Danger from the flu and quacks that exploit it


The numbers of the sick, and the dead, pile up: the CDC says this is the worst flu season in recent years, although a significant part of that designation derives from the woeful success rate of this year s vaccine, around 23 percent effective.

Some of the disturbing stats: About 198 out of every 100,000 people 65 and older have been hospitalized with flu-related illness this flu season. That's roughly 86,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that was as of a few weeks ago.

Despite the relatively poor performance of this year s shot, there is no question that the toll of influenza would be reduced if everyone who should do so actually did get the vaccine: 23 percent is way better than zero. It s unclear why more people don t get the flu shot, especially those most vulnerable: seniors and those chronically ill. But the reason why many parents don t make sure their infants, toddlers and school-age kids get the complete series of protective shots is clearer, although no less concerning: the unfounded fear of autism and other complications from vaccination, largely derived from a fraudulent study in 1998. That phony study re-awakened dormant fears and abetted a recrudescence of nearly-eradicated communicable children s diseases such as measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough) and chicken pox. In fact, the fear of vaccine-induced disease, coupled with a craving for a natural or organic lifestyle, and the mistrust of Big Government and Big Pharma have led to persistent pockets of vaccine denial and resistance, especially in the ground zero state for the current measles outbreak: California.

Then, of course, there are quacks and charlatans hoping to make a buck exploiting parents fears of vaccination. One such, well-versed in the tactics of fear mongering to sell his useless products, is Mike Adams, who calls himself The Health Ranger. One of his more shameful recent articles tried to blame the influenza-related death of a 5 year-old girl on the flu vaccine:

If vaccines are totally safe and effective, then why did this five-year-old girl recently die from the very strain of flu she was just vaccinated against?

Worse still, on his site, Adams posts another piece by Ethan Huff that strongly implies that the vaccine actually killed the child.

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: We in public health are fighting a war against superstition and fear regarding vaccines. It is most dispiriting to read, as we did a few months ago, that the more education anti-vaccine parents get, the more stubbornly they dig in. And when people with very large followings, such as Adams, trumpet alarms against vaccines, no matter how baseless, it makes our job that much harder while putting more and more kids lives at risk and grown-ups too.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom adds, The way that Huff s piece of garbage was worded is pure evil. In my opinion, it is clearly intended to suggest that the little girl died right after the vaccine and because of it. Neither is true. She died because she caught the flu despite being vaccinated well before she became ill. Yes, the flu can be fatal. (Between 3,000 and 49,000 people die annually in the US from influenza.) This is one of these cases, and it is most likely due to the poor match (less protection) of this year s vaccine. There is a special place in hell for people who knowingly take advantage of a tragedy and imply something utterly false in order to push their agendas. I hope it s nice and warm down there.