Support Legislation for a Universal Flu Vaccine

On Feb. 16, 2018, Sen. Markey introduced legislation to provide significant funding to aid in development of a universal flu vaccine, and Rep. DeLauro introduced a version in the house on Feb. 26. I strongly support this and I urge you to as well. Please drop Sen. Markey a note to thank him for introducing this legislation, and, more importantly, write to your own senators and representative to encourage them to vote for it. The text of my letters to my legislators is given at the bottom of this post. Please feel free to use it.

Why is this a good thing?

A universal flu vaccine would eliminate the need for yearly shots and would drastically reduce the number of shoulder injuries from mis-administration of the vaccine. In fact, changing the structure of whole flu shot delivery system could result in fewer and better-trained administers of the vaccine, instead of the current system, which aims to get as many people vaccinated as quickly, cheaply, and extensively as possible. By putting less-frequent vaccination in the hands of better-trained individuals, peoples’ shoulders will be saved from accidental injury due to poor understanding of anatomy. As a SIRVA sufferer, I want nothing more than to see an end to (or at least, drastic reduction) in the number of cases of people whose livelihoods, enjoyment of sports and activities, and quality of life are damaged by it.

This article from WIRED argues that the biggest impediment to producing a universal flu vaccine is a lack of incentive from pharmaceutical companies, who profit handsomely from the current system. A universal flu vaccine faces scientific obstacles as well, given the rapidly-changing nature of the virus from year to year; the cost to successfully produce such a vaccine is assumed to be astronomical, although several research teams report progress in that effort.

Of course, it also needs to be mentioned that the effectiveness of the yearly flu vaccines, for all the injuries they cause (e.g., SIRVA), is never 100%. However, it has been shown to reduce your chances of getting sick and helps keep the illness from spreading. When communities vaccinate, fewer people die. This NYTimes article provides a good explanations of the numbers, and explains using simple statistics why even in a year where the vaccine ends up being less effective, it still saves lives. (Yes, I get annoyed when it says complications are extremely rare and links to the CDC’s page which does not mention SIRVA as a possible complication—despite the fact that they are fully aware of it and accept it as a recognized injury related to vaccination.)

Please write your legislators!

Here is my letter to my two senators and House representative about the Flu Vaccine Act. Please feel free to use it, maybe adapting the bit about when you got SIRVA. Or, if you didn’t get SIRVA but know someone who did, change it accordingly! Thanks for your support.

Dear ——,

I am one of your constituents and am writing to urge you to vote yes on the Flu Vaccine Act. The development of a universal flu vaccine will have many benefits to community health and safety, both in terms of lives saved and downtime averted by fewer people getting the flu, but also fewer injuries from mis-administration of the shot. As someone who gets a flu shot every year, and wholeheartedly understands the science and statistics behind the drive for comprehensive community immunization, I was shocked and devastated to suffer an injury known as SIRVA this December (Shoulder Injury related to Vaccine Administration). Not a side effect of the vaccine itself, SIRVA is caused by the giver of the vaccine (e.g., medical assistant, pharmacist, nurse, doctor) missing the correct target muscle (the deltoid) and hitting and damaging structures in the shoulder itself, such as the bursa or tendons or even bone. While I’m told it is pretty hard to screw up this badly, because the flu shots are widely disseminated in a campaign to achieve maximal coverage, many poorly-trained administrators of the vaccine are out there, some of whom have limited knowledge of anatomy and can—as I have now experienced—badly injure their patients. If you don’t believe me, there are multiple peer-reviewed journal articles documenting SIRVA, but this is a good place to start: http://www.jabfm.org/content/25/6/919.full

The bill will ultimately have financial benefits as well; SIRVA injuries led to compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program totaling $71 million between 2011-2017 (reference: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/meetings/downloads/slides-2017-10/vaccine-safety-02-nair-508.pdf). That is, the investment in a universal vaccine will save significant money in after-the-fact payments to injured people, not to mention the pain and suffering it will avoid.

It is my understanding that there is significant financial disincentive on the part of pharmaceutical companies to develop a universal vaccine, as they profit considerably from the current system of yearly shots (https://www.wired.com/story/flu-vaccine-big-pharma/). Some have called the development of a universal flu vaccine a “Manhattan-project” sized effort, which will require government support at a high level to achieve success. But the payoffs will be enormous for the people, if not for the vaccine manufacturers.

Because a universal vaccine will allow people to avoid yearly shots from poorly-trained people, a happy side effect (in addition to, hopefully, better efficacy and coverage) will be fewer SIRVA injuries and the personal, financial, and emotional devastation they cause. Please vote to fund this research. Thank you.

 

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