Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Irresponsible Advice About the Swine Flu Vaccine

Bill Maher should stick to politics. He's been Twittering that people who get swine flu shots are idiots and also mouthed off on his "Real Time With Bill Maher" show about the vaccine, implying that getting the vaccine was the same thing as being injected with the disease, which it is not.

Now ordinarily this would not be a big deal. I mean, who would look to a talk show host for medical advice? Unfortunately, with this being a new vaccine, and a high level of suspicion about the government's ability to do anything whatsoever running rampant in the country, this just encourages those who are dubious about it to feel justified in skipping it. This would not be a good idea.

The H1N1 (swine) flu is a different strain of flu virus. Unlike the usual seasonal influenza that is more apt to be severe in the elderly, with the H1N1 virus, younger people are more vulnerable and become sicker than their elders.

This may be because the new H1N1 virus is related to the deadly 1918 Spanish flu, and since variants of the 1918 flu type were in circulation for several generations after it first appeared, people 65 and over tend to be less vulnerable to the new flu since they have had exposure to its cousin in the past.

In addition, those who were vaccinated against the swine flu strain that was prevalent in 1976 may also have a certain degree of cross-immunity to the new H1N1 virus.

This leaves younger people at most risk for severe illness in this new pandemic. In addition, pregnant women, whose immunity is lowered by their condition, and those with specific health problems, are also vulnerable.

There are two kinds of vaccine: One injectable, which is a killed virus that is incapable of causing illness, and a nasal spray version that is a weakened virus. It is recommended that those with impaired immunity only receive the injected vaccine.

It is the height of irresponsibility on Maher's part to be blathering about a medical subject about which he obviously knows very little, and contradicting Dr. Bill Frist, his guest on the show, who was trying to get across the importance of vaccination.

There are reasons some people shouldn't receive either vaccination. If they are allergic to eggs, as my mother is, they cannot receive any flu vaccines because the virus used to create them is incubated in eggs. In addition, there may be concerns about the preservative, thimerasol, which is used in the injectable vaccines for both H1N1 and regular seasonal flu.

And of course, it is always a personal decision whether one wants to have a shot or not. But to make that decision, a person needs to be armed with the facts, not a talk show host's personal aversions. If you want the facts, please go to this site and read up on them. Then you can make a truly informed decision about receiving the H1N1 vaccination.

(cross-posted at Medicana)


S.W. Anderson said...

Excellent post, Mauigirl. Maher is a wisecracking comic. Usually, his heart's in the right place and he makes a lot of sense, in his snarky, whacky way. But not this time. He's way out of line on this.

As you ask, why would anyone listen to a comedian's advice about a timely health care matter? Well, why would anyone waste time listening to Rush Limbaugh or vote for George W. Bush? There are lots of uninformed, badly informed and gullible people — types especially likely to go along with comments that confirm their own preferences, prejudices, fears and suspicions.

Maher knows that about dittoheads, so why doesn't he know it about his own audience?

There is always a risk for a viral vaccination being ineffective, whether seasonal or H1N1. That's because viruses reproduce at mind-boggling rates, and are affected by their hosts, through natural selection. So, by the time a vaccine gets to the public, the target virus might have had enough time to mutate enough that protection turns out to be weak or even nonexistent. Even so, the vaccine represents a negligible chance of any harm to 99.x percent of people receiving it. At the same time, it has the potential to help most of them either not get the target flu or have a milder, shorter illness if they do get it.

In short, for the overwhelming majority of people, it's a no brainer.

Re: Thimerosol. I know Bobby Kennedy Jr. is convinced this causes autism and God know what else. But really, there's probably more danger to more people from less-than-pure drinking water than from the minute amount of Thimerosol they're exposed to over a lifetime. It's a tradeoff proposition, with the evidence so far indicating its safer to have it in some injectables as a preservative than to not have it.

jadedj said...

Thank you for this post. Being a high risk, over 55 person who also is on a medication which lowers infectious immunity, I appreciate your words. The crux of the matter is, one should take the ounce of prevention, given the odds. Thanks again.

Life As I Know It Now said...

I like that they are offering a Thimerosol free vaccine and that is what I got. If I don't gotta have it why take the chance?

Dave Dubya said...

Thanks for appealing to reason here.

Maher is way off track. It's not the "Government" as in politicians who are giving the immunizations.

These are medical professionals who are providing this, not Harry Reid or John McCain.

Maybe if more people were dropping dead from the vaccine than the flu, he'd have a point.


D.K. Raed said...

Maui, I agree & thought the same thing when I heard Maher say it. For a smart guy, he can sure spout some dumb things!

MRMacrum said...

It is the same old tale. Illnesses sweep through and misinformation follows or leads. Maher is no more an expert on medicine than Beck is an expert on reality. But both seem to have their fans who believe they are. That's why both should be careful about what they spout off in public. Maher should known better. Beck or Limbaugh, well, maybe not.

