Flu Secrets You Should Know

From: JWissmille (jwissmille_at_aol.com)
Date: 06/23/04


Date: 23 Jun 2004 00:44:02 GMT


"The ethyl mercury in the influenza vaccine," insists Mark Geier, "assuredly
does not stop at the neck. Yes, there is something called the blood/brain
barrier, which prevents some toxins from entering the brain. But ethyl
mercury, which is what is in the influenza vaccine, crosses that barrier.
The influenza vaccine has 25 micrograms of mercury, which means that to be
at the recommended level of safety, and assuming that you get no mercury
from any other source, you'd have to weigh 550 pounds to be safe."

http://www.insightmag.com/news/582237.html
Insight on the News - National
Issue: 02/03/04

FROM INSIGHT MAGAZINE

Flu Secrets You Should Know
By Kelly Patricia O Meara

Early in the 20th century an influenza known as the "Spanish Flu" claimed
the lives of an estimated 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. It has
been called the pandemic of 1918-1919, one of the most devastating in
recorded history, claiming more lives than the "Great War" of 1914-1918, and
even topping the death toll of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, that
swept from far China in the 1330s across the face of Europe well into 1352.

Given the deadly history of the highly contagious flu virus, it comes as
little surprise that governments and their public-health agencies pay keen
attention to influenzalike illnesses arising even in the most remote corners
of the world, or that news organizations cover the topic with a virulence
rivaling that of the bug itself.

In fact the 2003-2004 flu season has been remarkable in that it hit earlier
than in recent years and forced government health officials publicly to
acknowledge that the influenza vaccine produced to protect against the virus
doesn't protect against the strain of flu making its way across the country,
leaving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to cavil that,
after all, the vaccine "may provide some protection or lessen the symptoms."
The operative words being "may" and "some." Another CDC spokesman has said
that "the vaccine doesn't offer foolproof protection." What "may" and "some"
and "foolproof" mean in this context apparently is as difficult to divine as
it is for health officials accurately to predict the influenza strains
circulating from year to year.

The identification of the virus that is the target of inoculation from year
to year is based on reported influenzalike illnesses throughout the world
that a handful of international and government health agencies, including
the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC, monitor. Periodically a
group of doctors and experts, known as the Vaccines and Related Biological
Products Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration, meet to
discuss the ambient cases. Usually by May of each year, they vote on the
strain of influenza virus from which to formulate the year's vaccine. Some
years the advisory committee picks the right virus, and sometimes (like this
year) it guesses wrong.

During voting for the 2003-2004 formulation a majority of participants
believed that the influenza A Fujian (H3N2) would be the appropriate strain.
But apparently due to complications with isolating the A Fujian strain, and
additional manufacturing concerns, the committee decided to stay with the
influenza A Panama (H3N2) strain that has been used since the 2000-2001 flu
season.

Attempting to make sense of what "may" and "some" and "foolproof" mean,
Roland A. Levandowski, a doctor with the FDA's Medical Center for Biologics
and a member of the advisory committee, tells Insight that "the inactivated
influenza vaccines - the protective efficacy of vaccine - is never 100
percent. We know from previous experiences with inactivated influenza
vaccines that the best efficacy - the highest level of efficacy - is between
70 and 90 percent in healthy adults, and this occurs when there is a perfect
match between the vaccine component and the circulating influenza virus."

Levandowski euphemizes, "This year the strain that is in the vaccine is not
a perfect match, but the Fujian strain is represented in this class of virus
[H3N2] and it's not so far off that we wouldn't expect to see some
protection. If I had to guess, I'd say there is a 50 percent [chance] of
protection, but even any guess depends on the outcome and what's happening
out there in the real world." So this year the level of protection the
vaccine offers is in doubt.

Indeed, by Jan. 15, the CDC issued a press release admitting that ongoing
testing showed that this year's vaccine "was not effective or had very low
effectiveness" in the test subjects.

Yet up to that time the official edict from federal health agencies had been
to charge ahead and vaccinate anyway. Then, as most now are aware, there
wasn't enough of the "wrong" vaccine to meet the hysteria-induced demand. So
the CDC turned to the recently approved Washington-based MedImmune's
FluMist, an influenza live-virus intranasal spray that is not approved for
use on children younger than 5 or adults older than 49 - two of the at-risk
groups for whom vaccination is recommended.

So with the reported shortage of inactive influenza vaccine and a limited
use of the live intranasal spray, large portions of the population remain
unprotected. How serious a problem is that? By Dec. 20, 2003, CDC Director
Julie L. Gerberding replied: "I think when you look at a map that shows
wide-spread influenza activity in 36 states that we can regard it, from a
commonsense perspective, as an epidemic." Although the flu was widespread,
according to the CDC the actual number of flu cases did not surpass the
"epidemic" threshold until week 52 of the flu season.

