Campbell Live on influenza vaccines

By Grant Jacobs 19/04/2012

Last night local current affairs program Campbell Live ran a story comparing two staff members and their decision to vaccinate or not, ’of course’ choosing one ‘for’ and one ‘against’ for balance.

You can view the footage* and read the comments they quoted and subsequent comments on-line. (To get back to the quoted comments from the video footage, you’ll need to keep pressing ‘View previous comments’ until you’ve got them all displayed – there’s a few hundred of them now!)

Overall the story seems well done. We’ve discussed communication of vaccine issues before here – what do think of Doctor Cameron‘s efforts?

Here’s what Aspiring Health, from twitter, thinks: ’Seriously Dr Cameron on @CampbellLiveNZ is the jolliest GP ever!’ He certainly presents with gusto and exudes bonhomie. Personally, I think he did an excellent job.

Their presentation leads with a few quotes from their Facebook page (linked above). The first two are opinions. The next two make claims, neither of which are correct. Unfortunately I’m out of time to address these properly so I’ve excepted them below for readers to take my place. (I’m flat out here… but I can’t help make a couple of brief comments.)

The third quote in the video:

No, if we have a healthy diet our body should be able to look after itself and build up our own immunity to the flu, I believe our bodies will become ‘lazy’ and unable to fight off new strains if it can’t cope with strains we have now, if i do get the flu i’ll take echinachea and i’m usually ok within 24hrs!

Our bodies gain immunity to illnesses through exposure to either the infection or preparations based on parts of the infectious organisms – what vaccines are in essence. To gain immunity in the way Nichola suggests, she would have to become infected. (A healthy diet will not prevent you from catching a viral illness.) That those who are ‘run down’ from a poor diet may be more vulnerable once infected but does not mean that those with a good diet will not suffer.** The mention of 24 hours makes me think Nichola has had colds (i.e. not a ’flu) that have recovered naturally. These also bring up a point Tristram Clayton and Dr. Cameron made – influenza is not ‘just a bad cold’, it’s more severe. Dr. Novella at Science-based Medicine has reviewed evidence for/against use of echinachea for colds and flus; he finds studies come out against its use. Developing immunity to one strain doesn’t ‘tire’ or make your immune system ‘lazy’.

The fourth:

So basically you’re jabbed with last years flu…..hmmm? No thanks.

Influenza follows a pattern of emerging from South-East Asia; this is monitored and the vaccines we receive are based on what is emerging from SE Asia that are anticipated might predominate here.

One thing I’d add to what was presented was that those who are self-employed, work in small companies or in important positions might want to consider the effect of be laid out of work for a week when they consider the value of the influenza vaccine. In the case of the self-employed, for example, you don’t get paid while you’re sick. You can leave aside the ‘medical’ arguments (not that I would myself) and look at it from a financial/employment/productivity view too.


* I’d embed this in this post if it were possible, but you’ll have to trek over there I’m afraid.

** Anecdotally I’ve ‘been there and done that’, too. From personal experience the ’flu is not a nice illness, it really knocks you flat.

Some of the other vaccine-related articles on Code for life:

Immunisation then and now

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisations statements in the print media

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists

IAS talks about vaccination

0 Responses to “Campbell Live on influenza vaccines”

  • “The mention of 24 hours makes me think Nichola has had colds (i.e. not a ’flu) ”

    Exactly what I was thinking. I’ve had the ‘flu perhaps once in my life – I get colds all the time. The whole calling clods “the flu” thing really irritates me.

    I started getting the yearly vaccine a few years back when my employer started offering them. That decision had more to do with herd immunity (though it probably doesn’t make much difference) and concerns like that than because I thought I’d get significant personal benefit.

  • I’ve noticed whenever someone’s off work sick, they always say they had the flu. Often they very likely didn’t, they had a cold, but it’s become unacceptable to take a day off for “simply” having a cold, so people just say flu.

  • I’m sure clods of earth are confused at being thought as “the flu” 😉 Darcy means colds, of course and I can’t pass up opportunities for humour 🙂 It is a pity people confuse ’flus with colds, anyone who has experienced the ‘flu will know first-hand that the difference is quite noticeable!

