You probably thought last week’s post was an innocuous little thing. The one about the study that suggested flu shots may help prevent heart attack and stroke in some people?
I guess I thought many people think like me—“Hmm, that’s interesting”—and go about their business or delve deeper into the study to see what they make of it. I didn’t expect personal attacks.
From my Facebook page:
Another commenter asked was I some sort of eugenicist (someone who tries to “improve” the human race by selective breeding). I doubt these people took the time to read my actual post.
I’m sure you’ve seen anti-immunization claims all over the Internet. As a doctor who believes prevention is the best survival tool, I think it’s important that the facts about vaccines be readily available for people who are interested. So I’ll use this post to respond to some of the claims I’ve seen.
Note: Rather than responding individually to comments this week, I will refrain from further debate. I trust that this blog post will serve as a sufficient response to alternate points of view.
Why Am I Speaking Up?
I welcome reasoned, respectful comments, even from those who strongly disagree. In fact, in the past, some commenters have truly made me think, changed my viewpoint a bit, or pointed out errors in my post that I then tried to immediately correct.
With some comments, however, I’ve chosen not to reply, thinking the rest of my readers could tell they were so loaded with vitriol or such convoluted reasoning that they’d just ignore them. But now, I’m starting to change my thinking because I’m afraid that’s what too many doctors do—give up on refuting (over and over) claims that have been clearly disproven—at least to date.
For instance, there’s no evidence that immunizations cause cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, etc. Yes, immunizations have minute levels of chemicals, but the amounts have never been shown to cause medical problems. I wager you get way more chemicals from your water, air, and foods than from immunizations.
And how many times can doctors deny accusations that we’re pawns or part of a plot to cause the diseases the immunizations claim to prevent?
Some people making these claims just don’t give up. In fact, they try to badger others into not expressing alternate opinions. I honestly don’t know where they find the time. But they apparently go from blog to blog and hope if they say something loud enough and repeat it over and over, people will take it as truth.
Unfortunately, that’s often what happens. Regular people read the rants with no one ranting the other viewpoint, so they assume no one questions this point of view.
But Couldn’t Mainstream Scientific Thinking Be Wrong?
Of course. I’m not saying that prevailing studies are always right. For example, a few years back, it was mainstream gospel that supplemental estrogen was good for postmenopausal women. Then, a large, well-done study proved otherwise. Further studies substantiated the findings, and now we don’t prescribe estrogen except in special cases.
When I first went into practice, no one I knew even suggested that bacteria caused stomach ulcers. Studies came out, followed by more specific ones, and now we routinely prescribe antibiotics to actually cure ulcers.
And then there are biases. We all have them. That’s why, for controversial subjects, I suggest you always read more than one point of view. If someone points toward some study or proof that goes against the norm, find another viewpoint and compare.
But I Make Money Off Flu Shots!
Anti-immunization advocates often claim that of course doctors want to vaccinate you. That’s how they make money!
One thing I know for sure is doctors make very little money off the vaccine—lucky to break even after all expenses. Think about it. We make a lot more money treating someone who’s sick than giving a $20 or $30 shot. But, even though we’re often criticized for thinking more about treatment than prevention, for some reason, in some people’s minds, this immunization thing must be the great exception.
The fact is, many people make money and acquire fame by being against the vaccine. Consider, for example, the person who makes their living off of selling some vitamin, herb, or elixir to cure everything from cancer to the flu to arthritis, cherry picking studies and quoting people who quote other people to back up these claims.
But This One Claim Is Everywhere! There Must Be Something to It.
“Anything can be claimed true and spread on the Web. Vaccine controversy is like gossip: Repeated, believed.”
Anything can be stated as a truth and spread all over the Internet. It’s like gossip: The more times it’s repeated, the more people believe it.
And just because a celebrity, doctor, or book states something doesn’t make it true either. I’ve often seen fame and publicity trump evidence.
Some people are great at making a case for about anything—and making a living on it.
What About This or That Study They Always Cite?
Coming Soon: My Take on That Cochrane Study
One particular study published by a reputable organization is often cited by anti-flu-shot advocates—and criticized by doctors for biases. In an upcoming post, I’ll give my take.
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I try to, at least partially, keep an open mind. I’ve been around long enough to realize that what we think for years is true can sometimes be proven false. But I seldom change my mind from the results of only one study.
As you remember from school, the scientific method tells us results need to be replicated to be proven correct. So after one study shows a controversial finding, more focused studies must be done to rule out any not-thought-of reason for it.
For instance, maybe some study finds that more people who took the flu shot got more of some disease. More studies must be done to find out if the cause was the vaccine or something else. (Maybe the flu-shot takers were older or more unhealthy or multiple other things.)
There’s also something called study bias. Maybe the investigators wanted the therapy to work (or not work) so badly that they unconsciously did something that altered results. Or maybe one group was healthier or smoked more. There are ways to minimize these unintentional biases but never completely get rid of them. Hence, once again, the need for another study to confirm the findings.
And then there’s the cherry picking I mentioned before. Long before the Internet, people have periodically blamed all sorts of diseases on one or two things. These days it’s popular in some circles to blame immunizations—despite the lack of proof. (Of course there are some people who believe the proof has been altered by the American Medical Association, pharmaceuticals, the government, etc.)
“There’s no evidence that immunizations cause cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, etc.”
Despite the multiple studies done by independent researchers that show immunization benefits greatly outweigh risks, and despite multiple studies showing no risk at all for certain diseases (Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, etc.), some don’t believe them, choosing instead to believe that the people doing these studies all have a hidden agenda. And, although the one study they may choose to back up their claim has been proven by multiple additional studies to be wrong, they further believe it was really the only correct one—apparently done by scientists with no hidden agenda.
But It Could Be True
Some of you will say, yeah, but what if it turns out immunizations do aggravate some chronic disease? I can’t answer. I guess you could ask the same about the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and on and on. We can only go on what tools, experience, and, in this case, studies we have at hand.
These same immunizations have saved and continue to save millions of lives. Before them, and in countries that don’t have them, many people haven’t lived long enough to have any claimed long-term complications of any immunization anyway. They die of the disease that we in the U.S. are immunized for.
Yes, there are people who would actually dispute the fact that immunizations prevent any disease, further proving how exasperating it can be to respond to every accusation.
What About Side Effects?
Immunizations aren’t close to perfect. No one disputes that they can have rare side effects. That’s true of every single medicine, herb, holistic drug, natural alternative, or food. Anything we put on or in our body, or even inhale, that has benefits has risks as well. But, with immunizations, in the vast majority of people, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
So Am I a Gung-Ho Flu-Shot Advocate?
I hate I’ve been put in the position to argue so adamantly about flu shots.
Yes, I think that for the general population, there are by far more benefits than risks. But some people have had bad reactions to them. I can see why they’d come out individually against them. And there will be years when more people will have adverse reactions than other years. Plus, flu shots are not nearly 100 percent effective.
But I haven’t seen objective evidence that they’re not more good for me than bad. And I think there’s much stronger evidence for other immunizations, such as diphtheria, polio, rubella, etc. You certainly have the right to disagree.
Get the Facts From All Sides, and Make Up Your Own Mind.
I’m not trying to force immunizations on anyone. I’m just saying, look at all the facts, and not just from one source, and make the best decision for you.
And don’t believe everything you read on the Internet—not even if it comes up first on your Google search. Be dubious of zealous types who claim to have “evidence” to the contrary of standard belief. Yes, they may be right, but often, they have their own personal agenda.
What do you think? How do you decide what to believe and what not to?