Contrary to the opinions of people like Peter Doshi, PhD, and others that influenza is not that bad, influenza is pretty bad. Just ask the family of this woman in Texas how bad it is. Or ask the family of this girl. Influenza is being reported from all over the lower 48, Canada, and Mexico. Many public health agencies are now recommending the influenza vaccine as a countermeasure to the increase in cases. As an epidemiologist, I join other epidemiologists in saying that the vaccine is not a good countermeasure, and it shouldn’t be used as the lone countermeasure. It takes a while for it to confer immunity, so it may be too late now that the season is fully underway.
This is not to say that the vaccine is worthless, like Peter Doshi, PhD (not in epidemiology) thinks. He wrote:
“Historical influenza mortality data contain many relevant implications for influenza vaccination campaigns. The overall decline in influenza-attributed mortality over the 20th century cannot be the result of influenza vaccination, because vaccination did not become available until the 1940s and was not widely used until the late 1980s. This rapid decline, which commenced around the end of World War II, points to the possibility that social changes led to a change in the ecology of influenza viruses.”
If that argument seems familiar to you, it’s because it is a variation of the “vaccines did not save us” gambit. But I forgive Doshi’s insolence, he’s not an epidemiologist. He doesn’t understand that vaccines have the dual benefit of lowering the number of cases and the number of deaths. In the case of influenza, most of the people that die from it die from the complications of it like bacterial pneumonia. Once we developed antibiotics, deaths from pneumonia plummeted. So we don’t use mortality as a measure of severity in a vacuum. We use hospitalization, disability, days off from work, etc. To use death alone like Peter Doshi, PhD (in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society, not epidemiology) is misinformed, misinforming, and, in my humble opinion, intellectually dishonest.
But I’ll lay off Peter Doshi, PhD (not even in biostatistics) for now and go back to the flu.
The flu kills, yes, but the flu also maims. The flu keeps you from work and takes away
millions billion of dollars in productivity each year. It keeps kids out of school and adults out of work to take care of them. It makes older folks sick from the flu brought home by children who mix with sick children at school, daycare, or on the playground. I cannot stress it enough. The flu is serious business.
Many local and state health department give out free influenza vaccines. Others are offered at low cost through different organizations. Your insurance company may offer it free or at low cost as well. Just remember that the influenza season is in full swing, so getting the vaccine now may not protect you for weeks to come. Wether you get the vaccine or not, stay home if you’re sick, and stay away from sick people. If you have preexisting medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, or are pregnant or on chemotherapy for cancer of auto-immune diseases, please be careful. Seek medical attention if you do get sick.
And wash your hands, for God’s sake!