Shot? Or not?2/6/2013
The self-proclaimed “practically perfect” Mary Poppins once urged that “a spoon full of sugar will help the medicine go down.” But how about a spoon full of lemon-flavored ice cream laced with bourbon and cayenne pepper to help kick debilitating flu-like symptoms? Ohio-based company, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, is touting a new, therapeutic ice cream flavor called Influenza Sorbet. Owner Jeni Britton Bauer, of Ohio, said it offers a physical calming of irritating symptoms. And, due to a small dose of pectin, an ingredient found in cough drops, the old, family flu-remedy recipe actually eases sore throats and clears up nasal passages.
“It tastes like a whiskey sour with a spicy kick,” Bauer said.
Sound delightful? According to customers, it is. It takes the old Mary Poppins remedy to a slightly more euphoric level. That certainly sounds better than a needle injection from a syringe of undeclared chemicals to try and prevent the illness, especially when several people who get the flu shot still seem to come down with the flu, while several who refuse to get the shot claim, “never a shot, never the flu.” So which option is the prudent thing to do?
What health professionals say
The flu vaccination is collectively beneficial overall, according to the health professionals who advocate for it every year. They say it’s a community good and helps to protect vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly, infants and the chronically ill, from coming down with a bug that could lead to exasperated cases requiring hospitalization or that can even be fatal.
Many experts say everyone who is physically eligible should be lining up for vaccination shots. The Polk County Health Department released an article in October of 2012 warning of the possible epidemic that was inevitably awaiting the public. Even then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the number of influenza cases was higher than normal, and that the most common strain was bringing about more severe symptoms than usual.
“Getting the flu is more than just a stuffy nose or sore throat, especially given what we know about the strain we’re seeing this year,” said Rick Kozin, Polk County Health Department director. “It can cause symptoms such as coughing, headaches and fatigue that can last for up to two weeks. Most people will feel miserable for at least a few days, and at a minimum, the flu will cause you to miss several days of work or school.
“When a high percentage of the community has been vaccinated against a contagious disease like influenza, it is very difficult for it to spread from person to person. A flu vaccination is the best way to avoid getting sick and avoid making friends and family sick.”
While prudent practices such as washing your hands and staying home when you’re ill is important, it’s not enough, Kozin said.
“You can have the flu and be contagious before symptoms arise, so to best protect yourself, as well as your grandma and your children, you should all get a flu vaccination,” he urged.
What our readers think
“It might sound selfish of me, but I don’t agree with that,” said Laurie Baker, 39, of Des Moines. “I don’t feel I should have to get the vaccination to protect somebody else. I think the flu vaccination is something people ultimately do for themselves — to keep themselves from getting sick — and I choose not to. I don’t feel I need it.”
We asked Baker and a handful of other Cityview readers about their own personal experiences with the flu vaccination. Some opinions were on opposing sides of the spectrum, while others, such as NaTasha Hallsworth, 32, of Des Moines, don’t think much of it. Hallsworth said she got the shot once because her employer was offering it at work for free. Within a few days, she found herself in bed with what she said was “probably the worst case of the flu I ever had in my entire life.”
“I don’t know if it was just a bad reaction or what, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it again,” she said. “I would do it for my daughter, because she didn’t have that same reaction. She still ended up getting the flu about a month later, but only for a couple of days.
“I think it might help some people, but it’s not for everybody,” she decided.
It’s definitely not for Cassie Gilmore. After a lot of research for a class project at Des Moines Area Community College last year, the mother of four decided with her last pregnancy that her children would be exempt from vaccinations of all kinds, including the flu vaccine.
“It started when my daughter (now 6) was a baby. I was uncomfortable with the way the doctors were pushing for vaccinations so much,” Gilmore said. “There are so many more shots that are scheduled immunizations nowadays compared to when my older two kids were born. They say that’s what makes you immune, but it’s not. Just because you have an antibody to something in your blood doesn’t make you immune.”
Gilmore isn’t alone in this opinion. People stand against the flu shot for a number of reasons, whether it’s the fear of unknown side-effects, a lack of knowledge or simply because they’re healthy without them.
Baker takes a more don’t-fix-what-isn’t-broken approach to her own personal health.
“I’m not really a sickly person, first of all,” she said. “I don’t know if I can attribute that to a good immune system or what, but I eat healthy, and I work out, and I don’t really get sick. I don’t get the flu.”
