Analyzing the flu shot

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The calendar shows that influenza season (supposedly running from October to May) is in full swing, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us there is no such thing. Anybody can contract the flu at any time of year; as it turns out, the virus becomes more opportunistic amid crazy holiday eating and drinking habits and poor immune function during colder weather.

It hit with a vengeance during the 2017-18 “season,” claiming 80,000 lives. And that figure may be higher, as not all flu cases are reported as serious illnesses.

The calendar shows that influenza season (supposedly running from October to May) is in full swing, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us there is no such thing. Anybody can contract the flu at any time of year; as it turns out, the virus becomes more opportunistic amid crazy holiday eating and drinking habits and poor immune function during colder weather.

It hit with a vengeance during the 2017-18 “season,” claiming 80,000 lives. And that figure may be higher, as not all flu cases are reported as serious illnesses.

Normally, as many as 49,000 flu-related deaths are recorded every year.

We do have an out, though — the flu shot, first given to U.S. soldiers in the latter stages of World War II and popularized in 1976. Today, as many as 166 million vaccinations are given every year, with the CDC especially recommending them for pregnant women, young children and older adults (like me).

But Sherri Tenpenny, a Cleveland osteopath who believes vaccines cause autism, is vehement in her criticism of the flu-shot industry — and her relentless diatribes on bad testing and lousy information were hard to ignore. The vaccines, Tenpenny declares, include known neurotoxins such as formaldehyde, mercury, phenol and aluminum; she adds that paralysis, fever, nausea and death mark some outcomes even as vaccine production continues.

Fueling my discomfort was the infamous June 2015 Department of Justice report that seems to acknowledge the flu vaccine as far from safe.

The obscure Vaccine Court doled out awards in some 78 cases then, with 55 of the settlements granted for effects from the flu shot, including one death. Most of the settlements were over Guillain-BarréSyndrome, a muscle disorder caused by damage to the nervous system. Other injuries included shingles, arthritis and Bell›s palsy, a neural condition that causes one side of the face to droop.

Tenpenny would say I have acted accordingly the whole time. I have never had a flu shot, contracting the virus only once (in 1996) since the program’s inception.

But the thing is that I am also part of a larger contingent, one that a casual friend noted when she called me out on my stance. That contingent, she said, is 320 million strong, looped in with the pregnant women, young children and older adults the shot is designed to protect. We — and, by extension, our susceptibility to the virus — are hopelessly interconnected in our daily practices that spread the flu. And while I am blessed with the immune system of a 20-year-old, I am confident that the virus is no respecter of the spectacularly healthy. Those viruses are mutating by the day, and there is no guarantee they will not pick me out of a crowd.

Indeed, in my unprotected state, I am as potentially injurious as somebody already infected — a circumstance my friend rightly calls “irresponsible.”

I am off to the pharmacist for my first flu shot, with a special nod to Tenpenny and her courage of conviction. She is right that the usual coverage against the flu is effective only 60 percent of the time; she is right that we are generally ignorant of the vaccine’s potentially dangerous components; and she is right that big pharma would rather we turn the other way at the news. But she is also right that her profession supports the greatest good for the greatest number.

As for the fight against the flu, the greatest number can always use another volunteer.

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