The Flu is Bad This Year, But Not 1918 Bad

In 1918, the world was absolutely devastated by an influenza pandemic, infecting 500 million people and killing 3- to 5-percent of the planet. One hundred years later, we are being ravaged again by the deadly virus. By many accounts, it’s the worst flu season in recent memory with 46 states reporting widespread illness at the end of December and already killing dozens of children. It’s pretty bad out there, but clearly not to the extent of the 1918 pandemic. To what can we thank for that?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that the flu vaccine is the best defense against the disease, but is that true?

Typically, the flu vaccine is around 40-percent effective. On a good year, it can be upwards of 60-percent effective:

But 2017-18 is not a good year. Early reports are showing just a 10 percent effectiveness for the 2017 flu vaccine. Of course, CDC representatives are quick to say that a 10 percent effectiveness is better than nothing but that’s a false dichotomy. If you avoid the flu vaccine (and its negative side effects), it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t do anything to protect yourself.

The point is that we’re not having a horrifically deadly flu pandemic—not because there’s a vaccine protecting people—but because we have clean water, better nutrition, and better health care after infection. As for most vaccines, the flu vaccine certainly decreases incidence, but the mortality of the disease dropped dramatically before vaccination was even a twinkle in the CDC’s eye:

Clearly, this was a case of the vaccine jumping out in front of a parade. We were already beating the disease without the use of vaccines (and with the uptick in mortality when the vaccine was released to the public, one could perhaps make the argument that we beat the disease despite the vaccine).

Every vaccine-preventable disease has a similar story.

As Dr. Andrew Weil sums it up:

Scientific medicine has taken credit it does not deserve for some advances in health. Most people believe that victory over the infectious diseases of the last century came with the invention of immunisations. In fact, cholera, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, etc, were in decline before vaccines for them became available – the result of better methods of sanitation, sewage disposal, and distribution of food and water.

The flu vaccine does reduce your risk of contracting the disease (from 10-60-percent of the time). And it appears that even a vaccine that has the wrong strains may reduce symptoms specifically for the A/H3N2 strain, which is widespread in 2018. But you probably won’t die from the disease even if you do contract it and even if you don’t get the vaccine.

Our recommendation is to drink plenty of clean water, eat healthy and take vitamins if you aren’t sure you’re getting enough, avoid public places as much as possible, and wash your hands! If you’re sick, stay home!

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