Small survey on why people do or do not get the yearly flu vaccine

A few weeks ago, I asked people on my Facebook page to answer a survey on why they do or do not get the yearly flu vaccination. I will not publish their answers, however, I will do an analysis on the data. Quick disclaimer: This survey does not represent any particular population, nor was it intended to. It was intended as a quick way to gather responses on why people do or do not get vaccinated and why.

I asked two questions. Question 1 was, “Do you get a flu shot?” Question 2 was, “Why do you or don’t you get the flu shot?” Thirty people answered the first question, and 28 people answered the second. 20 people answered “yes” to question 1, and 11 answered “no.” That does not add up to 30, but 31, and this is because I accidentally allowed people to select both “yes” and “no.” Taking out the extra responses, we have 19 yes and 10 no. This results in 65.5% of respondents saying “yes” 34.5% of respondents saying “no.”

Now for a breakdown of the free-response questions. The answers were generalized as much as possible to protect the anonymity of the survey-taker without compromising the message that the person was trying to get across.

7: Personal Health as well as health of others

6: Personal Health

3: Employment or Parent Required

2: Free and convenient

2: Unnecessary

2: Never gotten the flu shot

2: Never had the flu/ already have a good immune system

2: Not convenient enough and flu is not severe enough

1: Doctor Recommended

1: Only when convenient

1: Personal choice (No)

The most common answer by far was for the respondent’s personal health, as well as the health of others. Seven respondents said this, and I feel that it was distinct from the six responses stating that it was for their personal health. The important distinction is the part about the “health of others.” I wrote about this briefly in my last post. It is called herd immunity, and if you don’t want to read my previous post, I will briefly describe it later on.

The third most common answer is that it was required by someone. This isn’t exactly an optimal reason, but the important part is that a flu shot was received.

The next is that it was free and convenient. I think this is one of the most important points, especially considering five respondent, making up one-sixth of the survey, mentioned the importance of conveniency. It is very important that the flu shot become as quick as possible, as the more convenient it is, the more people will get it. I will also add here that if someone has never gotten the flu shot before, it is harder to get it, because one does not really know what the process entails until they get one. If they knew getting the shot was easy, they may be more likely to get it. The goal is obviously to get the flu shot to as many people as possible, and in my opinion, the conveniency is likely the most important factor.

Four of the responses state that the flu shot is unnecessary, or that they have a good enough immune system that they do not need it. This is where I will discuss the importance of herd immunity. Again, I covered this in the last post, but here is a quick summary.

Herd immunity is the idea that if almost every individual in a population is immune or resistant to a disease, then those who would be greatly affected by the disease would be unlikely to contract it. This applies to all diseases, especially the flu. If everyone who was medically able to got the flu shot, then those who had a poor immune system, like babies or the elderly would be protected from the flu. The most common misconception about the flu shot is that it is for the person having the shot administered. This is true, but more importantly, the flu shot is for those who, for one reason or another, have a compromised immune system.

If there is one thing I could say to people reading this, it is this: The flu vaccine (as well as other vaccines) is, most importantly, for those who are weaker immunologically than you. By getting a flu shot, you are not only helping yourself, but helping everyone on the plant.

Now that that has been said, here is another important point about flu vaccines in particular. There is a reason that it is recommended for people to get a flu shot yearly, rather than once. This is because the flu virus is highly mutagenic. Essentially what this means is this: the kind of flu virus that one person may be infected with is relatively likely to change while in that person’s body, and when this virus comes into contact with another person, it could be an entirely new flu virus. This means that even if you have had the flu before, you may not be protected from new strains of flu.

When the flu vaccine is made every year, immunologists predict which strains of flu virus will appear every year. By getting your flu shot, you are preventing these flu virus strains from infecting people, but you are also doing something much more important: You are helping prevent new strains of flu viruses from being created. If you get the flu vaccine, you are much more unlikely to pass a flu virus on to another person. This also reduces the chance of a new strain being created. If fewer strains are created, the vaccines will be more effective, and if they are more effective, fewer people will become infected with the flu. Do you see where this is going? If every able person got the flu vaccine every year, the flu could become a disease of the past, similar to polio. At least I hope. The reality is, it will probably always be present. But by being vaccinated, you reduce the effect of the flu worldwide.

I sincerely hope that those of you reading this seriously consider getting the yearly flu vaccine. In summation, by being vaccinated, you help yourself as well as others, and help stop the flu virus. Remember that it is still not too late to become vaccinated for this flu season. If you are still uneasy about the flu vaccine, it is best to talk to your family medical practitioner about the flu shot, and ask them about their opinion. If you want to do your own research, the best and most trustworthy place to do so is here: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm. Thank you for reading, and I hope you thoughtfully consider your reasons for getting or not getting the flu shot.

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Why is measles making a comeback?

There is an interesting and slightly horrifying movement that has attained popularity in today’s society. It is known as the “anti-vaccination” movement. This movement has more-or-less directly caused the return of measles recently, making headlines in New York. According to the CDC, there are about 80-90 cases of measles in the US per year. From 2002 to 2007, the average was roughly 55 cases. From January 1 to October 31, there have been 603 reported cases. This is more than 6 times as many as normal in an average year. Clearly, there is something wrong here. But what is happening? First, we need an understanding of what the measles is.

