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Home / Articles / Opinion / Editorial /  Vaccines: Crapshot

Vaccines: Crapshot

Who benefits from flu shots?

By Jerre Wroble
Posted // November 9,2011 -

Marian (not her real name) will get her flu shot next week—not that she wanted one. But without one, she’d be suspended from her job.

Marian is a healthy 59-year-old office worker at a local hospital. She has minimal patient contact. Earlier this fall, an employee newsletter announced that all hospital employees and volunteers were required to have flu shots by Nov. 30. In fact, since Feb. 24, 2010, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have begun recommending “universal” flu vaccination in the United States. According to the CDC, just about everyone over 6 months old should get a flu vaccine every year.

Marian is distressed by this requirement. Growing up, she’d been vaccinated against childhood diseases. But, over time, she’s become much more conscious of what she puts in her body. “By getting a flu shot, I am putting a foreign substance into my body. Substances that can affect me in adverse ways and in ways that have nothing to do with the flu,” she wrote to hospital management, requesting an exemption to the requirement. “Some substances found in flu vaccines are: MSG, formaldehyde, antibiotics and mercury containing thimerosal and polysorbate 80.”

While Marian doesn’t argue this in her letter, many realize that flu vaccines are essentially a crapshoot. There are three types of the flu—A, B and C—and each has viral strains that constantly change. Types A and B are the culprits for the seasonal flu outbreaks that affect, according to government estimates, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population.

Those who predict the virus each year are taking their best guesses as to which strains will plague each of Earth’s hemispheres. Back in January and February, epidemiologists from around the world got together and decreed this year’s vaccine would target the A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, the A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus and the B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus—a repeat of the 2010 vaccine, by the way. It’s certainly been the case where the flu that ended up opening a can of whoop-ass on the general population was not the one targeted by that year’s vaccine, making some view the flu-shot campaign as essentially a fire drill.

Educated guesses may be the basis for each year’s vaccine, but profits from making vaccines are a sure bet. Since 1997, after several deadly waves of avian and swine flu made names for themselves, flu-pandemic preparedness couldn’t be more en vogue. Now, drugmakers like Sanofi-Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis are raking in “vaccine ka-ching.” Governments have begun stockpiling vaccines should a pandemic sweep the land. Whether you wear a tinfoil hat or not, one can’t help but wonder if the new universal vaccine recommendations aren’t tied to keeping the drugmakers profitable and motivated to produce timely and abundant quantities of vaccines next year.

Marian’s not concerned with profit or underlying motives. She likes her job and appreciates her co-workers. She’s not trying to make waves. For her, the issue is personal and comes down to her belief that humans are equal to the task, in most cases, of fighting the flu. “My body was created to fight the flu virus on its own. If I get sick with a flu I’ve never had before, my body fights the illness and builds an immunity, naturally,” she writes. “Letting my body take care of itself as God intended is the way to be healthy.”

Marian is not alone in her reluctance. For whatever reason, health-care workers in general drag their feet when it comes to the flu vaccine. The CDC Website notes that less than half of all health-care workers report getting an annual flu vaccine. So the push is on to get doctors, nurses, EMTs and even office workers like Marian to show up for their shots. The Utah Department of Health now recommends that “all health-care delivery facilities in Utah implement a policy of compulsory annual influenza vaccination for all health-care personnel unless an organization has achieved a vaccinate rate greater than 95 percent by other means.”

It is hard to argue with the logic that if the vaccine suppresses this year’s flu, vaccinated health-care employees will be healthier and so will their patients, family members and community with whom they interact. The shots are even free to hospital employees.

But Marian resisted. The newsletter said exemptions would be allowed for “documented medical justifications or specific religious tenets that are in conflict with receiving the vaccination.” Unfortunately, Marian’s objection had nothing to do with religion. She’s not even particularly religious. She objected to the vaccine on “spiritual”—not religious—grounds, since she considers the immune system to be God-given. She didn’t want to be in the position of citing scripture and tenets of a religion she doesn’t follow.

