more valuable than all of your possessions.
Flu misinformation is contagious - and potentially deadly
Why do people who would never use Google to decide that they knew more
than their lawyer or architect decide that they know better than their
BY CATHERINE D'AMICO, FREELANCEOCTOBER 28, 2009
I am a family physician and I am going to get my H1N1 flu shot and so
are my children. I hope that my fellow Canadians will too.
Based on what occurred in the Southern Hemisphere during their winter
this year, it is expected that about 80 per cent or more of the
influenza virus circulating this year will be H1N1 and about 20 per
cent seasonal flu.
There is a lot of misinformation being passed from person to person
about the flu vaccine. And unfortunately many are simply accepting
what they hear as fact.
Why do people who would never use Google, or the opinions of friends
and colleagues, to decide that they knew more than their lawyer,
engineer, or architect, decide that they know better than their
physicians? Or the PhDs in immunology and microbiology and public
health staff who research these issues for months or years, and have
the scientific background to be able to evaluate the research and
How could all the scientists, physicians, and governments in every
province and country who are all looking at the data and recommending
vaccination be wrong?
Here are the facts: The seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 vaccine are
called subunit vaccines which do not introduce live or whole flu virus
into the body. The flu vaccine delivers a minute quantity of a
sterilized, purified portion of the influenza virus into the body. The
immune system is then stimulated to respond and in about two weeks
this results in immunity.
When someone gets the actual flu, they have had whole live influenza
virus enter their body through their nose or mouth. The influenza
virus attaches to the nasopharynx cells, then enters and reproduces
within them. Millions and millions of live viruses are then released,
teeming throughout the person's body and bloodstream. This is an
overwhelming attack and as the battle ensues and the immune system
fights, the temperature rises, the body fatigues, and the symptoms of
Most cases of H1N1 have been mild, but as we have seen, for some, and
sometimes randomly, the battle is severe and death results.
Why would you choose for yourself, or much more importantly for your
child, to come into contact with the live virus, and submit to
millions and millions of live, replicating viruses circulating for
days and days? Does it not make more sense to instead get a vaccine
that injects a sterilized and killed tiny portion of that same virus?
I have chosen this option for my children and for myself (including
during my pregnancies) for over a decade and have no regrets.
The problem with subunit vaccines is that since they contain only a
part of the virus, they often cannot stimulate a complete immune
response, especially in those with weak immune systems such as young
children, the elderly, or those with chronic diseases. For that
reason, scientists add adjuvants to vaccines. Adjuvants are immune-
system stimulators that enhance the response to the vaccine.
The H1N1 vaccine contains an oil-in-water adjuvant called squalene.
Squalene is a naturally occurring sterilized oil. Oil-in-water
adjuvants have been studied and approved as safe and are used in
various European vaccines including their flu shots.
Something that really puzzles me is how quickly people will put into
their own and their children's bodies anything labelled as an immune
stimulant if it is sold in a natural-products store. These products do
not have long-term safety data, are much less rigorously tested for
safety than vaccines and adjuvants, and claims are often supported by
very poor quality studies that were done by the very companies selling
There is a question I am frequently asked: If the nurses, paramedics,
and hospital workers are not getting vaccinated, doesn't that suggest
that I should be concerned about getting vaccinated?
It is interesting that the rate of vaccination among health-care
workers is similar to the rate in the general population. The reason
for this seems to be that health-care workers obtain their information
about the vaccine and influenza the same way as the general public.
They Google, read newspapers, and talk among themselves. There are no
requirements for health-care workers to participate in any educational
programs related to vaccines or influenza.
To protect those at high risk from influenza, whom the vaccine does
not protect well because of their weak immune response, it is
important that their caregivers be vaccinated so that they do not
infect them. It is particularly worrying that health-care workers
could infect or kill our most vulnerable by choosing not to be
vaccinated. Research indicates that H1N1 is infectious one day before
symptoms, and up to seven to 10 days afterwards.
H1N1 is now present in our communities and will be spreading quickly.
It's time for all of us to come together and protect ourselves and our
families, and help to protect the vulnerable in our community. One way
to do that is to get vaccinated. The vaccine takes two weeks to
stimulate immunity, so it's important to be vaccinated as soon as
possible. That's what my family is planning to do.
Catherine D'Amico is a family doctor in Ottawa.
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