The CDC Website (www.CDC.gov) offers weekly reports on the number of
influenza cases. For the week ending Dec. 27, 2003, or week 52, the CDC
reported that "since Sept. 28, WHO and NREVSS [National Respirator Enteric
Virus Surveillance System] laboratories have tested a total of 50,743
specimens for influenza viruses and 14,942 were positive with 9.0 percent of
all deaths reported by vital-statistics offices of 122 cities due to
pneumonia and influenza." The epidemic threshold is 7.9 percent.

According to the CDC, influenza is the most frequent cause of death from a
vaccine-preventable disease in this country. From 1990 through 1998, an
average of 36,000 flu-related pulmonary and circulatory deaths occurred each
season in the United States.

But how does the CDC arrive at its numbers of deaths related to influenza?
"Tracking the flu is done through sentinel physicians who test cases for the
influenza virus," CDC spokesman Curtis Allen tells Insight. "But in most
cases a person would go to their physician and the doctor would make a
clinical diagnosis based on the influenza symptoms. The number of reported
deaths [due to complications of the influenza virus] is based on a
mathematical model and not actual swabbing of the nasal cavity."

Allen continues, "The CDC gets the information from the sentinel physicians,
which basically is a random sampling where there are physicians in a
community or health department who will be seeing patients and will swab
their noses. There are a couple problems with determining the number of
deaths related to the flu because most people don't die from influenza -
they die from complications of influenza - so the numbers are based on
mathematical formulas. We don't know exactly how many people get the flu
each year because it's not a reportable disease and most physicians don't do
the test [nasal swab] to indicate whether it's influenza."

Thus the reported average of 36,000 deaths annually associated with
influenza is based on estimates rather than actual figures. But what about
the growing number of people concerned about the amount of mercury
(thimerosal) in the inactive influenza vaccine?

It turns out that, at the very time government health officials were warning
of the influenza epidemic, they also were putting out unrelated warnings
about the quantities of tuna and other fish that could be ingested safely in
view of the high levels of mercury in their flesh. The Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) recommends ingesting no more than 0.1 micrograms of
mercury, while the FDA recommends no more than 0.4 micrograms per kilogram
per day. What this amounts to is a recommendation by the EPA and the FDA
that women and small children eat no more than 12 ounces of tuna or other
fish or shellfish per week. This is because, according to the EPA, "mercury
consumed by a pregnant or nursing woman or by a young child can harm the
developing brain and nervous system."

Yet the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices has issued a warning,
passed along by the CDC, that "all children aged 6 [months] to 23 months and
pregnant women in their second and third trimester" receive the inactive
influenza vaccine - which contains a full 25 micrograms of mercury - 250
times the limit the EPA recommends for tuna-lovers.

Nevertheless, the CDC Website says, "the benefits of influenza vaccine with
reduced or standard thimerosal content outweighs the theoretical risk, if
any, of thimerosal," which is of course the source of the mercury. The CDC
Website also states: "Based on guidelines established by the FDA, the EPA
and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, no child will
receive excessive mercury from childhood vaccines regardless of whether or
not their flu shot contains thimerosal as a preservative."

Is there a disconnect in communications between federal agencies? Certainly
the EPA and the FDA don't think the risk from exposure of children to high
levels of mercury is "theoretical." Does mercury injected directly into the
bloodstream of a small child stop at the neck, whereas mercury ingested from
a tuna-fish sandwich does not? If EPA and FDA mercury limits are 0.1 and 0.4
micrograms, how can the CDC believe the 25 micrograms contained in the
influenza vaccine is not "excessive mercury"?

According to Raymond Strikas, a spokesman for the CDC National Immunization
Program, "At this point there is no confirmed proof that anyone has been
harmed by mercury in vaccines. I'm not arguing that mercury isn't a
neurotoxin - you're right. No one argues that point. It's got to do with the
amount in vaccines - it's very small and has been eliminated in the vast
majority of childhood vaccines. There is thimerosal-free or
reduced-thimerosal influenza vaccine available." Then the "commonsense"
factor cited by CDC Director Gerberding about influenza being at epidemic
levels kicks in to point out that if you ingest mercury and it causes
neurological problems, then it's just common sense that when you inject it
into the bloodstream it will do the same.

