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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Anti-Vax Ammo

Published November 25, 2015 11:05 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

The annual debate over flu vaccines is a quixotic one. Whatever founded or unfounded skepticism people have about their governments, it seems that only those most inclined to believe in conspiracy theories see something as benign as a flu shot to be a legitimate cause for pause.

Yet in spite of numerous, thorough published works debunking every plank of the anti-vaccine platform, there’s a persistent strain (pardon the pun) who feel very strongly about their opposition. Unfortunately, reports like this one from The Guardian may lead to them feeling more justified in that position as well.

SEE ALSO: Statins May Undermine Flu Vaccines

Taking with a grain of salt that these are statistics from the United Kingdom, the annual brouhaha over vaccination could be ramping up again if similar cases come to light — especially if they happen to come from the United States.

A reported 15-year high for excess winter deaths in England and Wales last winter is being at least partly blamed on an ineffective flu vaccine, which in spite of not being as insidious as some on the anti-vax side of the aisle occasionally suggest still nonetheless encourages another popular contrarian talking point: that flu vaccines simply don’t work.

According to Claudia Wells from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, “What we saw is at the beginning of the winter, the flu vaccine was quoted to have quite a low effectiveness, between 3% or 4%. By the end of the period it was quoted a 34% but that is still below what we would expect, which is at least 50% effectiveness. It [flu] was associated with more deaths than we expected. As it wasn’t a particularly cold winter we do think it was probably down to ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine.”

The vast majority — 36,300 of 43,900 — of the fatalities occurred among those 75 years and older and “ … respiratory diseases were the underlying cause in more than a third of cases,” The Guardian’s Haroon Siddique reported.

While any number of factors could have contributed to these staggering numbers and that particular seasonal flu vaccine’s ineffectiveness was somewhat mystifying, a Department of Health spokeswoman was quick to reiterate that one weaker brew should not be cause for ditching the annual stick.

“Excess winter deaths can be due to a number of causes including cold snaps, flu and other respiratory infections. Flu is serious, causing severe illness and deaths in winter. It is vital that older people, pregnant women and those with a health condition get their flu jab this winter.”

So just to summarize, because it seems it cannot be said enough: if you haven’t already, just do it. Get a flu shot.

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