  • If you do read the comments over on the Campbell Live Facebook page, it’s interesting to read the accounts of those with conditions that make them vulnerable. Anecdotally they seem to be better informed of the value of the immunisation via their condition (asthma, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, etc.)

    Amid the ‘usual’ confused statements and whatnot, there’s this piece cheerful of irreverence from Courtney: “I really wish we had a science based benevolent dictatorship. People are so silly!” Maybe I should resurrect that NZ Science Party idea of mine?… (I’m kidding. I wouldn’t make much of a dictator. I do seriously wish policy was better informed, however.)

    This from Kim: “Yes ive had mine just like every other year. I work in the health profession and when you look after the sick you get sick too if your not prepared. So many things you cant prevent in life so why not prevent something you can. I also cant afford the time off work or having sick kids. The vaccine debate – always a goodie!!!! I actually think it should be offered at a cheaper rate too esp if there is an epidemic, I know our cost for a paying person is pretty steep! Another story.”

  • The GP, Dr. John, does a spot on The Rock radio station once a week at night, it’s hilarious.

  • Matt,

    So he has some media experience – that might help explain his confident performance. (I see The Rock is owned by MediaWorks, too.) Readers can listen to some of his past work on-line by searching The Rockwebsite

    For those confused by the apparent name change, it’s Dr. John Cameron – the radio station uses his first name.

  • Local anti-vaccine group, the Immunisation Awareness Society (IAS), has now copied revised version of the letter to the Campbell Live team they posted on the Campbell Live Facebook page to the IAS website. (They’ve omitted some ‘concerns’ in the earlier letter in the website copy.)

    They ask Campbell Live: “Could you please explain why you provided the public with this misinformation?” Given the sheer amount of misinformation on the IAS website, and their Facebook page, perhaps IAS could look at themselves, first?

    More on this later perhaps – should I find time. (Ha!)

  • Just to clarify – I now see that they are offering this in several parts. (I must have caught this just as the website was updating?)

  • I get the flu vaccine every year, via my employer. Universities don’t operate like schools in that there’s no ‘relieving teachers’ to come in & take your classes if you’re sick, so my students would end up missing a lot of stuff if I was struck down for a week.

    Last year I travelled to the northern hemisphere in July – and managed to pick up what was then one of their circulating strains. It was obviously one not included in ‘our’ vaccine for the year. I was flat on my back for 3 days & took another 10 to come right. ‘Better in 24 hours’? I don’t think it was the real flu, Nichola!

  • But, Dr John said there was no risk of side effects, of feeling bad, of anything going wrong at all – that’s totally the opposite of what the medsafe datasheets say (from the vaccine manufacturers themselves), let alone published science.

    And he said the flu makes people suicidal – where’s the evidence for that?!

    And about a million other things that were total factual errors. I mean, there’s being in favour of vaccination, and then there’s totally misleading the public and opening yourself up for formal complaints. It was an awful piece. :-/

  • Hi Liss,

    Sorry about the delay in approving your comment.

    Before I reply, do you mind me asking if you are getting the views you present from what the Immunisation Awareness Society have written? Some of your concerns are very similar to those in recent posts from IAS. Your reference to formal complaint also makes me think of the IAS – they have written there is to be a “part 3 “Official Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority”” of their letters opposing this show. (It’s been several days now and the third part has not appeared and they have since moved on to other things. The first two parts are on their website.)

    I haven’t time to go back through the video so that I might help you by quoting his exact words, etc., as I‘d need to do this properly—I have work to get onto—but my recollection was thinking that Dr. Cameron said (John is his first name) was trying to point out that the influenza vaccine cannot cause infections and in a different statement that the vaccination doesn’t usually cause more than local swelling, etc. (I’m happy to stand corrected; bear in mind I think it pays to look for what is trying to be conveyed in ‘live’ conversation rather than nitpick the precise words and lose the intent in doing that.)

    Either way, a few thoughts :-

    Some people incorrectly think the vaccine itself can cause influenza. This one is fairly straight-forward (I can recall thinking that he might have phrased it better, but I can also recall ‘getting’ what his intent was – perhaps that’s not coming across to others.)

