Fact Check: New York Legislator Dies From Flu Shot

Fact Check: New York Legislator Dies From Flu Shot
Fact Check: New York Legislator Dies From Flu Shot

Anti-vaxers have been on a roll the last few weeks after the tragic death of a New York state senator in late November. Senator Jose Peralta, a well-known public health advocate, died a few days after getting a flu vaccination; it was easy to draw a link between the two and blame the vaccination for his death. Is this true, though? Did a flu shot really kill a politician who was trying to make us all get our kids and ourselves vaccinated? Let’s have a look.

Highlights

  • Peralta was a strong advocate of vaccination, which is often a controversial subject in the US. Not long before his death, he helped coordinate a clinic that was giving free flu shots in his district. While he was doing that, he got a shot himself.
  • An alternative news site quickly linked the flu shot with Peralta’s subsequent illness and death. However, the author seems to have over-simplified a few points.
  • According to Peralta’s wife, he had been ill for around two weeks before he died but was reluctant to see a doctor. The news site thought this was because he didn’t want the shot to be blamed for his illness. The reality is that he, like most of us, didn’t want to see a doctor if it could be avoided.
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  • Evelyn Peralta has been talking to the medical examiner’s office and has seen the results of her husband’s autopsy. The conclusion is that he died from septic shock, not a known complication of any vaccine.
  • Septic shock usually occurs when an infection leads to low blood pressure; it often results in heart failure and death. It’s rare for a relatively young man (Peralta was just 47) in good health to succumb to this condition, but it isn’t unheard of.
  • Whether Peralta picked up an infection from the vaccination process itself is unknown, but such an event would be extremely unlikely. Inoculations usually cause infections in third-world countries where poor hygiene and needle re-use can introduce other germs to the bloodstream. This doesn’t generally occur in the US because of higher standard of healthcare. Even if it did happen, the infection would come from the dirty needle, not from the vaccine.
  • That said, there are plenty other ways to pick up an infection. Septic shock is the body’s response to an infection entering the bloodstream, but bacteria can come from anywhere, including a minor cut, the common cold, or even from another person.
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  • Flu shots don’t cause septic shock — but the flu itself can. Flu is a virus; if you’re suffering from it, you’re vulnerable to other infections.

Based on the facts, there’s almost no chance a flu shot caused Jose Peralta’s death — but getting one could save your life.