Measles is a virus. A virus is essentially DNA contained in a protein casing. The protein casing opens up a cell in your body and forces your cell to create copies of the virus. With many viruses, after one has been infected, an immunity to the virus is created, which prevents the virus from doing as much damage as it would in the first encounter with the virus.

The signs of measles, according to the CDC, include high fever, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis. Two or three days after these symptoms appear, white spots may appear inside of the mouth. Three to five days after initial symptoms, a rash appears. It starts on the face at the hairline, and can spread down to the legs and arms. At this point, a fever with a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit may occur. After a few days, the symptoms disappear.

Measles is incredibly contagious. It can spread through the air or live on a surface for two hours outside of the body. When one person has it, 90% of people around that person are likely to get it. If one has been vaccinated against measles, it is unlikely that the disease will develop to cause symptoms, and will likely stop with the person who has been vaccinated by it. This is an important point; if every person was vaccinated against measles, it simply would no longer exist. However, this is an ideal that cannot be attained, even with 100% compliance. Some people have immune systems that are simply too weak to handle a vaccine. These include people who naturally have a poor immune system (e.g. babies and old people), as well as people who have contracted a disease that causes a weakened immune system, such as HIV. However, even if these people cannot be vaccinated, they can be kept safe by a concept known as herd immunity.

Herd immunity is the idea that if the majority of people have been vaccinated for a disease, then they can protect those who have not been vaccinated. This happens because even if one person who has a disease is introduced, they are unlikely to come into contact with someone who has not received the vaccine for it, so these people will be unlikely to contract the disease. This is a big reason why it is important to be vaccinated against viral diseases; if everyone who can be vaccinated gets vaccinated, very few people would be infected, and therefore there would be few deaths. The number of people infected by a given virus should go down over time, and theoretically, the disease would be eradicated. With the measles, as well as with other preventable diseases, this is not what we see.

This is where the anti-vaccination movement comes in. By refusing to get themselves and their children vaccinated, they are inevitably causing many very preventable deaths. What are their arguments? Are they valid? If they aren’t valid, why do people follow them?

Possibly the biggest argument that the anti-vaccine movement uses is that vaccines cause autism. This is simply not true. The initial study by Andrew Wakefield reported a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism. The study was published in The Lancet in 1998, was partially retracted in 2004, and was fully retracted in 2010. Andrew Wakefield was found to have conflicts of interest in the results, and manipulated data to prove his findings [2]. So, the most famous study that finds a correlation between autism and vaccinations was falsified. This argument is totally false, and it is unfortunate that it is still used as evidence and spread as misinformation.

Another argument against vaccines is that the vaccines contain “chemicals.” What is a “chemical?” The short answer is anything you can see is a chemical. Water, desks, trees, and the beaker of gas you see in a science fiction movie are all chemical. By saying that vaccines contain chemicals, anti-vaccinators basically say that there is something in them. Looking past the fact that this argument obviously misses the point, it is assumed that one means “manmade chemicals,” or artificial chemicals. The most obvious problem that the argument that natural is better than artificial is that there are plenty of natural substances that are bad for you. For example, viruses. Also, arsenic and cyanide are chemicals made by nature that can kill someone. Another is ethanol, the alcohol that people drink recreationally. The idea that something artificial means that it is automatically dangerous is flat-out wrong. But this argument also misses the mark. What anti-vaxxers really mean is that there are artificial chemicals in vaccines that are put into them to harm you.

Without getting too in depth, viruses have to be weakened before they are used in a vaccine. Some of the substances used to weaken these viruses remain in the vaccine. Much fear-mongering is made over the ingredients of the vaccines, but the truth is that the concentration of these harmful chemicals is so low, that they are harmless. For example, in a study of 85 different vaccines or other injectable biological products, the concentration of metals in the vaccines were “low or undetectable” [3]. In other words, metals that can be harmful at a high concentration are almost undetectable in the vaccines tested, among them the measles vaccine. Doing more research gives similar results for other chemicals that are harmful at high concentrations. People who scare others because of ingredients in vaccines are simply irresponsible or do not know what vaccines do or how they are made.

Many of the other arguments are anecdotal, or ignore some other, sometimes not obvious fact. Some people say “I know someone who has not gotten vaccinated, and they never get sick.” This can be for a variety of reasons; the family has a naturally good immune system, or they are surrounded by people who have been vaccinated, and therefore have no way of contracting the diseases from people around them.

The bottom line is this: vaccines are one of the most successful medical inventions of all time.They save countless lives every year, are incredibly cheap to administer, and are usually covered by insurance. The pros of vaccination vastly outweigh the cons, either real or imagined. Do your fellow human beings a favor, and vaccinate yourself. In doing so, you can feel good about the fact that you are saving lives, and helping yourself, too.

[1] CDC Measles Website: http://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html

[2] http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/news/article148992.ece