Baker said she started her 21-month-old daughter on the standard round of vaccinations but, like Gilmore, decided against continuing with any more after doing some of her own research.
“I don’t like all this push for more and more shots,” she said. “When I was a kid, there wasn’t all these around for things like chicken pox, and now they have one for shingles. Are the chicken pox and shingles going to kill me? No. So, what’s the point of putting all that stuff into the body?”
But when Baker relayed those opinions to her doctor at the Mercy West Clinic a few weeks ago, she was asked to sign a waiver stating that she denied shots for her baby. At the next visit, the doctor had dropped her daughter as his patient, she said. (Mercy Medical Center failed to return our calls by press time.) Gilmore took a similar approach with her doctor but had a different result.
“I got lucky with my doctor. He’s been one of the few who have been understanding,” she said. “He told me his own daughter had been injured by a vaccine, and now she’s full-on autistic. She’ll never have a normal life, drive a car, have a boyfriend — nothing like that. It’s sad.
“After studying some medical journals for class, I found a lot of reports of vaccine failures that linked vaccinations to things like meningitis and measles. One thing that’s always bothered me is that they don’t list the ingredients of what they’re injecting you with. The flu shot is one of the few vaccines that the CDC actually admits does have the full dose of mercury in it in order to preserve it not just traces.”
Aside from the potentially harmful ingredients, Gilmore and Baker agree there are just too many unknowns about the technology itself. As a member of the Holistic Families of Des Moines Facebook Group, which has more than 550 members, Baker says more people are asking questions and turning away from the flu vaccine.
Trish Dohrn, 26, of Des Moines is not one of them. She said she’s gotten her flu shot every year for as long as she can remember. She and her family got vaccinated in August to stay ahead of the curve as flu season approached, but by Christmas time, she, her 2-year-old son and her mother all came down with confirmed cases.
“Our family doctor said this year’s flu shot covered strains A and B, but strain C showed up unexpectedly, spreading like wildfire across Iowa,” she said.
“Because it’s all bullshit,” Gilmore jeered. “You would have to see into the future to know what vaccines to come out with every year. They’re just renaming the same vaccine over and over, and that’s why they don’t work.”
But Sara Boese, Public Information Officer at the Polk County Health Department, said a lot of research and science goes into those predictions. Every year a couple of strains go around, and in order to “see into the future,” scientists in the field conduct global surveys and review past influenza trends in order to find the right strain.
“They’ve gotten the right vaccination 18 of the last 20 times,” Boese claimed.
It seems this year might be one of the two exceptions, however.
The annual epidemic
For almost two months, the United States has been considered by health professionals to be in a state of emergency due to what’s being considered a “flu epidemic.” Because patients have a variety of ways in which they can get immunized, it’s difficult for the Polk County Health Department to know exactly how many people have received it. It’s even more difficult for officials to know how many people who got vaccinated still came down with the flu.
The CDC recently released its report that this year’s flu vaccine is about 62 percent effective, which means that 38 percent of the people who get vaccinated still might get sick.
“This is certainly not ideal but it is still our best tool to reduce the spread of the flu, and this means that there are two-thirds less people who have the potential to be hospitalized or die from the flu,” said Boese. “Also, people who have a flu shot and still get sick typically have less severe symptoms than those who didn’t get a flu vaccination.
“Because of the severity of the season, a large number of people are probably walking around with it. The number of cases has decreased in recent weeks, but the numbers remain high and widespread.”
And it’s far from over, she said. Often there is a peak at the end of March. Boese said the Health Department is poised for an influx with plenty of vaccines in supply. A typical shot costs about $20, but nobody will be turned away because of an inability to pay. Flu shots are available at the Polk County Health Department, 1907 Carpenter Ave., on a walk-in basis Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Obviously people like Gilmore and Baker will not be among those lining up for the treatment.
“I think doctors have good intentions, but I don’t think people realize the potential risks,” Baker said. “They don’t know exactly what they’re putting in their bodies, and they don’t know how much money is tied into it all.”
“The medical practitioners who advocate for these vaccinations are just doing what they’re taught,” Gilmore agreed. “They don’t do independent studies, and a doctor is not — and never will be — all knowing. People who study medicine should always continue studying and modernizing. That’s why it’s important to ask questions.
“You can follow the money trail,” she continued. “It’s a huge investment for pharmaceutical companies, which is private money, and that’s OK, but it’s our tax dollars that fund the grants used for pharmaceutical studies and vaccine creation. It’s big money.” CV