Swine Flu Safety said...

Frankly, the TV "news" isn't so different than the TV "opinion" that you decry here. If you want to educate yourself about vaccination, don't even bother turning on the TV.

Instead you can start with this interview:

giggles said...

Right you are madame!!

Mauigirl said...

Thanks for all the comments on this important subject.

Swine Flu Safety, I checked out your website and am very skeptical of the claims being made there. I didn't listen to the whole Youtube clip but got the gist of it. While I do agree the vaccinations shouldn't be mandatory unless a more critical situation develops, I am not concerned about the haste with which the vaccine was developed, since it was created in the same way our seasonal flu vaccines are created every year.

I also do not believe the virus is engineered, it is related to previous viruses that have been out there, and since it isn't that severe in most cases, I doubt it is being used for genocidal purposes. There have been many previous new pandemics that have developed naturally without any genetic engineering - the Hong Kong flu, the Asian flu, etc.

My feeling is that all vaccines can have side effects, sometimes even dangerous ones, but the good they do vastly outweighs the bad.

The labeling of H1N1 as a stage 6 pandemic was done in fear that it might turn out to be as bad as the 1918 Spanish Flu. I think they are just trying to get ahead of it in case something like this happens.

I do not think we here in the U.S. will be doing mandatory vaccinations. As I said in my post, right now this is a choice, and not everyone may choose to take the vaccination. If that changes, I may think differently about it. We shall see.

Randal Graves said...

Comical that Dr. You Can Get Aids From Sweat Frist was the voice of reason. I love our completely fucked up world, except when I don't.

Mauigirl said...

Randal, you're right, that did occur to me as well - very ironic!

jmsjoin said...

I haven't been sick in years. I never get a flu shot. Maybe it is psychosomatic because of all the hype but I have a raw throat and I am going to get them both this year!

Christopher said...

I agree 100%. A very irresponsible remark on Maher's part. The H1N1 swine flu is very real and very serious. Humans have no immunity to it and the virus attacks the weakest organ in your body. In many, its the lungs but in some, it's the heart, or kidney, or liver. This isn't anything to sneeze at. I will be getting an H1N1 swine flu shot at the end of this month while supplies are available. I don't want to contract this one.

Comrade Kevin said...

In certain situations, we would be wise to disregard or severely discount what government advances and requires of us, but this is not one of them.

TomCat said...

Bill Maher is a very fubby guy and love his New Rules, usually, bit he has this one dead wrong. I get mine next week.

phil said...

Yeah, I agree. I think Bill Maher is a complete duche bag, although I agree with a lot of his views.

libhom said...

Interesting post. It's good that you cleared up some inaccurate information.

I think that a rational decision on whether or not to take the shot is a rather complex one. Different people with different circumstances logically would make different decisions. Your post inspired me to blog about why I won't be getting a swine flu shot.

Suzi Riot said...

Good post, Maui! I completely agree... he needs to STFU about this and so does anybody else who is an entertainer and not an expert. Giving political opinions and commentary is great, but giving medical advice is SO not his territory.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Interesting coincidence reading this here. My doctor just explained to me today that I should get the shot because I was born after 1950. He talked about the immunity because of exposure to the old strain and even mentioned the vaccine without thimerisol.

Robert Rouse said...

Just a quick note to let you know that I’m back blogging about politics. It’s nearly been a year and I think the vacation is over. I can now be found at

I will soon get around to updating my linkage!

Robert Rouse said...

BTW, I had the Swine Flu vaccination in 1976. It nearly killed me. A lot of people still have fears of Swine Flu shots from that event, so give some of us who nearly cast off this mortal coil a break on our paranoia.

jadedj said...

Gave you an award. If you are interested in such things, come on over and claim it.

mo.stoneskin said...

I doubt I've ever seen the show, though perhaps I might recognise this Bill chap if I saw a picture, but I appreciated the post nonetheless. Sounds like he is a bitofa...

Mauigirl said...

Hi all, I've been AWOL this week but hope to start visiting everyone's blogs and post something myself over the weekend!

Robert, I remember that 1976 swine flu debacle. I agree, some of the fear of this vaccine is because of what happened back then. Doesn't help that they're calling this new one "swine flu" either! Will add your new link to my blogroll and will come visit!

JadedJ, will be over to get my award! Thanks so much!

Dorothy said...

These guys make me sick what ever happened to journalism and just the news with no opinions.

Dorothy from grammology

Bee said...

Swine Flu Safety: That video doesn't explain that Polio had massive infection rates BECAUSE of clean water, sewage disposal, better standards of living, etc.

Maui: Good post. Maher can be ok, but usually he just needs to shut up.

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