What’s with the fear of the flu vaccine?

We’re right smack in the middle of flu season. The number of reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from influenza this season seems to be at its peak, meaning that we have about 6-8 more weeks of heavy influenza activity before it all ends. Those are just the reported cases. Not all cases get reported, and deaths associated with influenza in adults are not as closely observed as deaths associated with influenza in children. Many get classified as deaths from natural causes because a flu test is not done, though, many times, the person may have been complaining of flu-like illness.

The best thing we have against influenza is the flu vaccine. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s the best thing we have. Short of the vaccine, we can also focus on washing our hands constantly, and staying away from sick people (or, if we’re sick, keeping away from people). But all those other things require us to make a conscious effort day in and day out during the yearly epidemic. If you sit and watch people, we’re quite nasty. We scratch our face, wipe our nose or mouth, and we touch things with unwashed hands all the time.

Even before the 2009 influenza pandemic, there were plenty of people who were afraid of the influenza vaccine. They saw a list of side-effects reported during the clinical trials of the vaccine and thought that all of those side-effects occurred at rates higher than stated. They were also convinced by anti-vaccine and anti-science activists that the vaccine was nothing but pure poison. They were told that the vaccine kills when, in fact, the vaccine saves lives.

Then the 2009 influenza pandemic happened and the anti-vaccine crowd had a collective orgasm (allegedly) when it was announced that the vaccine for that strain was going to be “experimental” or approved by FDA under an “experimental” protocol. They went nuts saying that we were being “experimented” on or that we were taking a risk by taking a vaccine that was not “fully tested” before it was given. Those and other statements just made it clearer that they didn’t know what they were talking about, even if they should know better.

A friend of mine gave me the example of pies as vaccine. We know what goes in an apple pie. We know what goes in a cherry pie. The difference in the two is the filling. Likewise, the difference in a flu vaccine is the strains it contains. For the 2009 vaccine, all they did was change the strain. Everything else about the vaccines was the same. It’s not like they went and created a new way of delivering the vaccine or a new way of growing the virus strains. That came later, and those vaccines underwent extensive testing, more than the testing that goes into a vaccine when strains are changed.

The anti-vaccine cultists will say that the flu vaccine has thimerosal. When you tell them that there is a thimerosal-free version, they’ll say that the vaccine has aluminum. (SEE COMMENT BELOW ON ALUMINUM.) When you tell them that aluminum covers the whole world, they say it has formaldehyde. Then you tell them that a pear has more formaldehyde than a vaccine, they’ll come up with some sort of bullshit like “it’s not natural formaldehyde like the formaldehyde in a pear.” Right. Because the body can tell the difference of where the formaldehyde came from.

I really wish that anti-vaccine cult members just stopped lying. That’s all. Stop lying and don’t get vaccinated if you don’t want to. But to lie and misinform so openly and so happily, associating vaccines with just about anything that happens to anyone at any time? That right there will earn you a special place in whatever hell you believe in. And, if you don’t believe in hell, we’ll still laugh at you in decades to come as yet another deluded person who thinks they know more than they do. (I’m looking at you, Sherry Tenpenny.)

What worries me the most is that there are a number of groups of nurses who are trying to stop mandates for them to get the influenza vaccine at their place of employment. On its face, it seems ridiculous that they wouldn’t want to do what they need to do to protect their patients. But, like so many other people around the world, they’ve been convinced of monsters under their beds by anti-vaccine activists. Either that’s the case, or their nursing schools really, really suck.

Either way, fears of the influenza vaccine are founded in lies and misinformation from anti-vaccine groups. Many of those fears are founded on fantasies about toxins and inexistent injuries. While some people do react badly to the vaccine, their numbers and proportions are astronomical tiny compared to the toll that influenza exacts on humanity year after year. Chances are that these people would have had a similar, if not worse, reaction to getting the actual disease.

But I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I?

26 thoughts on “What’s with the fear of the flu vaccine?

  1. I asked this over at RI, but didn’t get a response.

    May I ask a question? I was reading an article on ‘Shot of Prevention’, ‘Our Life Without Emily’. There is a statement about how a child ‘compensates’ for being sick. I have tried several ways to search for more information on this topic, and I only come up with workers comp, etc. Sorry to post OT, but this concerns me, and I would like to know more about this. Even though we all have our flu shots, its unsettling to know your child can be on the brink of death, and you wouldn’t know. Thank you so much in advance.

    • Children don’t necessarily show sickness the same way an adult does – they can be much sicker than you realize, because the signs are different or the child is afraid to show how sick they actually are….

    • Our bodies are made to compensate for things going wrong in it. It’s called “homeostasis”. A child’s body is resilient and their ability to maintain homeostasis is quite strong… Up until the moment it all gives out and they go critical. That’s why they’ll look or act normal. They’re also unable to explain what is wrong with them if they’re non-verbal, or if they’ve never felt that way before.

