Faith and the Flu Vaccine

Some trust in God, some trust in nature, others trust in nothing and no-one.

The roots of these feelings lie deep, too deep generally for the light to penetrate.

These feelings are almost religious: they express some faith or, occasionally, a fear of all faith.

If you try to debate feelings of this nature you’ll find them impervious to argument. They are held sacred and well away from the light of enquiry.

If you believed I held a particular faith you might consider my belief absurd. But because of your good manners you’d probably keep that view of my quaint beliefs private. You’d realise argument would not budge me and, out of kindness you’d refrain from locking horns with me.

Circumcision evokes a great example of quasi-religious positions. Whenever you hear the subject discussed you’ll recognise the intensity with which a person expresses a position. Here we find conviction, not opinion. Convictions are guarded fiercely, they are immune to fresh evidence: conviction is the opposite of scientific openness of mind. I have noticed how lay people, doctors and nurses alike defend their positions on the foreskin with religious intensity. I do not argue with the foreskin zealot.

Winter has come to Australia with promise of our regular influenza epidemic. With winter comes a rise in religious sentiment on the matter of immunisation against the flu. The government preaches immunisation, we doctors echo with our own hosannahs, the trusters in nature shriek back. We all talk at each other. We find it hard to listen when our faiths collide. Doctors trust in herd immunity. On Facebook my daughter tells ‘friends’ she trusts her doctor father. One respondent trusts in nature (“I‘ve been vegan for seven years, and I’ve never had the flu during all that time.”). Another respondent trusts no-one and nothing (“ It’s a conspiracy. Big pharma in cahoots with government.”)

I looked up some facts about influenza and vaccination. I found plenty of facts but these will change few minds. (Two thousand proven influenza deaths. Lots of people become unwell in the two weeks following vaccination. Not everyone who is vaccinated with be immunised. Not a single proven death from the vaccine.)

I had been doctor for two weeks when I saw my first influenza death. The patient caught the flu late in pregnancy. She deteriorated rapidly, developed pneumonia and was soon brain-dead. Her baby was delivered by emergency caesarean section and lived. That baby never knew her mother. Mother was twenty-four years of age. That was my own age at the time.

Last week I vaccinated my children and my grandchildren against the flu. I had the vaccine myself. I offer the same vaccines to all my patients. I answer their questions, I provide information, but I don’t enter into religious disputation.

13 thoughts on “Faith and the Flu Vaccine

  1. Great post, Howard. I think you are right about not being able to change people’s minds.

    I’m in my 60s and this year I had my first flu jab since I was about 11. I decided some years ago that I would have the injection when I got “old” and this year, having had three nasty colds last year when I usually don’t get any, I decided I was officially old and I’d better have the jab! (I know the vaccine won’t stop the colds – but they were the sign to me!) Also, I have elderly parents – nearly 89 and just turned 98 – and I need to be well for them.

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    • Suffering as I do, from IT handicap, my response has been delayed. I apologise, Gumwhisperer: Your kin certainly have longevity genes, which suggests you’ll live long too. I think your timing is judicious. Nature nurtures a human until our youngest has become adult and biologically independent. On the average that means we enjoy a loose health warranty until we reach around fifty. Then Nature loses interest. But viruses don’t. Our defenses weaken and the germs do not. Vaccines and only vaccines are on our side.

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      • I think I need to tell those of me sextagenarian friends who are still holding out. Some have that belief that they got the flu from their immunisation and so will never have one again.

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        • whispering gumfriend!

          Your friends were unlucky. They bravely copped the needle and shortly after they became ill. They assumed, correctly, that the illness was the consequence of the needle. BUT THEY CONCLUDED INCORRECTLY THAT THE ILLNESS WAS THE FLU. IT WAS IN FACT SOMETHING ELSE.

          Whenever we receive a vaccine we take into our system a foreign protein, in this case a protein derived from the influenza virus. Because it is foreign we create antibodies against that protein. These antibodies arm us against the virus in question. The antibodies are the intended result of the vaccination and their release involves a powerful agent called INTERFERON.

          Some people react to interferon with the full hand of viral symptoms – fevers, shivers, headaches and body pains, lethargy and fatigue. We feel ill and need to go to bed. BUT THIS IS NOT THE FLU. IT IS ACTUALLY PROOF OF IMMUNITY TO THE FLU. Painful proof, no doubt and little comfort to the sufferer.

          BUT NO-ONE DIES OF THE FLU VACCINE. The flu can kill. And your benighted friends were made safe from the true flu by that selfsame ‘false flu.’

          Liked by 1 person

  2. We lined up early to get our inoculations. With a city worker traveling on the tincan of petri everyday he’s bound to bring something home to the junior virus induced asthmatic. And no one wants to bring anything home to My mum now that her health and wellness is so important to maintain.

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    • Hello again, Kerryn. Your expression, ‘petri dish’ is apt. And your practice of immunological prudence is equally smart. And as for your mum, please pass on my blessings and kind thoughts.

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      • Oh I will do, since I’m taking some socks over to them (hand knitted to keep immobile feet toasty). Mum had a spinal stroke late 2016. Not sure we’ve fully come to grips with it but we keep moving on, whether it’s our feet or our wheels that keep us going.

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    • Well, fair Jenny, I didn’t really ‘go vegan’; i ‘went’ vegetarian 22 years ago for 13 years because I have high blood pressure. Doctors advise hypertensive people to reduce their salt intake, and – kosher meat being salted – i thought I’d best skip the flesh. Although my decision wasn’t prompted by the love of any animal other than my animal self, it led me to a greater thoughtfulness of our domesticated food animals. Meanwhile I discovered an appetite for pulses and I lusted after them with a mighty lust.

      I resumed flesh about nine years ago so my wife and I could once again share the same food.

      Dietetic purity slides easily into dietetic puritanism.

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  3. Oh Howard. How lovely to read your words of wisdom. I do miss hearing your reassuring voice at the end of the phone. God Bless.

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  4. Not so wise, Lana, but richly rewarded by you. Thank you.

    I too miss my role at the end of a remote telephone. A restructure left me redundant. A restructure is almost always the destruction of someone or something. In this case a lot of strong bonds were severed from above. In the end if the restructure helps critically ill patients it will be well justified.

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