You expect politicians to do better to protect public health

Jeremy Thiesfeldt is a state representative in the great state of Wisconsin, a Republican. Mr. Thiesfeldt has decided that no flu vaccine in healthcare workers is better than any vaccine in healthcare workers, because, dammit, this is America:

“The debate over the mandatory influenza vaccinations of employees is worthy of a vigorous public airing. Much controversy has been growing nationwide as to the plight of employees, particularly healthcare workers, being dismissed from their jobs due to their refusal to accept such an unwanted intrusion into their personal healthcare decisions.”

Quite an intrusion indeed. Next up, I hear, Mr. Thiesfeldt will lobby to get rid of OSHA standards requiring personal protective equipment like gloves and masks. I mean, if these healthcare workers want to be free, then they should be free to not be protected. After all, gowns, gloves, and masks are not 100%, and, according to Mr. Thiesfeldt, if it’s not 100%, it’s not worth it:

“The history of vaccinations in the US has been one filled with controversy. The strongest argument in favor has been the high degree of effectiveness of many common vaccinations that reaches 90% or higher. The influenza vaccine does not enjoy this success. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that for the 2012-13 season the vaccine had a 38% fail rate. This is consistent with all the evidence from previous years putting the fail rate at anywhere from 30-50%.”

Mr. Thiesfeldt needs to be educated on the Nirvana Fallacy. Of course, readers of this blog know that even if the vaccine gave a 50/50 shot of not getting sick, I’d take it. It’s better than nothing, and there are plenty of people working to make it better. But Mr. Jeremy Thiesfeldt doesn’t stop there. The rest of his statement reads like a blog post at any “reputable” anti-vaccine blog:

“Another documented fact is each year individuals nationwide have been severely harmed by submitting to the influenza vaccination, and in some cases death has resulted.”

I’m yet to come across a confirmed death from the flu vaccine in all the years that I’ve worked in public health, and I look at tons of reports. Allergic reactions? Yes. Guillain-Barre Syndrome? Yes. Even one case of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. But death? Not really. And all of those injuries from the flu vaccine? They all occurred at a lower rate than deaths and complications from influenza itself.

But politicians are not known for using facts to further their agendas:

“Do we have any less incidence of flu because of it? Not appreciably. The largest declines in incidence and deaths from influenza came prior to 1980, which is around the time the flu vaccine became widely used. In fact, a 2005 US National Institute of Health study of over 30 influenza seasons could not find a correlation between increasing vaccination coverage and declining mortality rates in any age group.”

I can’t find that study. If someone does, please send it my way.

“The flu vaccine is different each season. It is an educated guess as to what strains of the virus will be most prevalent in coming months. In spite of best efforts, often these predictions are wrong. Because of these variations, hospitals are already filled with both patients, employees, visitors and varying vendors who have been ineffectively vaccinated.”

No, sir, these predictions are not often wrong. They are often correct. Even the type B flu, which we mismatch a lot, is still a match 50% of the time. (Yes, no better than a coin-toss, but better than nothing.)

And on and on he goes about freedom, with slippery-slope arguments that allowing employers to discipline healthcare workers who do not vaccinate will lead to forces vaccinations in other settings and for other vaccines. But, you know what, Mr. Thiesfeldt looks young. He probably doesn’t remember the 1960’s, when women had to worry about having disfigured children because they were exposed to Rubella. He probably has never seen a child die from the flu, or have to talk to the child’s parents.

He must have Wisconsin residents’ best interests in mind, right?

“The requirements of Obamacare will likely eventually push healthcare employers to reach a required plateau of immunizations of their workforce in order to receive certain bonuses or reimbursements. Pharmaceutical corporations have obvious financial interests in the mandate as well.”

Ah, conspiracy theorist. Never mind.

PS: The always awesome Todd W. at Harpocrates Speaks has covered this issue as well, and very well so.

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Plan B is not an abortion pill

I was driving home the other day when I heard an anchor on Fox News say that the audience might be “shocked” to hear what an American university was offering out of a vending machine. My mind immediately made me think of heroin, marijuana, or alcohol. You know, stuff that could really derail a student’s career. Instead, the story was about a vending machine at a university that sells “plan B” contraception pills among other items such as condoms, analgesics, and other health-related items. I know you’re shocked that I listen to Fox News, but it was a nice drive home. I needed something to be enraged about.

The university in question is Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. The university has a vending machine in the heath center that offers “plan B” for $25 and over-the-counter for students over the age of 17. Fox News was not the only one to get the whole thing wrong. A certain presidential candidate got it wrong as well. See if you can identify him:

There has been a lot of talk about the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic church. The fact is Governor Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor. So you have a similar pattern.

Abortion pills?

That quote is from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He was criticizing his opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for Mr. Romney’s healthcare plan in Massachusetts. I would be fine if this was the only time that “plan B” was confused with the abortion pill “ru486”. That medication, also known as “mifepristone”, actually does end pregnancy. “Plan B”, on the other hand, does not end pregnancy.

It doesn’t end pregnancy because it is taken before pregnancy even occurs. See, “plan B”, is a big dose of synthetic hormones like the ones in the contraceptive pill. If there is an egg there to begin with, and if it is fertilized, it will not be able to implant itself to the wall of the uterus…

Ah, I see. They seem to believe that a fertilized egg that is not allowed to implant itself is a form of abortion. If only they knew how many fertilized eggs fail to implant because of so many factors. Heck, if only they knew how many pregnancies end before they really even started because of so many other factors. But, you know, that’s them.

I guess it’s perfectly fine in the minds of these so-called “conservatives” to have the government intervene to the degree that a seventeen year-old college student trying to get her life together cannot decide whether or not part of her degree plan will include a child she may not necessarily want. I also guess it’s perfectly fine in their minds that a young woman who happens to be raped (it happens, a lot, in college even) but doesn’t want to even think about bearing the rapist’s child will be forced to do so because MEN like Newt and Mitt and the rest of them have some sort of moral authority.

Whatever. I’d have more respect for them if they were not such huge liars in saying that “plan B” is an abortion pill.