hospitalizations and ICU admissions attributed to the H1N1 flu. There's even a website that you can go to that is updated twice weekly with the deaths.
The "FluWatch" that is put out by the Public Health Agency of Canada reports the hospitalizations and ICU admissions - but on a slightly less frequent basis. The most recent at the time of writing is:
Addressing the "flu shot causes GBS" claim is a little bit different. Scientific studies have shown that the prevalence of GBS in vaccinated populations is not statistically different from the baseline - about 1 in 1,000,000 (1 million). The risk of dying from GBS is less than 4 in 100,000,000 (100 million). As Dr. Novella (a REAL doctor) says: "If recognized early and treated properly, most patients with GBS have a short illness – days to weeks – and recover nearly fully. However, severe or untreated cases can result in permanent paralysis and there is a 3-4% death rate." Given that people who get flu shots over-report symptoms, it is likely that anyone receiving a flu shot would quickly present themselves for treatment if GBS symptoms occurred.
The risk, however, by simply looking at CURRENT numbers (up to November 10th, 2009) of DYING from the Pandemic H1N1 2009 flu is, well, let's do the math together:
Canadians as of 2008: 33,311,389
Deaths from H1N1 2009 to date: 135
Chance of dying from H1N1 = 1 in 246,751
When weighing the risk versus the benefit, the reward is substantial.
Heck, let's compare hospitalizations from GBS to Hospitalizations from H1N1:
Up until Oct 31, there have been 2440 CONFIRMED cases of H1N1 requiring hospitalization (661 during the week of Oct 25 - 31 alone - Stats for November are not listed on the site at the time of writing)
1 in 1,000,000 GBS cases = 33 GBS cases in Canada (I could not find any data that suggests ANY GBS cases in Canada in 2009 - if you come across any, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org)
That means that you are almost 74 times more likely to end up in the hospital with H1N1 being the cause than you will from GBS. (Keep in mind that the chance you will present with GBS does not change whether or not you get the H1N1 shot - so maybe you could be lucky and come down with both the flu and GBS.)
I could go on with statistics - heck, from August to October 31, over 14,000 people (of the limited numbers that were submitted for testing) presented themselves with H1N1 symptoms - with laboratory confirmations to boot! You do that math.
And 7 people with GBS going to a dentist's office with a patient base of only 4,000 - that's something that neither our "Health Unit" nor Bluewater Health could support. Considering any noticeable form of GBS would require hospitalization, we're left with calling this one bullsh!t.*
"It is all hype" is one that I don't fully disagree with. The panic over limited supply of the H1N1 shot was a mess. Personal interest stories like the 13 year old boy dying and the 2 month old dying (for cases close to Sarnia, anyway), drove demands for the immunization. Luckily Sarnia didn't face any real shortages (for the "at risk" population anyway) so the panic wasn't seen here.
Hype is all about perspective. I do agree that the risk of dying from H1N1 is not "high" compared to other things. What I don't agree with is that it is "just" hype - the threat is real, the deaths are real and the methods of prevention that we have are real. The risks of not being immunized FAR out-weigh any supposed risk of actually getting the shot. The risk of being hit by a car is not "high" but we still take the precautions of checking both ways before we cross the street.
"It's no worse than the seasonal/common flu" is a horrible, horrible, horrible argument to start with. The seasonal flu is terrible. On average, in Canada alone, 4,000 people died as a result of contracting the seasonal flu. Yeah, who cares about 4,000 people? We have a safe and effective means of reducing the transmission of the seasonal flu and, with greater numbers being immunized, we'd see a reduction in the number of deaths. Learn more. However, the links above (FluWatch) points to H1N1 being worse than the seasonal flu. Check the data, it speaks volumes.
As for "Dr." Mercola (not a real doctor(MD), he's an osteopath), consider some links I've posted before as well as some new ones.
*A final note about anecdotes: When medical stories that would be headline-making don't make even the local newspaper, it's not a conspiracy between the newspaper, everyone who works there, the medical industry, all scientists and every person who hears the story. It's probably just made up or has a much different explanation than they want you to believe.