Blessed Ollie vs. Blessed Harold
I didn't go get my H1N1 flu shot Saturday.
For me this is epic, since I am old.....and have no spleen.
Lacy Buck once asked me: "Where is your spleen, anyway?"
"Well, Lacy.....mine is in the dumpster behind Community Hospital....."
This means I am at an increased risk of dying from pneumonia and flu, so I always get the seasonal flu vaccine. Usually it is me and the other altekochers at the Carmel Red Cross. I like going there because that crowd still calls me "Sonny".
I was trained as an engineer, long before I ever lifted a knife or a sautee pan in anger. Part of our training was deep immersion in statistics. Electrical engineering at a high level is all about chance....aka quantum theory.
Also, I have this deep reverence for actual facts. Whole new worlds opened up for me when Harold McGee explained to me that custards need to reach 180 degrees F for the proteins in the egg yolks to unfold and make a thick sauce. Before that my Irish Catholic soul was tortured for 40 years trying to decide when the custard was hot enough to "coat the back of a spoon". WTF? What kind of spoon? Wood? Stainless? Big? Small? What kind of coating....the fucking stuff coats a spoon at room temperature, for chrissakes! I would actually sometimes pray to Blessed Oliver Plunkett to give me the wisdom to figure out when the four different spoons I had in the fucking creme anglaise coated them sufficiently that the chef would not kick my ass and take away my only half-day off because the custard was not firm enough. Good ol' Blessed Ollie (an Irish bishop hung, drawn and quartered by the Brits 300 years ago....whose head is on display in Drogheda, and which head still bleeds on the anniversary of his beheading)....... but no offense old guy.....I much prefer Blessed Harold.
Anyway, I am not one of those hippy whack jobs who refuse vaccination because the vaccine causes autism.....or the vaccine is a government plot. (Well....actually, it turns out......)
Believe me....having just spent $5,000 saving my new puppy from parvovirus (the second puppy we have gone through this with!) because dipshit, redneck, hippy fuckwads in Cachagua don't vaccinate their dogs against ANYTHING......I am a big fan of vaccines. I am old enough to have been in the first waves of polio shots back in the day. Some of the kids in our school who opted out.....not so lucky.
So it is with some distress that I discover actual facts about the H1N1 vaccine. From here on out I am gleefully plagiarizing/summarizing an article from this month's Atlantic.by a really excellent reporter, Sharon Brownlee, who specializes in health care.
1) Flu vaccination supposedly cuts the risk of death during flu season by 50%.
Ooops, no one has ever done a controlled study. Hundreds of millions of people get vaccinated. Flu kills mostly old people...and sick babies. It is very hard to determine who actually dies of flu....any old person who dies of something lung related is labeled a flu death. Flu often weakens the body so that one dies of other causes....pnuemonia, heart disease, etc. Almost never do families or hospitals do a culture to discover the real culprit. Why bother? Granny is dead.
Even if you take all elderly deaths by anything remotely close to flu.....flu deaths account for a maximum of 10% of elderly deaths. That means to get a decrease in death rates of 50% in the whole population.....flu vaccine has to protect you from dying of a stroke, cancer...or getting hit by a bus. This is some vaccine!
It turns out that the studies that yielded the 50% number are cohort studies......all the million billion people who got vaccinated vs. the cohort of a million billion people who didn't. Guess what? People who decide to get vaccinated are younger and healthier and more health concious than the opposing cohort to begin with....so they die 50% less, with or without the vaccine.
Actually, 60% less.
If you don't buy that argument, how about this one: Each year the governments of the world and the various health organizations agree on the three strains of flu most likely to emerge each season, and prepare vaccines accordingly. In 1968 and 1997 they fucked up, and got the mix wrong. None of the expected strains appeared....others did. So....no one got vaccinated. The death rate didn't change.
In 2004, the production got screwed up.....like this year....and 40% less folks were vaccinated. No change in death rates.
Back in 1989, before the big government push to vaccinate the entire population.....only 15% of folks over 65 were vaccinated. This compares to 65% now. The death rates were actually lower in 1989 than today.
2) Flu vaccine protects the body from getting the flu, or getting as sick:
Well, not so much. Flu vaccine works really great with young people, with a really good antibody response. The antibody response drops as we age. Over 70, and there is not a very good response to vaccines.....and these are the people that mostly die.
So.....do we vaccinate people who are young and healthy who aren't likely to die anyway....because the vaccine works swell? And, do we vaccinate us altekochers even if it doesn't really work?
3) Let's have a study!
The obvious response to this is to do a double-blind study like they do for all other pharmeceuticals. Get a couple hundred thousand people, vaccinate them. Get another couple hundred thousand, shoot 'em up with water. Wait till the end of flu season and see how many of each group are left....or the severity of flu in both groups.
This has never been done. Why? Because everyone is so sure that the vaccine works, they think it would be unethical not to give it to a test group of people because they might die!
This kind of reasoning led to centuries of crazy medical practices. Leeches come to mind....though leeches are making a comeback. How about not swimming for an hour after lunch?