    Another related problem is people thinking that because they felt unwell in the days immediately after a vaccination it must be the vaccine that caused the illness. If someone notices that they felt unwell in the next few days does not mean the vaccine caused it, their getting ill might have nothing to do with the vaccine.

    People get ill all the time. To work out if the vaccine is possibly causing an illness, you’d want to test how often people get that illness over (say) 10 days, comparing those with no vaccination against those with a vaccination for the 10 days after a vaccination. If both groups of people get the illness at roughly the same rate, the vaccine is very likely to be causing the illness. People writing that they got ill a few days after a vaccination doesn’t really mean much until a proper comparison of the two groups is made. These sorts of comparisons are part of the trials for approving vaccines for use.

    Another thing to remember is that it takes a few days for your immune system to “memorise” the influenza proteins as being something to be alert for in the future – the vaccine is not an ‘immediate’ fix. It’s also why you want to take it before the main ’flu season.

    You should really ask Dr. Cameron about his statement that is has been reported to make people suicidal, rather than me. (My recollection is that be didn’t say that the flu caused this, but indicated that research paper has indicated that this is possible.) As a reader pointed out earlier, he is regularly on radio – perhaps you can ask through that?

    I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there were evidence backing this though – my experience is that the flu does hit you pretty hard, leaving you feeling absolutely awful, and you might expect that people are more prone to suicide when they feel ‘low’, especially if they have an existing depression or whatnot.

    I’m a little surprised that people are complaining about the Campbell Live presentation as it’s one of the few I’ve seen that has presented those opposing vaccination in a fair way. One of the things bothering me is that “the general public” that are unsure about or oppose vaccination usually mean well, even if some/most of their beliefs about vaccines aren’t correct. Giving better information is useful; just ‘bashing’ people generally isn’t helpful.

    (I don’t feel the need to extend the same courtesy to the same extent to organisations like the IAS as once they offer to be a public face presenting ‘credible’ views then they should accept criticism of those views, just as they are asking of the Campbell Live presentation.)

    I think the show did pretty well (I’m inclined to forgive less than ideal word choices, etc.), particularly given any one show is unlikely to ever please everyone.

    My ‘short’ replies are far too long, aren’t they!

  • Thanks for the reply. And no, my information is purely from my own personal research – haven’t seen the IAS’s site lately, but I have worked in media for a long time and know the processes well. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are complaints following that.

    The way he said it, and came across, didn’t make it clear that he was talking about people feeling ill afterwards, or talking about getting sick with flu from the vaccine or whatever. It was literally a ‘nope’ and ‘rubbish’ (his words), and no possible way of it making you feel even a little sick. Which is nonsense, just look at what the manufacturer’s datasheets say and the reports places like CARM and VAERS and so on get.

    And that the flu ‘messes with your brain’ and makes people suicidal… again, would love to see where he got the info from to make such a stupid claim!! Yeah it makes you sick and you feel pretty rough, but really? Surely it’s enough to just say that? One prelim. paper isn’t enough to make such a fear-inducing statement to try to persuade people to do something.

    It’s all well and good being jolly and fun and trying to get a message across – but to reduce it to such a degree that you’re basically misleading the public on an important medical decision isn’t ok. I’d be very careful about how I say things in the public eye if I were him in future. Lucky we aren’t in the States is all I can say!!

  • There is a book called “A Sadly Troubled History…” which describes mental aberrations associated with the 1918 influenza epidemic including links to several suicides. Im not sure I would consider it evidence of a causative link between influenza and suicide but the doctors of the early 20th century seem to have thought there was a possible link.

  • Liss, you dismiss the idea of a link between influenza and suicide before seeking or seeing any evidence, that hardly seems very open minded, does it?
    I am currently recovering from a nasty bacterial infection, one that had me vomited for a good 24 hours the most ghastly yellow stuff and becoming more and more dehydrated. It is the worst I have ever felt in my life, and without medical intervention – a drip and antiemetic, I could imagine it could have been life threatening. At the worst death would have seemed like a relief. So I think you dismissing a link between influenza and suicide as being rather flippant.
    It will be interesting to see if there are any more recent medical papers supporting such a link.

