I’ve been asked by a number of people if they should get the flu vaccine because of the sensational media coverage of the flu season this year. Isn’t this coverage sensational every year? I was actually hired by the Food & Drug Administration’s Bureau of Biologics (now CBER) at NIH when congress gave them extra funding to deal with the impending swine flu epidemic in 1977. The Bureau regulated vaccine licensing and production and biologic drugs in general. But the epidemic never happened and the head of the CDC was fired for scaring the hell out of President Ford.
This is how I answer the question.
I haven’t had a flu shot since that time in my uncle’s office in Darien in the late 1950s. Me and my two younger brothers and sister had been taken to get our flu shots from my uncle Charlie. I went first to demonstrate that there was nothing to it. Uncle Charlie must have hit a nerve because intense pain radiated up my arm as I was injected. I couldn’t conceal the wrenching pain as I came out of the room to face my younger siblings. Naturally they were horrified but somehow survived the torture.
I’ve had bad flu twice in the last 40 years, January 1986 and Becki and I together had the flu in the winter of 2001. These events were nasty. Perhaps the vaccine might have helped in those years but who can say?
The media has said that this year’s shot is missing one of the circulating viral antigens for an Influenza H3N2 strain.
[H3 stands for a particular antigenic serotype of the Hemagglutinin and N2 stands for a particular serotype of Neurominidase. Both these proteins are abundant glycoproteins on the surface of the virus that generate immune response in the form of antibody production. The antibodies produced by the infected individual's B-lymphocytes in the blood bind to the epitopes characteristic of these serotypes to inhibit the virus from infecting additional cells especially in the lungs. The infection damage in the lungs is the primary reason we cough caused by the inflammatory response in the lungs. Once you become infected, you will remain immune to that strain of virus because of the circulating antibodies that remain behind after the virus is gone.]
One of my co-workers, a UConn grad student, had a bad case of the flu the last week in December but she survived.
I have my own feelings but I’m not one to give advice. Some feel that the elderly are not protected by the vaccine. Those that are strong enough to get to the doctor to get the vaccine skew the epidemiology in determining the efficacy of the vaccine for the elderly.
I have a theory that we have a symbiotic relationship with the flu virus. When we get infected, the virus preferentially destroys our pre-cancerous and cancerous cells living in our body because they express higher numbers of flu virus receptors. I actually published this idea in a low profile journal after I left the FDA.
Annually, the news media tends to scare everyone with dramatic threatening language. I deal with the doom and gloom by taking a vitamin C every morning in memory of Linus Pauling.