But simply having a strong spiritual conviction failed to impress the exemption committee. They turned down her third request for an exemption in early November, saying, “An exemption based on religion requires documentation of a specific religious belief from a religious leader or a detailed statement of a specific religious tenet that is in conflict with receiving the vaccination. … You have not provided the documentation or information required for the exemption.”

Colleagues who knew of her situation referred her to biblical quotes to bolster her exemption request. Marian momentarily was tempted to use them, but ultimately didn’t want to lie about her beliefs. To keep her job, she will get her shot next week.

Resistance is flu-tile.

Twitter: @JerreWroble

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Posted // November 11,2011 at 09:22 Jerre Wroble's article seemed to mention a lot of facts, but the facts were biased in favor of this bizarre idea that vaccines are a bad idea.
For example, Marian is upset about the requirement to get a flu shot, even though she has minimal patient contact. What the heck is that supposed to mean? She works at a hospital. Hospitals is where sick people go. They touch the furnishings and breath the air. The virus load at the hospital during flu season affects everyone, not just the doctors and nurses, and secretarial staff can still spread the flu from the hospital. I'm glad that at least some medical service providers are finally putting their foot down.
Vaccines contain thimerosal, so? While there's been a lot of yammering about thimerosal, there's no actual evidence that it's not safe. The few people who got some attention for supposedly having evidence that thimerosal was not safe turned out to have lied. You would hope that a responsible person who mentions thimerosal would point that out, as well, but Wroble doesn't. Shame!
Vaccine manufacturers have to guess at the most likely virus combo that people need to be protected against: that's right, but it's not a crap shoot. The odds are actually pretty good that they'll hit the right combination: that's because the prediction is based on the virus that is currently going around, not on some kind of magical gut feeling. If then later the virus doesn't turn out to be that much of a problem, it's probably not because the guess was wrong, but because the vaccine was effective. It's almost as if some fools would be happier if we had to deal with witch doctors and magic rather than science.
Vaccine manufacturers make a lot of money? Yes, they do. But that's got nothing to do with the efficacy of vaccines. You might have a point arguing that the FDA should license more manufacturers to produce vaccine, that the cost of vaccination needs to be managed more closely to prevent the kind of immoral profit taking that big pharma allows itself. Come on, you guys are practically communists, I'd expect to read that kind of thing. But to suggest that not getting vaccinated because someone might be making money, that's so absurd it beggars description.
Then there are all those folks who claim that they get sick only if they get vaccinated. What a bunch of hooey! Are City Weekly staffers supposedly free of confirmation bias? Do they get all their sniffles analyzed to make sure that when they think they have the flu they do in fact have the flu? Seriously, you guys are scary. I have a lot of liberal leaning friends who tell me that Liberals are so much more rational than conservatives. Isn't the City Weekly supposed to be a bastion of liberal bias? Judging from the evidence: Not so much.
That, or the claim that Liberals are more rational doesn't hold water. There's something to think about, I guess.


Posted // November 16,2011 at 19:27 - Duke, Duke, Duke. The Chewbacca defense only works on Southpark. You should never try it in real life.


Posted // November 11,2011 at 10:10 - Meh. You're too focused on one tiny aspect of the argument to waste time with. Actually, upon reading your post again, you're not really focused on anything - you're just ranting for the sake of ranting.

In fact, you've opined things that nobody actually said while looking to place blame for the things you've, at worst, invented or, at best, completely misunderstood.

And the fact that you've attempted to politicize the argument by pitting conservatives against liberals (I am neither, but I know where you stand) speaks to your motives, which are transparent and useless. By doing so, you've shown up front that you're not concerned with presenting a decent argument but with beating people over the head with your opinion.

But I get you. Regardless of the subject, you know you don't like them pesky liberals and think they're stupid and silly. Got anything else, or is that as deep as you go?


