The plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”
Nevertheless, plenty of vaccine decriers seem to think that just because an autism diagnosis sometimes shows up around the time that children are getting vaccinated (give or take a year or two) must mean that the nasty needle was to blame.
But if the conspiracy theorizing, alternative medicine flogging, Jenny McCarthy-idolizing mommy bloggers can use their personal anecdotes about how vaccines are way bad, then I can use my anecdotes of how they’re awesome. Plus I’ll throw in some science. Because data.
To get that science and data, I spoke with Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit is the author of numerous books about vaccines, and his most recent book is “a scathing exposé of the alternative medicine industry.”
I’m 46 years old and, being a full-time fitness writer, disgustingly healthy. I’m at far less risk of death or hospitalization than the very young or the very old from contracting the flu, but I still get the shot each year. Here is why:
Reason No. 1: Because They Work
“There is a US flu vaccine effectiveness system that is in place every year, and what you learn is that the vaccine reduces your chance of getting the flu by 65%,” Dr. Offit told me. Those are good odds.
Until about 17 years ago, it seemed like I got the flu every year, and it would lay me low. When my wife finished her medical residency she encouraged me to get the flu shot each fall. At the same time that I was almost certainly getting moreexposure to nasty germs by having a wife working as a family physician, plus raising two kids who would lick and wipe snot on everything, I was getting the flu way less often.
Reason No. 2: Because They’re Safe
“The risk is negligible,” Dr. Offit said. “It’s just pain or redness or tenderness at the site of injection. It’s a purified product and the virus can’t possibly reproduce itself and cause influenza. The vaccine is just made from two proteins that are part of the virus. The flu virus itself doesn’t cause chronic diseases, so why would one expect that two proteins taken from the virus would cause chronic diseases?” (Because some people have taken a vacation from logical thought, that’s why.)
And Dr. Offit also cleared up that nonsense about the flu vaccine, causing a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome. In 1976, 40 million Americans were vaccinated against swine flu, and 1 per 100,000 (400 people in total) developed Guillain-Barré syndrome following the vaccine, but this is strict correlation, not causation, and a tiny percentage to boot. But how did this rumor of causation start?
“The CDC put out a [health advisory] which said ‘If you have a problem with this vaccine, like if for example that the vaccine caused Guillain-Barré syndrome, then call this number.’ But they made that up. There was no evidence that it would cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, but it put into the head of clinicians that it might. Never before and never since has that vaccine been shown to cause it, but it created the notion. If you look at the data you would have a hard time convincing yourself that the vaccine ever caused Guillain-Barré syndrome.
My arm gets sore the next day, which makes lifting weights a little more challenging. Thus far, no flu shot vaccine has ever turned me into Rain Man.
Reason No. 3: Because Being Sick Sucks
“200,000 people are hospitalized every year from influenza,” Dr. Offit said (and a lot of them die). “Mostly it’s the young and the elderly, but every year there are people your age (I’m a healthy 46, as a reminder) who die from influenza. Because the vaccine has only the risk of pain at injection site, but the risk of the virus, albeit small (for me) is that you can be hospitalized or even killed, it’s an easy decision.”
I don’t know if there is a relationship, but as a kid I had terrible allergies and each summer I would cough my guts out for several weeks. It seems possible this damaged my lungs, because as an adult, every time I get sick it seems to come with a cough that Will. Not. Die. As a guy who runs marathons, I like it when my lungs are protected against viral infection.
I’m a fitness fan, and being laid low for a couple of weeks, and thereby not being able to work out, or work at my self-employed job that I don’t get paid if I don’t do, is a major drag.
“But I never get sick!” You say. Good for you. In 30 years of driving I’ve never been in a car accident where my seatbelt was necessary. I still ALWAYS wear a seat belt.
Reason No. 4: Because It Helps Protect Us All
Dr. Offit: “In Japan, when they implemented a flu shot program where all young people were asked to get the influenza vaccine, they found that not only did it reduce hospitalization and death from influenza in the young, it also reduced it in the elderly. You can immunize one population to protect another.”I asked him if there was a social responsibility for people to participate in such herd immunity, and he replied: “Yes, I think there is a societal responsibility that unfortunately very few people feel.”
I can’t say how many people I have not infected by getting an annual flu shot. But I try to be a good person. Most of my motivation for getting the flu shot is to protect me, because I hate getting sick, and the risk is only a sore arm.
But I also want contribute to society in a positive way. By getting vaccinated I am lowering the risk of other people who are in high-risk groups from getting sick and being hospitalized or even dying.
And so, getting a flu shot gives me good feelz all around.
This article originally appeared on Ask Men. For more like this from Ask Men, try:
Photo credit: Luca Prasso