Thimerosal is a preservative that has been used in multi-dose vials of
vaccines. It contains 49 percent ethylmercury. The CDC says "there is no
convincing evidence of harm caused by low doses of thimerosal." However, in
July 1999, the Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics
agreed thimerosal should be eliminated "as a precautionary measure." And
Strikas is correct when he advises that there is a thimerosal-free influenza
vaccine. The problem, critics say, is that of the 85 million doses produced
for this flu season only 3.2 million were thimerosal-free. Which lucky kids,
they ask, weren't exposed to potential mercury risks?

Len Lavenda is a spokesman for Adventis Pasteur, one of three pharmaceutical
companies producing this season's influenza vaccine. He tells Insight, "We
produce flu vaccines in several different presentations. We have three of
these: a 10-dose vial [multidose], single-dose prefilled syringes and the
pediatric preservative-free dose. Based on prebooking we determine how many
of each will be produced." Lavenda explains that "for the 2003-2004 season
Adventis produced 43 million doses of the influenza vaccine." The
pharmaceutical spokesman was unsure of how many were free of thimerosal or
even of how many thimerosal-free doses might be produced for the next flu
season. The FluMist intranasal spray is free of thimerosal, remember, but
cannot be given to children younger than 5.

Mark Geier is president of the Genetic Centers of America. He and his son
David Geier, president of Medcon Inc., are consultants on vaccine issues and
longtime opponents of thimerosal in vaccines. Certainly the Geiers don't
accept the concept that mercury somehow is less poisonous to the human body
when injected rather than ingested. They are alarmed about the presence of
mercury in millions of doses of influenza vaccine being used to fight an
epidemic.

"The ethyl mercury in the influenza vaccine," insists Mark Geier, "assuredly
does not stop at the neck. Yes, there is something called the blood/brain
barrier, which prevents some toxins from entering the brain. But ethyl
mercury, which is what is in the influenza vaccine, crosses that barrier.
The influenza vaccine has 25 micrograms of mercury, which means that to be
at the recommended level of safety, and assuming that you get no mercury
from any other source, you'd have to weigh 550 pounds to be safe."

But, Geier says, "that is only one aspect of this influenza virus that
concerns us. There is a further risk to the health of this country because
the current vaccine doesn't match the current influenza strain. You
understand that they have been wrong about the strain about half the time
and we've been screaming about this for years. Finally, this year, they even
admitted it was the wrong strain. But they say you should continue to get
the vaccine because 'it may give you some protection.' The truth is it is
unlikely to give you a significant amount of protection because it is the
wrong strain."

He continues, "Now let's talk about what can be done. It turns out that this
is not going to be a terribly deadly year and the created panic has
succeeded in selling the vaccine. But there is no joking about influenza.
What if the 1919 strain comes back? Every year we try to make a vaccine, and
let's hope the year it comes back we have a good one. In its best year the
influenza vaccine is probably about 70 percent efficacious, which means we'd
still lose tens of millions of people, so what do we do? The next thing out
of their mouths is: 'Well, if it gets really bad we're going to quarantine
states.' Wait. This isn't 1919, and we have three FDA-approved drugs that
prevent influenza. What happened to them?"

"Tamiflu," Geier says, "is made by Roche [Pharmaceuticals]. Taking one pill
a day prevents up to 90 percent of flu. So explain to me why our [Department
of] Homeland Security has stocked millions of doses of Cipro in case we're
attacked with anthrax - unlikely on a wide-scale basis - but has not put
away Tamiflu for a major outbreak of influenza that could go worldwide?
Tamiflu ... can be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flulike symptoms
and will shorten the case. Two, it is approved for prophylactic use - taking
one pill a day for the flu season - and it will prevent any type of
influenza A or B, no matter what strain, and it is graded in the 90 percent
range."

Geier insists that "it should be put away for both uses and, God forbid
there is a major outbreak, every city should have this stocked. Homeland
Security is supposed to protect us not only from terrorists but also natural
disasters - and this would be a real natural disaster. Why aren't
public-health officials telling people there is an alternative? Instead,
what we've got is people fighting to get the wrong vaccine, fully approved
by the FDA. What kind of leadership is this?"

"Suppose for a moment," he says, "that there were a 1919 swine-flu outbreak
tomorrow. Do you think they could just pass out Tamiflu to everyone then?
No. That would mean producing tens of millions of doses. I went to a local
pharmacy to get Tamiflu and asked the pharmacist how many he had on the
shelf. He had just 20 Tamiflu pills - not even enough to fill my
prescription. Look, this is serious. If the 1919 strain should return tens
of millions of Americans could die, but our health officials are doing
nothing, even though the FDA has approved the antivirals for exactly this
use. The vaccine in its wildest dreams never works in the 90 [percent
range], so why aren't they actively promoting Tamiflu?"

Kelly Patricia O'Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight.
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