I got my flu shot. Now I’m vaccine injured.

The “injury,” if you can call it such a thing, is a tiny hole in my shoulder that bled so little I think the band-aid is superfluous. In past years of receiving a flu shot I’ve had mild soreness in the target muscle, but this year there was none.

And for this mild inconvenience I am now far less likely to get the flu this year, or worse, get it and spread it to others.

The Most Lethal Virus in the United States
When I asked infectious disease expert Dr. Paul Offit how he felt being associated with my often profane website he replied with, “I’m from Philadelphia.”

This is the second time I’ve interviewed Dr. Offit. Last year I wrote a piece for AskMen praising the flu shot. Now we’re going more in depth on that subject for two reasons: last year, the efficacy of the flu shot sucked and this can dissuade some from getting it this year. Also, A SHIT-TON OF LIVES ARE AT STAKE!

Dr. Offit said, “If you ask the question: ‘What virus is going to kill more people in the US every year?’ The answer is: ‘Influenza.’ HPV kills 4,000 a year, but the flu is in the tens of thousands of people a year.”

People are making a fuss over measles outbreaks, and rightfully so, but just this summer there was the first confirmed measles death in the U.S. in over a decade. Compare that to the tens of thousands who will die this year from influenza. And the tens of thousands who will die the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that …

I am writing this article because people are not nearly misplacing their excrement enough over the truly shitty vaccination rates against influenza, so get your fucking flu shot.

Why Last Year’s Shot Sucked
The effectiveness rate for last year (2014-15) was 23%, which is pretty pathetic compared to the average.

“It’s the worst I can remember,” said Offit of the 23% figure. “The average effectiveness of the influenza vaccine over the years is 60-65%.” (UPDATE: This article was published in 2015. The 23% figure is for the 2014-15 flu shot. According to the CDC, for 2015-16 it was back up to around 60% effectiveness.)

Why is the flu shot hit or miss, and why did it miss by such a wide margin last year?

“It’s because it mutates,” Dr. Offit told me. “Each year the proteins on the surface of the virus can mutate so much that a previous vaccination or even natural infection doesn’t protect you.” He drove the point home by saying that you can get a strain of flu and be sick with it, but then that flu can mutate a little and you’re no better protected than someone who never had that flu or even got vaccinated.

This is why you need to get vaccinated against influenza Every. Fucking. Year.

But why isn’t it more effective than 60-65%? “We have to anticipate which viruses are going to circulate that year,” Offit said. “The way the CDC determines which viruses are likely to circulate in North America is they look at which viruses are circulating in South America, because usually those viruses work their way up and spread across the United States, and that’s been an excellent way of predicting which ones come in.”

Offit explained that it’s a guessing game, but last year, with the abysmal 23% efficacy, it wasn’t due to poor guessing, but because “The goal post moved. The dominant strain we isolated in South America that we predicted would come into North America and cause harm mutated from the time we took it and created a vaccine for it.” He explained this as being an anomaly. “Sometimes they drift a little, but they don’t mutate so much that the vaccine has virtually no efficacy against it.”

Statistically speaking, it is reasonable to expect that this year’s vaccinations will be more in line with the historical 60-65% efficacy rate.

But even though last year’s was only 23% effective doesn’t mean it didn’t save lives. “For every 10% efficacy you prevent roughly 13,000 hospitalizations in the United States,” Dr. Offit told me.

So last year’s “shitty” vaccine still prevented about 30,000 hospitalizations, as well as a fair number of deaths. Beyond the human suffering that was prevented, it saved a lot of money in terms of treatment and missed work as well.

Understanding Flu Shot Fatigue
“The flu shot is routinely recommended for every person over six months of age,” Offit said, adding that there are medical exemptions such as those undergoing chemotherapy or immune suppression therapy. “The problem is that you have to give it every year. There is habituation fatigue.”

People don’t want to have to get a shot year after year, despite the tremendous benefits. Another problem is that they don’t always understand what it means to get the flu.

“They get a flu shot and get some type of sickness or bad cold that includes an upper respiratory infection and they think the flu shot didn’t work,” Dr. Offit said. Such illnesses include rhinovirus, astrovirus or parainfluenza, which aren’t protected by the influenza vaccine.

“These viruses are burdensome and unpleasant, but they don’t knock you out the way the flu does,” he said. “When you have the flu, you know it. It really knocks you on your ass.”

The flu shot has a public relations problem. It’s only effective roughly two-thirds of the time, last year it wasn’t that effective at all, you have to get it every year, you might get sick – either with the flu or something you mistake as the flu – and come to believe the shot is worthless …

Not to mention the dipshits.

What About the Dipshits?
They are legion.

I personally know people who see this vaccine as some colossal waste of public funds when flu shots are freely provided. This is laughable considering the comparative cost – both financially and socially – of lowered productivity due to sickness, hospitalizations and deaths.

Right now, some kid is crying because “Sky Grandma” isn’t around anymore to give him hugs and bake him cookies. All because assholes are telling people not to get the flu shot.

There are the decriers in the general population – the special snowflakes who don’t want any “toxins” injected into their bodies or the bodies of their precious little organic-fed angels – as well as those who command large audiences who spread fear and misinformation about the flu shot.

Two such public figures I’ve tackled before include self-proclaimed “Food Babe” Vani Hari, and comedian Bill Maher.

In a bullshit-filled post entitled “Should I Get a Flu Shot?” Hari wrote, ““What’s exactly in the Flu Shot? To sum it up – A bunch of toxic chemicals and additives that lead to several types of Cancers and Alzheimer [sic] disease over time.”

There is also this bullshit:

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 2.06.12 PM

I think “Food Babe” is actually a synonym for “Dumbfuck who kills people with her colossal ignorance.”

