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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Just Do It

Published October 16, 2015 8:58 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

When it comes to epidemiology and pharmacology, there’s nothing more gratifying than being able to say with reasonable certainty that a virus or disease has been eradicated thanks to the development of an antibiotic or drug. In the Hall of Fame for Humanitarian Deeds, the headstones of once-rampant ailments like Smallpox have to be held up high.

Even in instances where a disease or virus has merely been rendered essentially impotent by vaccines (Measles, Ebola, Tetanus), isn’t it great to be alive at a time when brilliant, hard-working people have all but made such potentially life-threatening issues a thing of the past?

What’s that? They’re coming back? And it’s all because some people out there are voluntarily rejecting vaccines wholesale and out of hand? It’s strange, but polling suggests it’s basically a given that we all know someone — probably even within our own families — who has enough apprehension about vaccines to say they should always be optional and taken with caution.

A recent Pew Research Center poll reports that 30% of Americans believe childhood vaccines should be something parents decide, rather than mandatorily administered. At the root of these beliefs about abstaining from vaccination is something bigger than simple trepidation; it’s the view that they might actually be harmful.

SEE ALSO: Anti-Vaccine Movement

Perhaps no vaccine has been put through the ringer of public misconception as much as the annual flu shot. You need only type something like “dangers of the flu vaccine” into a search engine to see how much virulent skepticism there is floating around about the vaccination and what it purportedly can and cannot do.

Harvard Medical School did a pretty decent job recently of rounding up ten of the greatest myths out there about the flu and leadoff with a strong rebuttal against the most common anti-flu shot argument: that someone can catch the flu from the vaccine.

“The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can’t transmit infection. So people who get sick after receiving a flu vaccination were going to get sick anyway. It takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine. But people assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the shot caused their illness.”

There are several other prominent myths about the flu (and its annual vaccine) that have been debunked, but here are some facts (provided by NPR) to arm yourself with should someone you come in contact with (such as a patient) start questioning the efficacy of getting vaccinated:

·         The flu kills thousands of people every year — more annually in the U.S. alone than Ebola has killed in history

·         You need a new shot every year because circulating strains change and immunity fades

·         You can never predict when you might get the flu, even if you’re relatively healthy

The flu won’t cause anyone to develop a neurological disorder, a nerve disorder or narcolepsy. It won’t weaken anybody’s immune response, won’t cause heart attack or stroke, won’t hinder childhood development, poison anyone with dangerous ingredients such as mercury, formaldehyde and antifreeze and it will not be what makes any wealthy pharmaceutical CEO even richer.

And despite the varying strains of the flu from year-to-year, the chances are strong that the vaccine will be somewhat helpful — and quite possibly very helpful. Most importantly, it cannot cause you (or increase your chances) to get the flu. That anti-vaccine gospel is categorically false.

So while we’re in the throes of fall, trying to stave off those stuffy noses and sore throats, encourage everyone you know to do their part to avoid being a walking contagion. Just do it — get a flu shot!

Information for this blog was provided by NPR, Harvard Medical School, WebMD, and Pew Research Center.

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