Posted // November 10,2011 at 12:27 I'm sure that work for the same company that Marian does and have for 24years.
Like you story states I never got the flu shot. Not for any other reason than I don't like needles.
However, my sister had a baby that was born immune difficient and almost died at the age of 3 months because we were not aware he was immune difficient. He spent 4 weeks in ICU and then a few more weeks in isolation in a bone marrow unit trying to save his life.
His imunologist suggested that anyone he comes in contact with needs to have a flu shot because if he were to get the flu it could kill him. So if I wanted to be around him I had to get a flu shot.
When the company I work for made it manditory I thought it was a no brainer. My sister is forced to take her son to the hospital for and IVIG every 3 weeks for the rest of his life. She should not have to worry that the health care workers caring for him haven't had their flu shots. They should not be the ones to give him the flu.


Posted // November 10,2011 at 16:26 - As always, Bill, you put forth a very good argument. I'm certainly not "chemical adverse", admitting that every blasted thing in this universe is comprised of chemicals.

I'm also not adverse to measured and balanced medical treatment and preventatives, balanced and measured being the key words. But, in saying that, I believe that the best preventative to most illness is maintaining personal health and hygiene and, should it occur, allowing one's own immune system to deal with any errant illnesses so long as they are not immediately and obviously life-threatening. I place the common flu in this category in general.

You state rightly that people, many people, die of the flu each year. Primarily those with weak or weakened immune systems; this primarily includes the elderly, the very young, and the immune compromised.

In stating that, I believe it is important for those at the highest levels of risk to do what they can to prevent becoming ill. I am primarily speaking of the elderly and immune-compromised. I do not believe it is necessary or right to inoculate and entire population of children in order to prevent them from dealing with very common and highly reoccurring diseases such as the flu, even if it means some may die.

I say this because I believe that, with every generation, the more we try and prevent an individual from dealing with common and prevalent sicknesses by administering drugs aimed at preventing some computer model's prediction of what may be, we are contributing to a weaker race of human beings down the road, thereby making it necessary to administer ever more drugs, thereby enriching the pharmaceutical industry at every level.

I'm of the mind that we should certainly make those that are sick well, if possible, but I am also of the mind that we should allow nature to take it's course whenever possible.

Certainly you've noticed that I hold very little love for America's medical industry, and I have my reasons. For myself, I have a very good physician that I see very rarely as I am rarely, if ever, sick. He's a minimalist by nature and I appreciate his approach. He is not the type to listen to your complaints and then administer a bevy of drugs to try and deal with something that he understands will be dealt with naturally, by the body's own immune system and the body's incredible capacity to heal itself.

I believe 100% that no doctor has ever cured anybody of anything. I believe that the affected individual's body handles that alone. I do, however, believe that the doctor has helped (when their not harming) the body along by providing for favorable conditions through proper and measures practices.

I could go further and state that, in my mind, I think it may be best to allow nature to take it's course when a body is inherently sick and will remain so. Preserving life for an individual that will never actually live well is, to my mind, a type of cruelty.

So, I do think the fact that the flu shot has become so prevalent and, in more and more cases, mandatory, is a great boon to the pharmaceutical industry and I would argue that the pharmaceutical industry has had much to do with this via media campaigns, fear tactics, and political lobbying.

That and other reason is why I am against carpeting the entire population with drugs that may or may not help.

Additionally, I'd encourage you to try and find a list of all the components that actually go into one of these flu serums. MSG I can handle, some of the others, not so much.

I'll close by telling you that my view of the American medical industry might not be so harsh had I not personally witnessed it collectively destroy, though ignorance, people that are close to me. The people that I know that really needed medical attention, responsible and measured attention, were given anything but and are in far worse condition now because they've become mired in a for-profit industry that does not look to heal an individual but looks to treat any and every ailment, whether it is understood or not, or even properly recognized and diagnosed, with drugs.


