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Christie's flu vaccine comment draws fire

Christie says 'you don't die' from the disease as he casts lone vote against accepting immunization grant
Robert Stanto, Houston Chronicle
Updated 11:15 pm, Friday, January 18, 2013
  • Jack Christie says the federal government can't afford the $3 million expenditure. Photo: Mayra Beltran / HC
    Jack Christie says the federal government can't afford the $3 million expenditure. Photo: Mayra Beltran / HC

 

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An attack on flu vaccinations by a Houston City Council member has drawn fire from medical officials, as patients with influenza symptoms continue to fill emergency rooms across the country.

As the council considered a proposal Wednesday to accept $3.1 million in federal funding for childhood immunizations, Councilman Jack Christie voiced his opposition to the measure, apparently conflating it with flu vaccinations.

"I'm going to vote against this," Christie said before the 15-1 vote. "You don't die from the flu."

Christie backed down somewhat from his comment on Friday. What he meant to say, he said, was that "People should not die from the flu."

"First of all, that's $3 million that the federal government doesn't really have," Christie said of the funding proposal. "It's borrowed money we eventually have to pay back. But more important is the media's embellishment of the extreme fear of encouraging flu vaccinations.

"Every year there's going to be a flu," he said, "and vaccines create synthetic immunity, which does not trump natural immunity to disease."

Christie, who said he has never taken a flu shot, suggested the medical community should focus more attention on prescription drug abuse that claims thousands of lives annually in the U.S.

Dr. Joshua Septimus, associate professor of internal medicine at Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, called Christie's comments irresponsible.

"That is totally wrong," he said. "The flu kills anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands in the U.S. alone. There is very good evidence that the flu shot reduces deaths from the flu. That flu vaccine is a very low risk and with very high potential benefits."

Immunity issues

Added Septimus, "I'm furious that a public official would make such an irresponsible statement. If even one person dies as a result of his comment, then he (Christie) is responsible. A flu shot is one of the safest medical developments we have, and it saves lives."

Curtis Allen, spokesman at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said this year's flu season is particularly severe. Especially hit hard, he said, are children under 6 months of age and the elderly. Doctors recommend that children under 6 months are not immunized.

Allen took issue with Christie's contention that people develop natural immunity to influenza.

"The influenza strains mutate and change, and different influenza viruses circulate each year," he said. "Therefore, you cannot develop an immunity that will carry you over to the next year.

"It doesn't matter how healthy you are, how much you exercise, how many vitamins you take or how much sleep you get," he said. "Anyone can be ill with influenza if they have not had a vaccine. Influenza can be a serious and deadly disease."

Vaccines for children

Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, said the city would be hard-pressed to provide immunizations for children without the grant money Christie opposed.

"The majority of the money pays for Vaccines for Children, a program where we distribute vaccines to clinics, pediatricians and uninsured and under-insured patients," she said.