I was at the gym today and an otherwise great instructor who seems to know a lot about health was sharing incorrect information about the flu with the class of about 40 people. She said that she had received several texts from other instructors asking her to cover their classes because they were vomiting. She went on to say that many at first thought it was food poisoning, but it’s spreading like illness, so it’s the flu, not food poisoning. She made a big deal that the flu is here.
The flu causes predominantly fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches for many days. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but those aren’t usually the predominant symptoms. And the flu doesn’t cause just a few hours of extreme vomiting like we’re seeing these days.
Why do I care if people call this stomach bug “flu”?
The biggest reason I care is that it leads people to make other incorrect assumptions and to get the wrong treatments.
I hear all the time that people had the flu the year they got a flu shot, so they don’t want to get it anymore.
When probed about their illness, it’s usually not consistent with the flu. It was either a cold and cough or a stomach virus.
They need to know that this isn’t the flu. It wouldn’t be prevented with the flu shot. The flu shot has nothing to do with protecting against most cases of vomiting and diarrhea or most upper respiratory tract infections.
Of course there are people who got the flu shot (or FluMist when it was available) who did come down with the flu. They had a positive flu test and symptoms were consistent with the flu. But if they get influenza after the vaccine they tend to have milder symptoms. They tend to not end up in the hospital or dead if they’ve had the vaccine. Yes, even healthy young people can end up very sick from influenza. They can even die. (The FluMist didn’t protect well and was removed from the market due to this.)
We forget about all the times people did get the vaccine and they didn’t catch the flu even with likely exposure. Lack of disease is easy to fail to acknowledge.
We know the flu vaccine is imperfect. But if the majority of people get vaccinated, we can slow the rate of spread and protect us all against influenza most effectively.
The large majority of the parents who bring their children to my office want their children to be vaccinated against any disease we can protect them against. The HPV vaccine is one exception. While most of my patients are given the Gardasil at their 11 or 12 year check up, some parents still “want to do their research” or “have heard things” so they decline to protect their kids at those visits. Sadly they often return year after year and say that they still haven’t done their research, so their child remains unprotected. Sometimes they’ll say that they will let their child decide at 18 years of age. Sadly, by that age many will have already been infected.
The first argument is that it won’t last long enough.
It is therefore possible that the protective effects of the vaccination will wane at the time when women are most susceptible to the oncogenic effects of the virus (those over 30), providing protection to those who do not need it (adolescents) and failing to provide protection to those who do (women over 30).
Studies show protection lasts 10 years and hasn’t dropped by that time. If future studies show a booster is needed, we can add that. That in no way should mean to not give protection for the years it is really needed – adolescence and young adult life. I cannot agree with the statement that providing protection “to those who do not need it (adolescents)” at all. Yes teens need protection. I’ll get more into their risks below. And the fact that women over 30 are more likely to develop the cancer does not mean that is when they come into contact with the virus. It’s kind of like saying that kids don’t need to brush their teeth because they don’t have cavities. If you wait for the cavities to develop, it’s too late!
The second argument is based on old version of the vaccine.
We now use the 9 valent variety, which covers the large majority of cancer causing strains. Again, even if there are other strains, why not protect against what we have?
Natural immunity lasting longer than vaccine immunity?
The argument that natural immunity will last longer than the vaccine immunity is not a valid argument. Natural immunity can wane with some diseases too, and if we can protect against the disease, it is preferable. Boosters for many vaccines are needed when we know immunity wanes. That’s okay. Some parents advocate to not vaccinate and get the real disease. When their kids get whooping cough they’re miserable. Many are hospitalized. Some even die. I’d rather do boosters! (This may be a bad example because I don’t think our booster for whooping cough lasts long enough and there are complications with giving boosters more often, but ongoing surveillance and research will continue and hopefully improve the situation.)
The cost issue is interesting.
If it was not cost effective in the long run, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for it. It’s that simple. They’ve done the math. Australia is a great example. Their cancer rates are down because HPV is a mandatory vaccine.
The risks listed have all been shown to not be as risky as once shown.
Second, even if your child is a virgin at marriage, their spouse might not be. Or the spouse could die and they remarry.
Or there could be infidelity in marriage.
There may not be signs of this virus during an infection. Testing for HPV is recommended for women over 30 years of age, but is not available for men at any age, so teens and young adults will not know if they have the virus or not.
And we know that abstinence only teaching fails. Some people raised in strict Christian households have sex outside of marriage.
Teaching kids to protect themselves is much more effective to prevent many sexually transmitted infections, but condoms don’t always protect against HPV transmission.
And there’s always rape. One out of four women has been sexually assaulted. One in four! What a horrible thing to be raped. Then to find out you get cancer from that…
It didn’t yet know that the cancer rates in Australia would fall like we now know.
We’ve learned much more information than they knew in 2011 when it was written.
We know the HPV vaccine is safe.
It is best given before the teen years to induce the best immune response and to get kids protected before the risk of catching the virus becomes more likely.
It isn’t a lifestyle choice to get this virus, as it seems the author claims. People have sex. This virus and other infections can spread through sex. But this virus is also spread without intercourse (such as through oral sex or skin to skin contact without sex), which is why 80% of the adult population has had the virus at some point.
If you don’t think the risk is real
Someone You Love is a documentary that follows several women with HPV related cancer. If you still think the vaccine isn’t worth it for your child, watch it. I am not paid in any way to recommend this. It simply is a powerful documentary that shows the devastation of HPV disease and you should see that before saying your child doesn’t need protection.
Do I recommend the vaccine?
I strongly feel this is a safe and effective vaccine. So much so that my own teens received three doses of the original Gardasil and one dose of Gardasil 9 despite no official recommendations for this booster. I want to protect them in any way that I can.
If I had any concerns about its safety I would not have given it to my own children.
I don’t think I can list any study or give any argument stronger than that.