A skeptoid writer brought to my attention to a webpage about the flu vaccine. After reading the blog post I found myself thinking about the TV show Seinfeld. Specifically a few lines from the episode called The Bizarro Jerry. Where the comeidian Jerry Seinfeld says “Superman’s exact opposite, who lives in the backwards Bizarro world. Up is down, down is up, he says hello when he leaves, goodbye when he arrives“.
This article was written by Bill Sardi. He is a well known anti-vaccine/conspiracy crank and has tons of ludicrous posts. It is not surprising that he can take data about influenza in California and twist it in Bizarro like fashion to suit his quack ideas. Not surprising at all. I think it is a wonderful demonstration of how self motivated reasoning can come up with the exact opposite of reality.
- Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter
Lets take a little trip down the “Rabbit Hole”, and reveal the difference between logic and motivated reasoning.
Bill Sardi published the web article “The Flu Death Trap” on March 5 2014 (Although it is referenced at the bottom I am not directly linking since I do not want to enhance his readership in any way). He hits the usual highlights for the anti-vax crowd fear mongering and anti-corporate warnings, the standard fare. He does deliver it with a twist. Using statistics that demonstrate the risks of poor vaccination rates, he then cherry picks them to “prove” how the flu vaccine is deadly. Not a revolutionary approach in the Anti-Vax crowd. Just another good demonstration that arguing with the Anti-Vaccine crowd is pointless. Bill has devised an interesting maze of illogical thinking to explain deaths from Influenza. Artfully dancing around the real findings to fit his world view.
“There just has to be a reason for the unusual rash of flu-related deaths in California. Even after the peak of the flu season has passed and a steep decline in hospitalizations signaled the flu season was almost over, reports of flu-related deaths keep coming in. If public health authorities know the reason for these deaths they certainly aren’t saying anything.”
I believe the term “Flu related Deaths” is self explanatory but lets continue to explore his thinking.
“California mandates all health insurance plans must go through a health exchange and that puts many of the preventive health services mandated by the Affordable Care Act into play including free flu shots — not even copayments. But ironically the number of flu deaths in California this season has skyrocketed 17-fold, from 14 deaths last year at this time to 243 deaths, mostly among adults age 25-64 years of age.And long past the date when hospitalization rates from the flu peaked in mid-January, flu-related deaths soared to 302 in news reports dated March 1, 2014.”
This is a complete misrepresentation of the facts and it omits the most significant findings. Yes there has been a prolonged and severe flu season in California as well as the Northeast. Yes there have been an increase in deaths compared to last year. He is trying to draw a link with the vaccines and the deaths. I will address his very purposeful massaging of the data to produce the opposite of what the data really indicates.
Influenza always changes from season to season. Comparing single season data is not useful, especially when we are still in the collecting phase. These deaths are assumed from the Flu but the final data may be much different. For arguments sake lets assume that the deaths are all related to Influenza. First of all with a few minor exceptions all the deaths were in un-vaccinated individuals. The few exceptions had severe complicating health issues. Almost all of the deaths in the 25-65 age group had complicating health issues of some kind. Respiratory, Auto-immune conditions, organ transplant, and coronary conditions. Older people have had fewer problems with this disease. Not because they haven’t been vaccinated(his unspoken premise). Rather, it is believed that this H1N1 strain is similar to one that afflicted that generation when they were young. So they have had this strain of Flu before and have some protection now. People who have had the pandemic H1N1 supplement 3 years ago seem to be better protected as well. That is why the age curve seems unusual this year. Nationwide, Flu deaths are down this year. It is only when you select for California do you see this anomaly of increase. I would point out that the health care initiative he derides has slightly increased vaccination rates in the northeast (traditionally higher than California), with a subsequent decline in flu fatalities all ages.
That does not stop Bill from determining the opposite.
“By this time last year only 34 flu-related deaths had been reported among adults under age 65. A total of 106 deaths in that under-65 age group were totaled by the end of the 2012-13 flu season. So one wonders if the total flu-related deaths in California will rise over 1000 by the end of the flu season. Is a so-called “hot-lot” flu vaccine to blame? Or is the vaccine failing altogether? Given that any revelation flu shots aren’t working or may be attributed to raising flu-related mortality, one can anticipate public health officials will be less than forthcoming. They are the guardians of the vaccine industry.”
He goes straight to the Anti-Vax playbook. Draws unsupported conclusions, and poisons the well, “one can anticipate public health officials will be less than forthcoming. They are the guardians of the vaccine industry.”
Nice, so when the officials point out that the vaccine is the best tool to blunt the disease they are corporate shills. Bill doesn’t stop there. He then tries the gish-gallop approach to support his conclusions and further fear monger about the vaccine. That may work in a public debate but in writing it just doesn’t work. I will break down this nonsense one piece at a time.
