Flu shots

Panic! Don’t Panic!


That was the official advice last week from Health and Human
Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson (no relation, of

Thompson was addressing seniors in response to reports that many
elderly people have been standing in long lines to wait for flu shots
that are not always available. Thompson told The Associated Press
that supplies of the vaccine are still being distributed, so there’s no
need for seniors to “get sick while they’re waiting in line.”

I think I know what kind of sickness seniors get when they wait for
hours in long lines: They get sick and tired of being manipulated
by government agencies that scare them into thinking they’ll die
without a flu shot, and then tell them to relax when vaccines aren’t

Mixing signals

I noticed that when Thompson urged seniors to be patient last
week, he didn’t mention any fears about an influenza pandemic
that could wipe out millions. Probably because there wouldn’t be
anything relaxing about that!

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launches an
urgent campaign designed to send as many people as possible
running to the doctor for a flu shot. And that campaign was in full
swing until the CDC was blindsided earlier this month with the
news that nearly half of the expected U.S. vaccine supply would
not be available.

In the e-Alert “Fear Factor” (9/8/04), I told you how the National
Immunization Program (NIP) planned to feed vaguely scary flu
information to the public to motivate people to get vaccinated. For
instance, in late August, The Associated Press ran a story (based
on NIP info) speculating that the U.S. might have to close schools,
restrict travel and ration scarce medications in the event of a
pandemic flu outbreak. Dr. Julie Gerberding – the head of the CDC
– gave the report a dire touch with this quote: “We’re all holding
our breath.”

Ah, but that was then and this is now. And now that we’re faced
with serious vaccine shortages, you don’t hear Dr. Gerberding or
Secretary Thompson speculating about a pandemic. No way. Now
the message has changed to this: “Relax!”

Tweaking the numbers

Seniors, of course, are one of the core target groups for the flu
vaccine program. So every year we’re told how older people are
particularly vulnerable to the flu. We’re told that government
officials are holding their breath over their fear of a devastating flu
pandemic. We’re told that about 36,000 people die of flu related
complications each year, and most of those deaths are elderly

Want to know how many people died of the flu last year? Less
than 175 (according to Sherri J. Tenpenny, D.O.; an internationally
known leader in vaccine research). And yet, nearly every report
about the flu that you read or see on TV casually tosses out the
prediction that many thousands of people are expected to die.

So it’s no wonder that seniors are lining up around the block.
They’ve heard the reports from previous years. Relax? I don’t
think so. They’re not there just to get a vaccine – they’re in line
because they’ve been led to believe it’s the only way to save their
lives. And you’ve got to imagine that when Secretary Thompson
says, “there is a good possibility you will get a vaccine,” they don’t
feel very reassured.

Thompson also offered this advice: If your doctor or a clinic can’t
provide a vaccine, then contact the Centers for Disease Control in

Right. I guess the idea there is that you can’t catch the flu if you’re
sitting at home for hours, trying to work your way through the
maze of the CDC automated phone system.

Of course, the one real solution that Thompson can’t endorse is the
Canadian Road Trip. If you’re willing to take a drive across our
northern border, Canadian clinics have plenty of vaccines available
– no waiting.

Canada: America’s favorite drug store!

But if you don’t live near Canada

The good news: So far there are no reported shortages of chicken
soup. And vitamin C is apparently still in good supply. And no
reports yet of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) flying off the shelves.

In several e-Alerts I’ve told you about NAC – an amino acid that
naturally stimulates the body to produce glutathione, a powerful
antioxidant enzyme. Studies have shown that patients with
ailments associated with a breakdown in the immune system are
often deficient in their levels of glutathione.

NAC has been used for many years to treat chronic respiratory
ailments. Just a few years ago, an Italian study found that NAC
supplements significantly increased immunity to flu infection.
Over a six-month trial, only 29 percent of those taking NAC
developed flu symptoms, versus 51 percent of those taking a
placebo. About three-quarters of the 262 subjects were over the
age of 65.

A daily NAC dose of 300 mg is probably both effective and safe
for most people. But as always, be sure to talk to your doctor or
health care professional before adding a supplement such as NAC
to your regimen.


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and another thing

While it may not be the most effective treatment for the flu,
Tommy Thompson’s advice to “relax” is not bad health advice –
especially for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Earlier this month, at the annual meeting of the American
Neurological Association, researchers from the University of
Minnesota presented the results of a study that examined fatigue in
MS patients.

Nearly 170 subjects with MS participated in a six-week energy
conservation course. For two hours each week, occupational
therapists coached small groups of subjects in energy-saving
tactics that addressed habits at work, chores around the house, and
even leisure activities.

During the coaching period, subjects generally reported significant
improvement in overcoming fatigue. Follow up interviews showed
that fatigue management skills continued to improve after the
coaching period.

Dr. Virgil Mathiowetz – the lead researcher – told Reuters Health
that these positive results were similar to two previous studies. But
Dr. Mathiowetz stressed that because the changes made are
behavior modifications, it takes time to effectively apply them. But
the reward is a marked improvement in quality of life.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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“Seniors Urged to Relax Over Flu Vaccine” The Associated Press,
10/18/04, abcnews.go.com
“Health Secretary: No Flu Vaccine Crisis” CNN, 10/18/04,
“Teaching MS Patients to Save Energy Curbs Fatigue” Megan
Rauscher, Reuters Health, 10/6/04, reutershealth.com