Monday, October 11, 2021

Why are the flu numbers inflated?

The Washington Post had a very compelling piece about the impact of the H1N1 flu on kids’ vaccinations. This year, though, school has been closed for a more spectacular reason—the 2011-2012 flu season is downright terrifying. What we feared is happening: Schools, kindergartens, even daycare centers are closing after their employees or children got the flu virus—likely the H1N1 strain, although there’s no proof. According to the CDC, seasonal flu usually kills nearly 50,000 people a year, the average flu season kills a few thousand. But, said the CDC, the 2009-2010 flu season killed an estimated 284,000 people. Since then, the average flu season has killed an estimated 290,000. This has led to health concerns and doctors’ offices being overrun with sick kids, such as that you see at this elementary school here in Washington.

The over-inflated numbers are probably the result of more people being vaccinated, because more people got sick. But that doesn’t mean school-aged kids were immune: Anecdotally, we heard from my kids’ teachers that some of their younger kids caught the flu out of class, because they hadn’t been vaccinated. (We didn’t vaccinate our kids for anything this year, but my older kids are so paranoid about those darned swine flu shots that I felt bad for them.)

But then I couldn’t help but notice the increased use of those swine flu shots in stores and restaurants. Our local Safeway suddenly seemed to sell ten times more medical options than usual. And restaurants—such as the popular nearby Clementine—swarmed with people who wanted to avoid the flu shot. The only real danger, it seemed, is that some people might go into the grocery store and ask questions about the flu vaccine, leaving children vulnerable to “reluctant vaccination.”

Then I had another thought: Kids aren’t likely to miss school in “flu season.” The swine flu, though a known killer, isn’t the kind of infection that will keep kids home from school for days. Any child who gets sick enough to miss school is likely to have a milder case of swine flu than a student with a normal season’s flu. The over-inflated flu numbers are probably the result of more people being vaccinated, because more people got sick. But that doesn’t mean school-aged kids were immune: Anecdotally, we heard from my kids’ teachers that some of their younger kids caught the flu out of class, because they hadn’t been vaccinated. (We didn’t vaccinate our kids for anything this year, but my older kids are so paranoid about those darned swine flu shots that I felt bad for them.)

But then I couldn’t help but notice the increased use of those swine flu shots in stores and restaurants. Our local Safeway suddenly seemed to sell ten times more medical options than usual. And restaurants—such as the popular nearby Clementine—swarmed with people who wanted to avoid the flu shot. The only real danger, it seemed, is that some people might go into the grocery store and ask questions about the flu vaccine, leaving children vulnerable to “reluctant vaccination.”

There’s always a “plus” in a pandemic: More people are concerned about flu. And some people might ask for vaccines, even for “common” illnesses like the common cold.

Remember that. This pandemic might serve as a reminder that we shouldn’t worry about getting sick. There is usually only a downside in someone’s life, and influenza, though it is a severe disease, does very little damage. That’s true of child and adult death rates from flu, if you believe the government’s numbers. But it’s also true of parental misery when your kid is sick. Child vaccination—or not—should be decided by the individual, and certainly not in an economic or political climate.

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