Posted // November 10,2011 at 15:49 - I was wondering about parts of the population that are at risk and how they should react to vaccinations if they have no immune system, or their immune system is suppressed or otherwise compromised because of age, transplant medication, HIV-AIDS, etc.

If I had to argue with my friend Duke about this, I would probably center it on the age-old medical question about treatment efficacy: Does the benefit outweigh the risk? If I hear that the risk is I 'might' get the flu anyway, that's no big deal.. .because, GODDAMIT, I might get the flu anyway, right? For every sort of naive Marian, there are people who still DIE from the flu. Simply taking their chances because the world is a big, bad, germ-infested place ANYWAY, is a terrible reason to expose children and the elderly to disease for no other reason than vaccines contain a preservative? MSG? Jesus, the average side dish at a Chinese restauraunt has MSG and preservatives in it that tower over the amounts in vaccines. Ever read the label on your strawberry jam jar, Marina? That's just ignorant villager talk. Take an epidemiology class. I did about 30 years ago and it helps. The only negative for me is that they try to predict which flu will be coming each year and have to manufacture and stockpile supplies in time to do any goood and, at best, they are vaccinating against only one of several that will appear that season. And, no, I'm not on the bandwagon that the entire industry of vaccinations is a figment of a pharmaceutical company's marketing department. I hope Marian never has a serious disease or disorder hit her otherwise perfect health balloon. They will be putting all kinds of substances in you. . .to save your life. I've had mine saved by modern medicine and chemistry and I'm awe-struck. And grateful. Wonder what Marian does when the dentist has to drill deep? Flip a rubber band on her wrist?


Posted // November 10,2011 at 12:59 - Sorry for your nephew. Sounds like a very hard life he's got ahead of him.

If one of these health workers you refer to contracts a flu strain not included in this year's shot? What then? What about the common cold?

The shot is no guarantee that you'll not get the flu.

There are many other communicable diseases, viruses and bacterial infections that could potentially harm your nephew, many of which have no associated vaccination.

Living on this planet requires one to come in contact with billions of germs on a daily basis. A poorly prepared meal can kill.

It is far more probable that your nephew will contract something outside of the hospital (yeah, I know how germy hospitals are, especially crawling with staph/MRSA) than within, unless your sister plans to keep him in a plastic box for the rest of his life. Poor kid.

Would you require every student and every staff member of the school your nephew attends (should he have the chance to attend) to get whatever shot you feel is necessary to protect your nephew?

You nephew is one person, albeit a small, helpless and probably cute one. Is it fair that his condition dictates that many other people are unwillingly exposed to unknown substances and toxins to slightly lessen his chance of contracting something that may harm him?


Posted // November 10,2011 at 12:17 Thank you for writing such a concise article regarding the merits of gettting a flu shot. Like you, I believe that it should be up to the individual as to whether a flu shot will be beneficial. It's obvious that the large pharmaceutical companies have impacted the directives of corporations world wide. I would rather risk getting the flu than having a medication injected into my body that may - or may not - have any effect in eliminating a virus.
Resistance is flu-tile indeed!


Posted // November 9,2011 at 08:55 I'm sorry for Marian and appreciate that she not only tried avoiding the shot but did so honestly, not willing to invent religious BS to avoid receiving it. That's integrity. That's class.

The flu shot biz is an obvious multi-billion dollar racket intended to boost and maintain profit for drug companies and their off-shoots. There's no reason, beyond making money, to vaccinate the entire population.

They suggest vaccinating babies? Shouldn't babies have the opportunity to develop healthy immune systems on their own? I figure that vaccinating them at that age will lead to weaker, drug-dependent immune systems, leading to more sickness over time. But then, I doubt our medical-for-massive-profit industry would mind a few million more customers. It is all about the money here in the States, not making people well. Healthy people do not add to the bottom line.

Personally, like Marian, I'd rather have the flu than a flu shot.