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Correcting My Own Vaccine Error
In the previous post, I wrote about the importance of vaccinating against the flu, in light of the fact that it just killed my perfectly healthy 40-year-old cousin. I wrote as follows:
There's a common misconception that the flu just knocks you out for a week or two and that's all. It's important for such misconceptions to be cleared up. And especially in light of the new coronavirus from China, it's a good idea to always observe basic hygiene precautions (and even if you get vaccinated against the flu, the vaccine itself can weaken your immune system for a few weeks). Venishmartem me'od lenafshotechem.
I had added the sentence in parentheses (which I since removed) after someone had reached out to me to warn me that the flu vaccine is itself dangerous. This person is a Medical Case Manager (i.e. someone hired by patients to advocate for them in hospitals). She told me that "every serious case of flu" that she saw in hospital patients were of people that did receive the flu shot, and that the vaccine had weakened their immune system and caused them to be susceptible to contracting other strains of flu. I was concerned by her claim (though I did not go as far as to listen to her recommendation not to get the flu vaccine), and therefore I added the sentence in parenthesis. I intended that it would encourage people who have vaccinated to still take health precautions, but I realized that it might also dissuade people from getting the vaccine. So I decided to look into it further.
Well, I'm no expert, but it seems clear to me that the experts could not disagree more strongly! I asked an immunologist, a physician, and a biostatistician who does epidemiologic research. They were all emphatic that while the flu shot is no guarantee that one will not contract the flu, the vaccine does not weaken the immune system in any way. On the contrary; it stimulates the body's immune system to produce antibodies. I also looked online, and found the following at WebMD:
Getting a flu shot does not weaken your immune system and make you more likely to get the flu.
Getting a flu vaccine prepares your immune system for the flu.
A flu vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize that virus as a threat. While some people may still get the flu after having a flu shot, they'll probably have a milder form of the illness. That's because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can still provide some protection.
Some people may mistake the occasional, short-lived side effects of the vaccine (slight fever, aches) for flu symptoms. And the time of year people are most likely to get the vaccine is when colds and other respiratory illnesses are common. If you get the vaccine and then get sick with an unrelated bug, you may assume, incorrectly, that the vaccine caused the illness.
(See too this page at Harvard Medical School.)
So, I apologize for disseminating an error. There is no good reason not to get the flu shot, every year (unless, of course, the Kupot Cholim don't have it, which is unfortunately still the case with some Kupot in Israel). And hopefully we can prevent further tragedies. I have never heard a more tragic eulogy than the one I heard on Sunday, delivered by the eleven-year-old eldest son of my cousin. (I took a photo of his speech; click the picture to enlarge it.)
Meanwhile, if you'd like to donate to support my cousin's family, you can do so at this link. Thank you!
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