THE EDITOR: I note with deep concern the letter by Prof Stephan Gift in the Newsday of January 23, captioned “Flu vaccine could lead to paralysis or death.” The letter was not only erroneous but also not evidence-based. It seeks to mislead the public into believing that vaccines are not safe.
It is true that the flu vaccine does not confer complete protection against the illness because the virus mutates. However, because of its overall safety profile, most state health agencies worldwide, in countries that can afford it, recommend its administration during the flu season (ie September through April) to those at greatest risk.
There is evidence that even though there is not full protection, those people who receive the vaccine and still acquire the flu, do not have as severe an illness as those who did not receive the vaccine. The flu vaccine also confers protection against swine flu and influenza B and remains one of the safest in terms of serious side-effects. (Check the WHO and CDC resources.)
According to WebMD.com, a reputable source, a 2007 study, after reviewing 60 years of clinical research, found that when Vitamin C was given to patients with colds, it failed to shorten the course or make it less severe. In seven separate studies, when Vitamin C was used for treatment of colds, it was found to be no more effective than placebo (sugar water) in shortening the duration of cold symptoms.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is necessary for the health and integrity of muscles, bones and blood vessels and it helps to absorb iron from the gut.
It does not prevent or protect anyone from the cold (flu). Linus Pauling’s claim, as stated by Gift, is old and not evidence-based.
Vaccines over the years have played a tremendous role in eliminating (in the case of small pox) and reducing the frequency of previously dreadful killer diseases.
Paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) has disappeared from most parts of the world except for small pockets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and India because of logistical, cultural and religious obstacles.
The WHO has eradicated polio from most parts of the world and is mere steps away from eradicating this dreadful disease through very safe vaccination.
Vaccines have severely reduced the incidence of diseases that killed or maimed hundreds of thousands of children and adults. These are diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, meningitis, septicemia, pneumonia, measles, mumps, rubella, yellow fever among others.
There is also now a very safe vaccine that has been proven to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in women and other genital cancers in both men and women — the HPV vaccine.
The US Department of Health and Human Services states on its website that “in the majority of cases, vaccines cause no side-effects, however, they can occur, as with any medication — but most are mild.
Very rarely, people experience serious side-effects, like allergic reactions. In those instances, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program allows individuals to file a petition for compensation.
Being awarded compensation does not necessarily mean that the vaccine caused the alleged injury.”
Some of the alleged injuries were not side-effects of the vaccine per se but because of improper techniques of administration.
Vaccines are not cocktails of toxic ingredients as stated by Gift; they are in fact very safe and effective means of preventing serious illnesses in humans.
The flu is not your ordinary common cold.
It has killed many people in South America, Australia and Europe this flu season and has the potential to do the same here in the Americas.
I commend the Minister of Health for publicly accepting the flu vaccine and recommending it to all at risk.
DR BENI BALKARAN, UWI lecturer, paediatrician