Really. This kind of fear mongering bullshit to her massive audience leads to provable deaths. The adherence rate for flu shots among those for whom it is recommended (which is anyone over the age of six months who doesn’t have a medical exemption) is a paltry 50%. People like Vani Hari help keep that number low through spreading misinformation, and others die as a result.

And profiteers use vaccine fear as a way to sell organic-goji-quinoa-kale-infused-fuck-juice because “It’s a natural immune booster that works better than the flu shot.” Just … fuck you.

Bill Maher is even worse.

Maher has a massive audience with his weekly Real Time show on HBO, and he has regularly criticized the flu shot using bogus information. In an episode last February he and a panel of NOT medical experts had a comical discussion where Maher expressed his feelings about the flu shot as, “I think that’s bullshit.”

In a post immediately following that episode I wrote of the panel discussion thusly: It was “like watching a Kalahari bushman discuss social media strategies. It was like watching an Arizona governor discuss the benefits of gay-straight alliances. It was like watching Kanye discuss humility.”

That was because no one on that panel had a fucking clue what they were talking about. But people will believe. The dumbassery, no matter how dumb, will spread seeds of doubt, and fewer people will be vaccinated, and the Grim Reaper will harvest more souls.

Fuck you, Bill Maher. You too, Vani Hari.

Yes, It’s Fucking Safe
I addressed the issue of safety in my previous article. But this is an important part of that article that bears repeating:

And Dr. Offit also cleared up that nonsense about the flu vaccine, causing a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome. In 1976, 40 million Americans were vaccinated against swine flu, and 1 per 100,000 (400 people in total) developed Guillain-Barré syndrome following the vaccine, but this is strict correlation, not causation, and a tiny percentage to boot. But how did this rumor of causation start?

“The CDC put out a [health advisory] which said ‘If you have a problem with this vaccine, like if for example that the vaccine caused Guillain-Barré syndrome, then call this number.’ But they made that up. There was no evidence that it would cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, but it put into the head of clinicians that it might. Never before and never since has that vaccine been shown to cause it, but it created the notion. If you look at the data you would have a hard time convincing yourself that the vaccine ever caused Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Remember the story of Desiree Jennings, who allegedly developed dystonia from her flu shot, causing her to start having uncontrollable muscle spasms and walk around like she was trying to shake a half-dozen squirrels out of her pant legs? Yeah, she made that up. She was exposed for having faked the whole thing.

If you don’t have a medical exemption, there is no rational reason for you to not get a flu shot.

Stop Being Selfish
“We live in a society in which hundreds of thousands of people can’t be vaccinated because they’re infants or getting chemotherapy for cancer or are on immune suppressive therapy for chronic diseases,” said Offit. “A choice not to get vaccinated is a choice not to put only your child at risk, but to put everyone they come in contact with at risk.”

Offit went on to say that, “It strikes me as odd that someone like Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, would say, ‘This should be a parent’s choice’ when he lives in a state that has a car seat law. There is not a philosophical or religious exemption for putting your child in a car seat. And if you don’t put your child in a car seat you’ll get a ticket.”

Offit said that, like car seats, vaccines are safe and effective. The main difference, however, is that if you neglect to use a car seat you’re only putting your child at risk. When you refuse to vaccinate, you put a whole bunch of other people at risk for your selfish behavior.

But there is another difference worth noting.

“The big difference is the nature of the act,” Dr. Offit said. “With a car seat you just click a seat belt. With a vaccine, you take a child, pin them down against their will. Put a needle under their skin and inoculate them with a biological fluid that most people don’t understand.”

Dr. Offit and I both understand the fear, but we also understand the need to get over it and comprehend the bigger picture. “When you choose not to get a vaccine, assuming you don’t have a real medical contraindication, you’ve made a bad choice based on bad information.”

Where Will We Go From Here?
Dr. Offit explained that people rebelled against seat belts, motorcycle helmets and even car seats for children. There was kicking and screaming, but eventually, a new norm was established. Imagine how much you’d let your neighbor have it if you saw them putting a baby in the back of their car without a car seat. You’d probably call the cops, but fifty years ago, no one gave a shit. The kids slid around the back seat while parents chain-smoked with the windows rolled up.

Dr. Offit thinks the public pressure to vaccinate is increasing, and we need to make sure the flu shot is included in this movement.

“I have never seen a level of anger leveled at parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children as I have now,” Offit said. “Jimmy Kimmel ranted about it for five minutes.” Kimmel’s rant was what prompted me to write this piece, calling out mom bloggers who preach anti-vaccination. I feared a backlash, but it was minimal compared to the overwhelming praise and popularity the piece received. Similarly, Offit said a piece he had published last February in the New York Times entitled “What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” garnered a lot of positive response when his expectation was an inbox overflowing with hate mail.

“This was not the case ten years ago,” Offit said of such writings. “My level of hate mail was remarkable for the work I do, but that has really died down.

He explained that it is not any one person’s right to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection, and much of the population is getting righteously pissed at those who think that way. “When that guy who was infected with a highly resistant strain of tuberculosis got on a plane, people were appalled at his selfishness.”

The level of ire directed towards the anti-vaccine crowd is reaching new heights, and that’s fucking awesome, because these people are delusional and selfish ass monkeys. Societal pressure got people to adopt car seats, and it can work for vaccinations as well. We just need to keep calling out the bullshit.

So get your fucking flu shot. Wear your band-aid proudly. Take a photo and post it to your social media to show you did something that was good for your health and for the health of those you come into contact with.

And don’t forget to heap scorn upon those who refuse to get a fucking flu shot.

UPDATE: If you think some quack naturopathic “doctor” can prevent influenza, read this new post.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.

 

 

 

 

 

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