        • Children have a much lower reserve than adults, whether it’s from infectious disease or trauma.
          That is pediatrics 101, emergency medicine 101 and harped upon in field EMS training.
          Children’s bodies react differently than adults as well, some medications won’t work as they do with adults, some work in reverse fashion, some are difficult as all get out to titrate the correct dosage. In some ways, children are much like an entirely different species. Hence, the specialty of pediatrics.

          • Thank you wzrd1! I had just read Emily’s story, and then an article saying that temperature is basically irrelevant, well, the ACTUAL temperature is meaningless. A fever indicates infection, but I was always lead to believe the higher the temp, the sicker the child. But the article said that is not so. To read both of these articles, basically tell me my child may be dangerously ill, and I have no indication of it, really upset me. I do appreciate everyone’s answers. It is amazing to have people with much more knowledge than me take the time to answer my questions.

    • Beana, that “compensation” remark was made by the father whose child died from influenza and who is very active now promoting vaccines for children. Unfortunately, some anti-vaccine parents invaded that particular post written by the grieving father and many of the SOP “regulars” posted comments directly at the trolls about their vile, insensitive agenda-driven remarks:


      • I know, it makes me sick how they act so self righteous. The poor child is dead. How can any sane person gloat over that? His comment concerned me, because they were obviously loving and caring parents, and took care of their child, and to have a child so sick and not be able to see it, scared me. People like Emily’s mother and father are heroes, to carry on after such a loss, so others do not have to suffer.

        • The problem is twofold.
          One part being, children have very little reserves within their tiny bodies to compensate for illness or major injury.
          The other being, they compensate well for that illness or major injury until their miniscule reserves are exhausted, then their vitals collapse. At that point, if in a clinical environment, things get incredibly hectic as attempts to restore homeostasis ensue. If not in a clinical environment, a child may well not make it to a hospital a few blocks away.
          That is how swiftly a child can begin to “circle the drain”.

          • So as a mother, how am I to know my child is in that terrible danger? How do I avoid the drain?

  2. My aunt has been a nurse for 30 years. All of the sudden, now she is anti-flu vaccine. Not any other vaccine. She links these ridiculous articles from some ultra conservative websites. Yet still claims to believe in science and nursing and science based medicine. I don’t get it. PS, she is also anti-GMO and pesticides etc.

  3. A bit of a proof read:
    “While some people do react badly to the vaccine, their numbers and proportions are astronomical compared to the toll that influenza exacts on humanity year after year.”

    Should say; While some people do react badly to the vaccine, their numbers and proportions are miniscule compared to the toll that influenza exacts on humanity year after year.

    As for nursing schools suck, some are quite likely to range between suck and blow.
    Meanwhile, my daughter’s RN program was quite good, but she ended up with one out of her class who is anti-vaccination. If someone goes in with a firm, if erroneous world view, it’s quite often that they’ll refuse to accept a factual world view.
    Regrettably, that is human nature.

    • The curriculum in the BSc-Nursing program is quite intense, because as in all degree programs which lead to boards/licensing tests shortly after graduation. My written nursing boards took place over 2 days with about 12 hours test taking over those two days. I was also a good test taker and extremely confident that I aced the licensing board. Nowadays, there are computerized programs (you register at your preferred site and show up in time for your testing slot. The computer coughs out relatively easy questions at first. Do well on them and the computer accelerates rather quickly toward more complex questions until the very difficult question show up on the screen. Two applicants can take the same length of time (approximate 2-2.5 hours) to test the test takers, then the computer screen tells you that you are finished. If you haven’t seen the acceleration to intermediate, then difficult questions…it is sort of a confirmation that you haven’t passed the boards. Seeing the acceleration to the tough questions is confirmatory that when you receive mail confirmation in a few weeks, that the news will be good.

      Perhaps the Nursing Boards in each State will get the hint and change the curriculum to address infectious (and V-P-Ds) diseases, by decreasing curriculum time on another topic (My preference would be psychiatric nursing, which is huge specialty and which is not the first job you would seek out (or would be eligible for). The first unit you are assigned to is Adult Med/Surgical or Adult Medicine depending on which hospital you apply for employment. Develop proficiency there and then you will have a chance to apply for Maternity or Pediatrics or StepDown or the various ICUs.

      Our fourth year provided us with a week’s rotation in the operating rooms, 2 months as public health (visiting) nurses, ~ 4 weeks in a psychiatric hospital (where I observed the hearings for involuntary committals…just about ended now with the Olmstead Act), and six weeks working full time around-the-clock shifts in a unit of your choice (if the school coordinator could make an agreement with an area hospital). My first choice was in-patient hospice, but I ended up in an oncology unit (best to put much time in the evening and night shifts because that’s were newly minted RNs are assigned for their first paid jobs).

      The only “woo” we learned, which really wasn’t “woo”, was classroom instruction in the folk medicine used by other cultures…sometimes tied to religious beliefs. This was before the internet snake oil salesmen got their hooks into the worried well and their worries about “brain health” and boosting their immune systems…and way before parents/patients questioned the need for vaccines.

      Yes, I’m really serious when I state that nursing may not be the best fit for those who want their autonomy manifested by opting out of vaccines.

