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Study: Change Health Messaging to Focus on Potential Impact to Help Stop the Next Pandemic

A new study on human behavior during disease outbreaks has found that focusing on how your decisions impact others, rather than zeroing in on ultimate outcomes, is a better way of trying to stop the next pandemic. As summarized in a lengthy letter to the journal Nature Human Behavior, researchers said they explored reasons why people make certain decisions during disease outbreaks, for example, whether to go to work sick or not, and what influenced those decisions.

“Our findings highlight the potential for using impact uncertainty to nudge people toward prosocial behavior,” the researchers said. “ … [O]ur work suggests that when communicating uncertainty, policy makers, public health officials and others should consider which type of uncertainty they intend to communicate.”

Although the word “vaccines” was never mentioned once in the featured article, it reads like an outline for selling vaccines to a hesitant public that’s not sure whether they want to line up for the next new shot for the next new flu pandemic. The truth is people not only are losing trust in the vaccine industry, but in the health care industry itself.

This trend is blamed on people living in “insular communities” that don’t think beyond their own selfish needs, but I believe it’s more because the myth of vaccine-induced herd immunity is being dispelled one vaccine at a time. You need look no further than the annual flu vaccine — which is a notorious failure almost every year — for an example of why selling people on the idea of protecting others by vaccinating yourself isn’t working.

In my opinion, if the health care industry were really interested in disease prevention, they would be focusing on the importance of diet, exercise and optimizing vitamin D levels so that when the next pandemic comes around, whatever it is, you are in optimal health for fighting it. Just from the flu angle alone, studies show that optimizing your vitamin D level is a far more potent preventive strategy than getting a seasonal flu vaccine.

This is especially important for you to know right now, with flu season approaching in the next few weeks. Getting started now on natural vitamin D exposure from the sun will go a long way toward helping you fight any flu virus that comes along this winter, even if you need to use a supplement to get your numbers to a good disease-fighting level. If you need the science to go with this proposal, here it is:

  • A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that the number needed to treat (NNT) for the influenza vaccine is 71. That means 71 people have to be vaccinated in order for a single case of flu to be avoided.
  • Another study showed that the flu shot actually makes you more susceptible to influenza and other respiratory infections because lowering you risk from the vaccine-included virus at the same time raises your risk of infection from other viral subtypes.
  • On the other hand, a 2017 meta-review found the NNT for vitamin D is 33, meaning one person is spared from acute respiratory infection for every 33 people taking a vitamin D supplement — and doing so does NOT make you more susceptible to other diseases.

Now I ask you: Which would you rather do to protect yourself and others — take a flu vaccine or simply optimize your vitamin D levels? And, which message would you rather hear from health care professionals when it comes to knowing how you can positively help prevent the spread of disease?

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