News: Flu Shot Controversy Escalates

Photo Credit: Samantha Henze

The flu season not only brings about an increased number of ill persons, but also a great controversy over the vaccination. M-A exhibits a generally evenly split population with regard to this controversy.

As another flu season commences, the controversy over the most common method of preventing infection, the flu shot, emerges once again. The Menlo-Atherton student body and staff both largely exhibit an abstinence from the vaccination this year, the majority holding some of the most common objections to the shot: unnatural injection, inconvenience, and ineffectiveness.

The flu rapidly escalated this year, and since September 30, more than 15,000 flu cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including 16 pediatric deaths. This is not only a particularly early start to the flu season, but also a larger group of infected people than customary.

Because of the gravity of the 2013 virus, many hospitals have been implementing mandatory prevention requirements. In September, Indiana University Health Goshen Hospital implemented one such mandate, which obliged all staff members to get the flu shot in an effort to promote patient safety based on recommendations from the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This mandate sparked immediate controversy, as many people are, and always have been, opposed to the flu vaccination. In fact, fewer than 40 percent of Americans have received the flu vaccine this year even though the virus is projected to be much worse than usual.

Out of 30 staff members from Menlo-Atherton High that were interviewed, only nine answered that they had received their flu shot this year, while 21 said they had not.

According to a CDC study, the most common complaint among Americans is that they “got the flu anyway”. People also view the shot as a possible source of the virus itself.

M-A ceramics teacher Mike Burton-Tillson argues in agreement with the populace: “I don’t think I should inject myself with the flu by getting the shot.”

In addition, many people either disagree with or fear the unnatural toxins or elements that the shot may contain, such as mercury.

Kristen Budde, a Spanish teacher at M-A, contends, “I don’t think you should put anything into your body that you don’t get naturally.” Similarly, Vice Principal Steve Lippi shares, “I’d rather build up my immunity naturally rather than rely on the shot.”

Spanish teacher, Margie Osborn simply believes that “they don’t have a high enough percentage of effectiveness.”

Many hold this same objection to the flu vaccine, and some critics even claim that it is no better than a placebo.

The past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, Dr. William Schaffner, admits that “it’s a good vaccine, but not a perfect vaccine.” However, he does counter these skeptics in claiming that it is “able to prevent 60-70 percent of all infections, and those it doesn’t prevent, it often makes milder.”

Local pediatrician Eileen Chan, from Pediatric Wellness Group, believes that “it is a good idea for anyone who is able to get the vaccine and who is not allergic to a component of the vaccine to get it.”

Dr. Chan also raises another practical reason to take precaution with regard to this virus.

“A lot comes into play here, not just the serious health risk, but also the inability to attend school, which can be really tough for high school students. Or for a parent who gets sick and is not able to take care of their children or go to work. These are just everyday inconveniences that can accompany the virus,” she adds.

Michael Specter, a writer for the Week magazine, also promotes the vaccine by likening the refrain from flu shots, hoping to avoid the flu, to the refrain from condoms, hoping to avoid sexually transmitted diseases – simply irrational.

Many high-schoolers feel that they have resilient bodies that can fend off the flu, even though the CDC “recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get the annual flu vaccine.”

A more even split than exhibited in the faculty poll occurred between high school students at M-A who have received the flu shot, and those who have not. 98 students, out of 200 polled, claimed that have not yet acquired the flu vaccine.

Many share similar concerns with the shot regarding its effectiveness or necessity. A majority of the group that answered they had not received it shared that they simply “don’t like shots.”

History teacher, Alan Perry, similarly asserted that he does “not want to stand in line to get stabbed,” and Chemistry teacher, Goarine Nersesian, claimed that she “would rather get the flu than the shot.”

Even with a heightened danger in the virus this year, many people continue to refrain from the vaccination as they always have, and the controversy over flu shots persists, both on the campus of Menlo-Atherton High School, and more broadly, all over America.