Flu shots: No, thanks -- better safe than sorry
Published - 12/18/14 - 09:38 AM | 5474 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last November, little Marysue Grivna reportedly survived the prospect of a rare disease long enough to play a game of tag. Four days later, the 10-year-old Tampa girl fell ill with Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a brain infection that manifests symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis. Marysue is now confined to a wheelchair and has a limited vocabulary – and after some research, her parents are persuaded that the cause lay in something the doctors will neither confirm nor deny.

Influenza season – marked by that peskiest of perennial contagions – is in full swing, and the medical profession is trotting out its complement of vaccines accordingly. It's estimated that some 5 to 20 percent of Americans will get the flu this year despite the shot, and in any event, it appears that their level of protection varies wildly (the Centers for Disease Control reports 60 to 70 percent effectiveness in recent seasons, while last year's vaccine against a more virulent strain was only 9 percent effective in those 65 and older).

That's why Marysue's illness is so noteworthy. It took hold following a simple flu shot – and while the medical jury's publicly out on the cause and effect in her case, stories like hers persist every year. In 2013, a healthy 19-year-old Utah boy died after taking the vaccine a week earlier; a 7-year-old Vermont girl died four days after her shot in 2011. The Department of Justice says that 55 flu vaccine-related settlements were awarded for a three-month period earlier this year, including compensation for one death.

(Such vaccines are part of the Scripps Research Institute's stock in trade. And Scripps reportedly is working on a vaccine that will last a lifetime, eliminating the yearly shot.)

According to Sherri Tenpenny, things are a lot worse. Flu vaccines, the Cleveland-area osteopath says, are loopy with animal cells, detergents, formaldehyde, mercury and other problematic elements that compromise effectiveness and can lead to much greater illness; the vaccine is further contaminated by latex and rubber stoppers in the vials; flu viruses in circulation are actually a lot less prevalent than we're led to believe; the selection process for a given year's target strain is fraught with holes; and on and on.

“We are so used to taking medications for prevention and treatment,” Tenpenny has written, “that it is difficult to comprehend that [other] recommendations are really the most powerful ways to minimize the likelihood of getting the flu.” You can see more about Tenpenny and her work at drtenpenny.com.

I've never had a flu shot in the 40-odd years it's been publicly available – and I've also contracted an influenza virus only once in that time (for two weeks after New Year's of 1996, death would have been a welcome relief). I've also been told I'm criminally youthful and healthy for my age, but I'm also 64, on the cusp of elderliness, when flu patients might exhibit serious complications from the illness (remember the 9 percent vaccine protection level for people around my age).

But I'll take my chances again this year, preferring to tough out whatever comes my way. The flu's a bitch, but I'll trade its discomfort for the prospect of something far more debilitating and irreversible down the line. Sadly, that's a choice Marysue may never have had a chance to make.

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