Vaccines are also safe. Anti-vaccine advocates such as HBO talk-show host Bill Maher — who said on Twitter in 2009 that people who got swine-flu shots were “idiots” — have falsely suggested that the flu shot puts a live virus in your arm. Such rumors contribute to an unfortunate phenomenon: “vaccine hesitancy.” Respiratory-disease expert Frank Esper of UH Case Medical Center in Ohio told FoxNews.com that flu shots have “absolutely no live virus. . . . You cannot get the flu from the shot because it doesn’t contain all the parts of the flu virus.” The CDC Web site confirms this.
Still, vaccine hesitancy gives people an excuse not to get a shot or to get one too late, as it takes about two weeks to develop immunity after vaccination. Vaccine naysayers, beware: You are missing out on your best possible protection.
A feature from The Post’s Outlook section that dismantles myths, clarifies common misconceptions and makes you think again about what you thought you already knew.
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4. People should stay away from enclosed spaces during flu season.
During the swine flu outbreak in 2009, Vice President Biden said on NBC’S “Today” show that he “wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now.” The statement caused an uproar and threatened to drive people away from air travel and public transportation. Then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had to apologize for Biden’s remarks, which show how careful government officials must be in making public pronouncements. Not causing panic is more important than Purell in any flu-response plan.
While I wouldn’t recommended jumping into a pit filled with flu patients, simple prevention goes a long way. The best way to fight the virus is to apply lessons learned in kindergarten: Wash your hands often and well (sing “Happy Birthday” twice to make sure you’ve scrubbed long enough); cough into your sleeve and not into other people’s food or faces (and wash that shirt afterward); and stay home if you are feeling sick or running a fever.
5. The government is doing all it can to fight the flu.
In 2005, the George W. Bush administration launched a $7 billion effort to prepare for pandemic influenza. It was inspired in part by concerns about avian flu and the SARS outbreak of 2002, but also by John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” which Bush had read during a summer vacation. The plan centered on improvements in vaccine technology, countermeasures such as antivirals, domestic preparedness and international cooperation.
As a result of this effort, the government had a flu plan in place when the 2009 H1N1 outbreak occurred. As the New York Times noted, the Obama team’s response to H1N1 was built “on concrete preparations made during the tenure of President George W. Bush that have won praise from public health experts.”
While we are better off today than we were a decade ago on this front, concerns over the recent outbreak show the need to develop more flexible platforms for manufacturing flu vaccines, as well as to educate Americans about the importance of getting a dose before flu season hits and staying home when sick. The government should also improve distribution of antivirals and accelerate the development of home medical kits that people can use when instructed by public health officials. Perhaps then, we’ll be as ready as we can be for another great epidemic.
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