The most egregious example of bad medicine becoming the norm was breast cancer treatment in the 80's and 90's. The perceived wisdom back then was to give high dose chemo and radiation and follow up with a bone marrow transplant. No one would do a clinical trial to test whether it work because......it supposedly worked! Not doing it to a control group would kill them. It was not until 2000 that some Canadians did a trial and discovered that the transplants were actually killing all those poor women, not breast cancer.
When I bought my property back in the day, my neighbor was a rich dentist who put up a palace with a vanity vineyard. And a big wire fence to keep us white trash out. My wife was a city girl, and paranoid about hugger-muggers sneaking into our property and doing whatever hugger-muggers do. I bought an alarm system....but I also bought 3,000 spiky African orange trees. These trees had serious, four inch spikes all over them. I had read that the Nixon San Clemente White House had installed hedges of these trees to repel intruders. Apparently Africans planted hedges of them around villages to keep out elephants or rhinos or something. Maybe to keep out rich, white yuppies with cameras.....whatever.
One day, I was out laboriously planting my African oranges all along the property line (and even more laboriously supplying them with drip irrigation) while the dentist was watching some Mexicans plant his chardonnay (on the north side of the hill in the shade).
"What are you planting there?"
"African orange trees."
"What on Earth for?"
"Well, in Africa they keep out elephants and rhinos...."
"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard of. What a waste of time and money!"
"You seen any elephants or rhinos around since I put them in?"
3) Alright, screw the vaccine....I got my Tamiflu:
The US government's second line of defense is buying anti-virals.....Relenza and Tamiflu. These drugs actually attack the virus. We started stockpiling Tamiflu back in 2005 during the bird flu scare. President Bush asked for and got $1 billion for production and stockpiling....on top of the $1.8 billion already approved for purchases for Tamiflu use by the military by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The Tamiflu patent is held by a company called Gilead Sciences. Any guesses as to who was Chairman of Gilead until 2001? Donald Rumsfeld. He continues to hold stock in the company....whose stock went up 50% after the big purchases in 2005.
Well....if it works, who gives a shit....really. I spent $150 last week on Tamiflu for Little Puppy....and another $300 buying black market Tamiflu from an ER doc in 2007 to save Xabi from parvovirus.
Company press releases claim "Tamiflu significantly reduces the risk of death from influenza. New data shows a more than 2/3 reduction in deaths. Children with influenza are 53% less likely to contract pneumonia when treated with Tamiflu."
Turns out the study was flawed. Tamiflu is fucking expensive. Only yuppy fucks like me can afford it....and our kids, dogs, moms, wives and housekeepers are already in better shape than those poor slobs who can't afford it. Fuck 'em anyway.
Since then controlled studies have cast doubt on the whole Tamiflu experience. The company's own website is required by the post-Rumsfeld FDA to say: "Tamiflu has not been proven to have a positive impact on the potential consequences (such as hospitalizations, mortality, or economic impact (!!!)) of seasonal, avian or pandemic influenza." FDA is not aware of any data that support previous claims for Tamiflu.
In the real world, Tamiflu cuts symptoms of the flu by 24 hours. Oh, and by the way......yuppy fucks pouring down Tamiflu at the first sign of a hangover.....have already created a Tamiflu resistant strain of H1N1. It takes H1N1 only days to get around Tamiflu.
Oh, and among the side effects; 20% experience nausea and vomiting; 20% of children will have neuro-psychiatric side effects including anxiety and suicidal behavior. And there is a death from cardiac arrest thing....but not often. Only 50 people so far. In Japan.
4) Why not get a shot anyway, if it reduces symptoms and cuts the prevalence of the virus?
Because of the media hype....the "worried sick" are inundating hospital emergency rooms and flu-shot clinics. Most do not have H1N1, or if they have it they are not sick enough to be in a hospital. They waste the ER's time...and are literally killing people with real emergencies. Oh, and the sniffling crowds give each other the virus!
Proof again that there is a God.....and She has a Sense of humor.
5) What to actually do to lessen the effect of H1N1 and save your life:
You could go the vaccine/Tamiflu route....which is a lot like the Blessed Ollie route.
I am not poking fun here......I just spent a lot of time and energy and money on this with Little Puppy.
Here is my guy.....and Little Puppy is alive and back to getting fat and happy again.
If you believe in Saint Harold....the science guy.....
You could do boring, boring, boring stuff.
Boring stuff that actually works statistically.
Stuff like wash your hands a lot. A lot. Try to learn to not touch your face, eyes and nose......Your friends will thank you.
Don't shake hands with anyone, till May. Bow like a Japanese businessman. Hey, we learned to live without water glasses in restaurants, right?
If you can get a flu shot from your doctor, or somewhere without a crowd.....why not? Stay out of crowds. Blessed Ollie accepts prayers outside of Church. And Christmas parties suck, anyway.
Do like the English, and get a Flu Buddy. If one of you gets sick...the other guy brings him food and meds so he doesn't have to leave the house. If you live in Cachagua, call the Store....we deliver. If you live in Carmel....call Nielsen's or Bruno's....they deliver. Safeway even delivers, supposedly.
That would keep you from actually having to have a friend.......