Thanks a Lot: When You Get the Flu This Winter, You Can Blame Anti-Vaxxers

flu-sick-man

We’re never going to modernize our outdated approach to preventing annual outbreaks as long as scientists remain stuck in nonsensical debates with the no-shots crowd.

Kent Sepkowitz complains: Now that flu season again is closing in on all of us, it’s time to trot out the annual debate about flu vaccines.

“The bigger problem is that the anti-vax crowd waits for this sort of mess to pounce, as if the biologic unpredictability of a living virus is enough to make their point.  Their point of course is a slippery one…”

On one side are pro-vaccine stalwarts like those in public health (and yours truly), who look at the needle and syringe and see lives saved and hospitalizations averted. On the inevitable other side stand vaxxthose against vaccination, people looking for plot, conspiracy, and intrigue in all the wrong places: the anti-vaccine brigade. Somehow, the discussion each year begins from scratch, Groundhog Day-style, with identical claims, counterclaims, and mud-slinging from all quarters.

 “To vaccinate against the dozens of potentially circulating strains would require a giant syringe more out of a vaudeville act than a nurse’s station.”

This year, it must be admitted, the discussion is a bit more dicey—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a few weeks ago that this season’s vaccine is not such a good match, meaning that the vaccine may prevent fewer cases of influenza. On average, the vaccine has an efficacy of about 60 percent. This number is arrived at by comparing proven influenza rates in groups that vaccinated and those that didn’t—a flu-shotfair-enough and simple-enough way to examine an extremely complex epidemiologic problem.

This year, the vaccine protection rate may be even lower because, even in the red-hot super-cool molecular science world of the 21st century, we still generate flu vaccine like it’s 1963. Here’s the staid approach: In winter each year, certified flu experts meet in a room and decide which of the dozens of strains circulating worldwide are likeliest to cause the most harm when the next winter’s flu season hits, eight to 10 months hence. They look at all sorts of data and then like weathermen forced by the ticking clock to make a judgment despite imperfect information, they vote three or four strains into the vaccine.

The three-strain, so-called trivalent, version had the run of the place for decades until recently, when a four-strainer (quadrivalent) became FDA-approved. The reason so few strains can be accounted for within the annual shot is simple: Each of the three or four targeted viruses requires a certain volume and concentration to be appropriately provocative. To vaccinate against the dozens of potentially circulating strains would require a giant syringe more out of a vaudeville act than a nurse’s station.

Once the three or four viral strains have been selected, vaccine manufacturers go about the long, desperately slow and finicky business of…(read more)

The Daily Beast


One Comment on “Thanks a Lot: When You Get the Flu This Winter, You Can Blame Anti-Vaxxers”

  1. […] The Butcher We’re never going to modernize our outdated approach to preventing annual outbreaks as long […]


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