“Consider the fact a toxic flu vaccine administered under a newly announced nursing home vaccine campaign resulted in so many preventable deaths in 1993 that the life expectancy in the U.S. declined for the first and only time since the 1918 flu pandemic. This fact remained hidden till this journalist pored through reports published in Morbidity & Mortality Reports to uncover this hidden vaccine catastrophe. Is a repeat of the same underway?”
Just an allusion to another ridiculous article he wrote pro-porting that an uptick in death rates in the US coincided with a new flu vaccine in 1993. Long story short, 1993 was the peak mortality for the AIDS epidemic. The death of so many statistically young people skewed the data for average life expectancy. There was a sharp rebound beginning in 1996 when anti-viral therapy became wide spread. Whatever he “Pored Through“, obviously was not the facts.
“Simultaneously health authorities are avoiding announcement of an outbreak of Reye’s Syndrome in California, caused after children with the flu use a fever-reducing medicine like aspirin. They are calling these childhood cases “mysterious” when its limb paralyzing symptoms are obvious signs of Reye’s syndrome.”
At this point what caused the polio like cases is thought to be a virus. There is no evidence that this is some form of Reye’s Syndrome. Which is linked to a drug not a vaccine.
“Of the 405 reported cases of fatal or severe influenza (requiring hospitalization in an intensive care unit) influenza (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Reports) as of Jan. 18, 21% had been vaccinated with the current vaccine at least two weeks prior to their diagnosis.”
This is an out and out lie or he has no ability to read the data. Out of the 405 reported cases only 28 had a known vaccination status. Of those 28 people only 6 had been vaccinated. That is 21% of 28 people not 21% of 405 people.
- “Usually the very young (under 3 years of age) and the very old (over age 65) comprise most flu deaths, so the fact that 61% of hospitalizations were 18-64 years of age is of alarming concern. Persons age 41-64 were 600% more likely to die of the flu than other age groups.
- The very young and the very old have undeveloped and used-up immune systems. But these presumably well-fed young to middle-aged adults don’t fit the typical mortality profile.
- All cases for which complete records were available succumbed to the pH1N1 strain of the flu virus.”
As I pointed out above elderly had previous exposure to this strain, so age lowered risks with this flu. The majority of fatalities however were not “healthy”. I have no idea what his description “well-fed young to middle-aged adults” means. Morbid obesity is a risk factor for mortality not a prevention. The high rates in younger people is an anomaly, for the most part they were not “Healthy.” Not coincidentally, the high rates of unvaccinated adults in California are in the affected age group. Changing the bell curve to the middle follows the pattern of unvaccinated persons. Usually fatality leans towards the elderly because they have increased susceptibility and poor response to the vaccine. Not “used-up immune system.” Although the personal exemption rule has raised the risk for children in California, they still have high enough vaccination rates to prevent widespread outbreaks. It is true that the very young are at high risk for severe flu complications. Fortunately despite declining vaccination rates the number of flu related deaths have stayed stable. Probably due to sufficient herd immunity.
“Is it adult Reye’s?”
He donates a whole paragraph to this improbable and foolish concern that tylenol can somehow induce Reye’s syndrome in adults. It doesn’t, Reye’s syndrome is strictly pediatric and aspirin related. More useless comparisons and fear mongering. He doesn’t stop there.
“Flu shots administered from retail pharmacies rather than at doctors’ office and clinics is a relatively new practice and it places three mortal flu factors under the same roof – acetaminophen, sugar and the flu virus itself.”
Meaning less fear mongering. He call this the “deadly Flu Triad”. Up is down, Down is up again. Next is the Piece de resistance, of Bizzaro world.
“The very idea of giving a flu shot (a little bit of the flu itself) to sick high-risk (diabetic, overweight, asthmatic) customers who arrive at pharmacies and already have evidence of weak immunity and selling them a vitamin C-depleting drug (acetaminophen) at the same time may explain the current rise in flu-related deaths among adults younger than age 65. Once hospitalized, these very ill now flu-sickened patients are likely to receive medications (steroids, acetaminophen) that further deplete vitamin C, leading to their early demise.”
There is zero reputable data linking vitamin C deficiency and flu virulence. It is an science-y sounding load of nonsense.
The facts of this data is apparent to me. A fairly virulent strain of the flu in California affected a younger population. Due to virulence, lack of vaccinations and co-morbid health issues there is a one year statistical bump middle age mortality. Isolated to one US state. The elderly were not affected as strongly due to a remote past exposure to a previous strain of the flu. Unfortunately kids still suffered deaths, at least no more than usual.
What this data says to me is that California needs to promote more Flu Vaccination clinics. That the strong anti-vaccine sentiment in the state of California is having a deleterious effect upon public health and stronger measures need to be taken. There is no evidence that a Deadly Flu Vaccine is being given. In fact the opposite is represented in the data. The best protection is the flu vaccine.
Like I said a Bizarro world, Down is Up, Up is Down. All I have to say is…..
- Bizarro DC comics