Vaccines | St. Louis Public Radio


Michael Kinch
Washington University

Many aspects of everyday life and commerce are grinding to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the online world remains as frenetic as ever. And while virtual tools and social media platforms provide much-needed connections in these isolating times, they’ve also made it easy for harmful misinformation to spread almost as fast as the coronavirus itself.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, we worked to combat some of the false assumptions circulating about the virus. Host Sarah Fenske talked with Michael Kinch, the director of Washington University’s Centers for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and Drug Discovery, and he fielded listener calls in addition to Fenske’s questions.

Sarah King isn't afraid of having the flu — in fact, she considers herself an "excellent sick person."

"I have a pretty high pain tolerance," King says. "I'm not a person that whines a lot. I just kind of suck it up."

So when she heard about a medical study that pays volunteers about $3,000 to be infected with the live flu virus, King thought the offer sounded too good to pass up. Last fall, she checked in for a 10-day stay at Saint Louis University's "Hotel Influenza," a quarantine unit where researchers study how the human immune system fights the flu.

Anthrax vaccine doses ready to be given to emergency responders are stored at Washington University.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Emergency responders in St. Louis are among the first to receive the anthrax vaccine as part of a federal program to inoculate local personnel.

Health officials from Washington University and local health departments have begun giving the vaccine to first responders who volunteer as part of a federal program testing the distribution of the shots to emergency personnel.

Anthrax is a disease contracted when a person consumes or inhales deadly spores of anthrax bacteria. When modified to a powdered form in a lab, anthrax can be distributed through the air by terrorists.

Officials say even healthy people should receive a flu vaccine to protect the greater population.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Public health experts are urging Missourians to get a flu shot ahead of a flu season that could likely arrive earlier and be more severe than last year’s. 

The vaccine is the most effective way for people to protect themselves and others in the community from the flu, state health officials said. 

“Herd immunity” also can protect at-risk people including the elderly, young children and people who cannot safely receive vaccines, but only if high numbers of people who can receive the shot are immunized.

Vaccinations not only protect your health, they protect the health of the community by slowing or stopping the spread of illness.

But Missouri now has some of the lowest measles vaccination rates in the nation, and that’s especially troubling for families with children who can’t get the shots for medical reasons.

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz / U.S. Air Force

Health officials in Jefferson County are trying to find people who may have come in contact with a person there who has caught measles.

The person caught the virus after traveling, according to officials at the Jefferson County Health Department. The department is “working directly with the case to identify potential contacts and make arrangements for follow up immunizations and care if necessary,” officials said in a release.

Measles infects the respiratory system and can cause deafness, blindness and can even be fatal in some rare cases. People who contract the measles develop a distinctive red, splotchy rash over their bodies. There is no specific antiviral treatment or medicine for measles, but giving a person a vaccine soon after they’ve been infected may lessen symptoms.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of cases reported in Missouri this flu season is only a fifth of last year’s, thanks in part to mild temperatures.

There have been 5,460 flu cases reported to the state since early October, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. That’s less than one-fifth the number of cases reported during the same period in 2018.

The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in recent memory. In Missouri alone, more than 300 people died from the flu.

A flu vaccine dose beside several needles.
Daniel Paquet | Flickr

Missouri health officials are urging people to get a flu shot this year to prevent a repeat of 2017’s brutal flu season.

As of Oct. 6, health officials have recorded more than 60 lab-confirmed cases of the flu in Missouri, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The agency still lists flu activity as “sporadic,” meaning individual cases have been detected but not a regional outbreak.

A flu shot “remains the best way to protect people from becoming ill or becoming hospitalized or even dying,” said Sharon Frey, clinical director of the Saint Louis University Center For Vaccine Development.

No vaccine against rumors

Jan 17, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 17, 2011 - When Tom Wombacher first heard media reports about vaccines being potentially harmful and that some celebrities had stopped giving them to their children, he had his suspicions about the reliability of the information.

"I didn't think it was completely accurate," said the 33-year-old Overland resident whose son Nolan was born in last May.

Still, it gave him pause. He found himself surfing the internet on the topic.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 29, 2009 - Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., has taken on a starring role in a regional and national political debate that is heating up as supplies of flu vaccine continue to be tight.

The issue? After 60 years, why does the United States still use chicken eggs to produce vaccines?

On Science: Continuing search for an AIDS vaccine

Sep 9, 2009

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 9, 2009 - AIDS was much in the news last week, as researchers reported progress in the decades-long search for a vaccine. While this was certainly reason for good cheer, the news reports were muted at best. This is a road we have been down before, and often.

I wrote my first ON SCIENCE column on AIDS in July 1997, and have returned to the subject nine times in the following 10 years to report advances of one sort or another in the on-going battle to defeat HIV.

It's flu season, wash your hands

Sep 4, 2009

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 4, 2009 - With the start of the school year comes a fresh to-do list for administrators like Lisa Harnacker, manager of health services at the Parkway School District. This year, unlike many others, prioritizing is easy: anything related to the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, comes first.

"It's right up there on top of the list because it's what's here and now," Harnacker said.