  • Liss,

    My recollection is that Dr. Cameron indicated it was tentative. (I recall him using ‘even’ in that sense; I haven’t time to review the video, sorry.)

    Michael pointed to an old study, but there is at least one recent study (open access – anyone can read it):

    J Affect Disord. 2011 Apr;130(1-2):220-5
    Association of Seropositivity for Influenza and Coronaviruses with History of Mood Disorders and Suicide Attempts

    e.g. “Seropositivity for influenza B was significantly associated with a history of suicide attempt (p=0.001) and history of psychotic symptoms (p=0.005).”

    Problem is, it’s best not to take single papers on their own and I haven’t time to read up this area to see what has been published since, how it fits in with other evidence, etc. It’s not my field and after all it’s not my claim to establish either! Personally I’d be inclined to survey of the field before jumping in (or ask and wait for a reply before drawing conclusions).

    Regards (your words) “flu ‘messes with your brain’” – there seems to be some literature on this too. Again not my field, but again, I’d be inclined to survey what there is before jumping in. Just as one example:

    Pediatr Emerg Care. 2011 Jul;27(7):652-3.

    “Manic switching, which is mood changing from depression to mania, induced by intracranial viral infections have been previously reported. However, manic switching induced by influenza infection without intracranial viral infection in a patient with bipolar disorder (BD), has not been previously reported. We report a patient with adolescent BD who showed a first episode of hypomanic switching during influenza B infection without intracranial viral infection. In addition to neurological monitoring, careful psychiatric interventions for hypomanic state is very important to prevent inappropriate treatment of BD and reduce the risk of suicide attempts in cases presenting with hypomanic symptoms during influenza infection.”

  • Liss,

    More later perhaps if I’ve time, but one point in the meantime:

    the reports places like CARM and VAERS and so on get.

    You can’t conclude much from VAERS itself – as you say these are reports, not confirmed cases. Ditto for CARM.

    Basically, anyone can file a report of ‘whatever’ to VAERS. To put this in perspective (and for fun), check out this extreme case! :-

    “[…] anyone can submit a report to it, and no one actually verifies the accuracy of the report. Indeed, James Laidler once tested the system by submitting a report that the influenza virus had turned him into The Incredible Hulk. The report was accepted and duly entered into the database. This report was so out of the ordinary that a representative actually contacted him and, amazingly, asked his permission to remove the report from the database (proving that it’s not easy being green). If Laidler had not given it, the report of an adverse reaction in which the flu vaccine turned a man into a huge, immensely powerful green monster would still be in VAERS.”

    (Source: – accounts of this event are in many places.)

  • Grant, I agree that you can’t rely on reports sent to carm, unless they relate to herbs, in which case they will be proof of harm.

  • Have just watched Campbelllive’s story. The Doctor tells a number of porkies… he might be jovial and easy to listen to, but when he says the flu vaccine can not make you sick or even feel dreadful he is either lying or ignorant. When asked if it can make you sick, he answers that there are no live viruses so you can’t get infected with influenza. He did not answer the question. It can make you sick… in fact a lot of people suffer flu-like illness after the vaccine… clinically, flu-like illness is the same as the flu. He says you only get a sore arm… that is another false answer. Dr. Cameron said – influenza is not ‘just a bad cold’, it’s more severe. As was discovered during the recent pandemic, about one third of those infected with influenza had no symptoms at all; about one third had some symptoms but no fever, and only one third had a fever His claim that if you got infected you would be on your back for a week is wrong. His statement that if you haven’t had the flu you are not immune is almost certainly wrong most of the time as most people who are infected and therefore immune never have flu-like symptoms… and most people who go to the doctor with flu-like illness do not have the flu. There are over 200 viruses and bacteria that cause flu-like illness.

  • While anecdotal, this local (NZ) story might serve as a useful reminder that the flu—not to be confused with a common cold—can be more than just an (extremely) unpleasant experience for a week or so for the elderly or those with underlying health issues and, as the story relates, on rarer occasions to younger people with no obvious health issues.

  • For NZers: it sounds as if Campbell Live will be interviewing the husband from the story linked in my previous comment in a few minutes (yes, short notice I know).

    For those not able to see this – usually these current affairs segments can be found on the Campbell Live website the following day.