Historians will look back some day on the autumn of 2009 as a period of mass hysteria over a relatively innocuous strain of flu called H1N1, which so far has killed 1,000 Americans (normal seasonal flu averages 36,000 U.S. deaths per year, according to the CDC -- see how they arrive at that count in this Slate article). President Obama has declared swine flu a "national emergency" that might kill 90,000
Americans this year. But a vocal group of anti-vaccination fanatics is arguing that the H1N1 vaccine, still mostly unavailable, is either unnecessary or downright dangerous.
The Juice jumped into the fray yesterday, citing a compelling new article in The Atlantic Monthly that argues that flu vaccines may be just about useless. Later we spoke to Dr. Gary Snyder, a vocal antivaccination activist who runs the Alternative Medicine Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Snyder says that after a "very dear" uncle died of complications from the first swine flu vaccine in 1976, he began to have doubts about vaccinations. Snyder has been practicing alternative medicine for 27 years; he holds a doctorate of chiropractic and a specialty degree in bionutrition from Missouri's Columbia College.
He doesn't vaccinate himself, his kids -- aged 18, 15, and 11 -- or his patients.
Instead, he encourages people to boost their natural immunity with vitamin supplements and homeopathic remedies, on a solid foundation of good nutrition. Specifically, he recommends high doses of Vitamin D3 and C.
"I have been advising my patients since the '70s against any influenza vaccine," he told us by phone. "After my uncle died, I started watching research on vaccines, and anybody who digs into the scientific literature learns that vaccines never work and never have. I often quote the former chief vaccine control officer for the FDA, Dr. J. Anthony Morris. He says there is no evidence that any influenza vaccine thus far developed 'is effective in preventing or mitigating any attack of influenza.'
Morris was fired from the FDA in the mid-'70s for his vocal criticism of the swine flu vaccine. "The drug companies know they're worthless. And they know they can jump on this [swine flu panic] and make literally billions of dollars," Snyder adds.
Snyder also points to a recent poll in General Practitioner (GP) Magazine: 60 percent of physicians surveyed said they have severe doubts about the vaccine; 71 percent felt the vaccine had not been tested sufficiently; and 50.4 percent said they felt the swine flu was too mild to justify the vaccine.
And, in the worse-case scenario, if you develop complications from the vaccine, as the Juice noted in a previous blog, you can't sue drug makers or the government thanks to the 2005 PREP Act.
Does the flu ever hit his own unvaccinated home?
"Sure, we all get the flu or colds occasionally. That's how you build natural immunity," Snyder says. "The kids are sick for a day or two and then they go back to school feeling fine."
More than 4,000 people worldwide have died from complications of H1N1 so far. We may get the pandemic the president has promised. Or, as with the Ford administration, the pandemic may never arrive. Debating the pros and cons of vaccination? Some common misperceptions.
1. No H1N1 vaccine distributed in the U.S. contains squalene.
2. Only the double dose shot contains ethyl mercury (thimerisol). The nasal mist and single-dose shot do not.
3. Only the nasal spray contains live virus. Pregnant women opting to vaccinate should get the shot, which does not contain live virus.
4. The H1N1 vaccine is identical to the seasonal vaccines. The H1N1 culture takes longer to grow, so it wasn't ready in time to be added to the seasonal vaccine. It is no more or less risky than the seasonal vaccine.
5. No placebo-controlled studies have been conducted of influenza vaccines, mostly for philosophical reasons (viz, depriving the elderly, for example, of a "necessary" vaccine raises ethical questions). So the jury is out on how effective any influenza vaccine is.