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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