      P.S. the pharmacy module should be dropping “dram” measurement, but keep the “grains” measurements still used for ASA and at times for morphine.

      • Apologies for the disjointed remarks. I should learn not to post comments during the wee hours of the morning. 🙂

      • Just a few thoughts.
        First, there was no Olmstead Act, there was Olmstead v. L.C., which was a decision by the SCOTUS in regards to the mentally disabled not being involuntarily committed in favor of community based care. That was followed by an executive order by Bush the elder.
        Interestingly enough, there was no Congressional outcry over Imperial rule or similar nonsense of today.

        I’ll disagree on retaining “grain” measurements on the basis that we’re the only nation on the planet to still be using such units of measure. It creates a potential for error when converting, when medicine has switched to the metric system in every other area. Mixed units have created quite a few misadventures, ranging from overdosage of medications to creating a crater on Mars, rather than landing on it.

        Posting in the wee hours of the morning is a necessity for me currently, I’m working midnight until 8:00AM.

  4. It’s very distressing for me when I hear nurses refusing to get their seasonal influenza vaccine, because they should be educated about the benefits of the vaccine for themselves and for their patients.

    I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to preventing disease transmission and the influenza vaccine combined with frequent/constant hand washing are the best (and only) way to protect ourselves and our patients from contracting flu. I read that nurses and their unions/professional associations want the right to “opt out” and I wonder if HCWs have “opted out” of the Tdap booster which is recommended by the CDC for all HCWs:


    Perhaps these opting out nurses and other HCWs ought to rethink their career choices.

    • As far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to opt out of vaccination. That opt out would also be opting out of their job.

      When my father entered into his nursing home, later to become his hospice, I was assured that the company had a mandatory vaccination policy. I was elated with that prospect, as I’d not be robbed of my father prematurely by a vaccine preventable disease.
      Several months in, there was the kerfuffle over nurses being discharged for refusing to vaccinate.
      I casually mentioned that to my father’s nurse. She related how she opted out of vaccination, as she felt it was her choice.
      I replied in a twofold response, one the shock and anger over the business office defrauding me over their claimed mandatory vaccination policy. The other response was more chilling, as I explained to the good nurse precisely what would happen to her if she were to contract a vaccine preventable disease and pass it to my father. She turned quite grey and proceeded to have a vaccinated nurse care for my father until his death.
      I’m an extremely easy going guy, right until my family is presented with a threat or potential threat. Then, there is the wrath of God, then there’s me. The almighty agreed long ago to take the day off when I get started. 😉
      The funny thing is, that last wasn’t originally penned by me, it was penned by my military commander after a rather, erm, strenuous military operation. It’s also when I got my appellation of “Wizard”, because my fragmentary orders, under the most adverse of conditions managed to work, “magically”. Repeatedly. A less imaginative callsign was given to our sniper with the Barrett system, “Thor”.

    • I work with a number of nurses that feel like being forced to take the flu vaccine is wrong– because the government. :-/

      I also worked with a nurse in our heart failure clinic that nearly got fired because she refused to take the flu vaccine because, “my cousins always get sick after they get the flu shot…” My response to her was, “are you insane?”

      Have been in discussions with another nurse that refuses to get her daughter the HPV vaccine because of “stories she’s heard from the NICU”. (Yeah… okay…) Later that evening I emailed her numerous pages of literature and never heard back from her.


      • I think that is my aunt’s problem, ‘the government’. I really can’t wrap my head around it. Good for you for doing what you can to try to change minds.

    • I too get so distressed when I know of nurses who won’t get vaccinated. I am not sure if it’s their defiance or their stupidity that makes me so bloody upset. Honestly, their stance (and they are very vocal) is an embarrassment to the profession. Thankfully, most nurses I know do get their shots but my big wish is that the flu shot shouldn’t HAVE to be mandatory to “convince” them. Some day…

      • I forgot to say I am a nurse, so I think it’s okay for me to say this — I know what we were taught in the Faculty twenty years ago, and I know what is taught currently as I am almost completely done my Nurse Refresher. And it’s not woo.

        • Defiance? No.
          What their attitude tells me is, they don’t give a tinker’s damn about the safety of their patients, just so that they can have their own way.

          Honestly, if I was a patient in an inpatient setting, the first question I’ll have to ask each nurse who enters my room is their vaccination status.
          For those who decline, a second question will be asked. “Will you leave this room, never to return voluntarily or will it require a depressed skull fracture? I’m fine with either method of departure, so it’s up to you, as I do not give consent for any nurse who is unvaccinated to be near me for any reason whatsoever.”

    • My husband does testing work at various hospitals. He doesn’t work directly with any patients. However, he, the kids, and I all get flu vaccines. Every year. A few years back I almost dragged a co-worker to get a flu vaccine in the conference room (they had someone come to us, so we wouldn’t miss work with the flu). The co-worker was scared of needles. Didn’t doubt the safely and effectiveness of vaccines. I’m not really sure how to respond to someone who decides that they shouldn’t vaccination their children due to stupid, wrong reasons with anything other than “I will not associate with you or your children ever again”.

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