Antivaccine cranks ask: Did the flu vaccine kill Prince?

I heard the news yesterday morning.

I was in clinic seeing patients. It was a bit of a slow morning; there was time between patients. So I spent it, as is my wont when clinic is a bit slow, signing charts (OK, signing off on charts in the electronic medical record; I haven’t actually physically signed a chart in a while) and idly checking Facebook and Twitter when finished with that. Then I saw it: Authorities Respond to a Medical Call at Paisley Park, with a comment that Prince was dead. I read the article; it said that someone had been found dead at Prince’s estate in Minneapolis and that it was thought to be Prince. At the time it hadn’t been confirmed yet, though. News rapidly spread around the clinic. I was amazed at how much people were immediately affected.

I saw another patient and then checked again. This time it had been confirmed: Prince was dead at age 57. The news reports also described how Prince had been ill on April 15, with a medical emergency having forced his private jet to make an emergency landing in Illinois, where he was briefly hospitalized. He did, however, recover enough to show up at a dance party the next day, so that people would have “living proof” he was alive. His representative told the press that Prince was battling the flu. Uh-oh, I thought. The conspiracy theories are coming.

Boy, did they ever!

Whenever a celebrity dies unexpectedly at a young age, I’ve learned to expect speculation to run rampant. I suppose it was always so, but what’s different today is the Internet, which allows the rumors, speculation, and conspiracy theories to reach the world as soon as they are conceived. Then there are the quacks and conspiracy theorists, such as Mike Adams, who is known for taking advantage of the deaths of celebrities to push his anti-pharma agenda, as he did earlier this year when David Bowie and Alan Rickman died. He’s not alone unfortunately; he’s just the worst.

In the case of Prince, I knew the mostly unknown circumstances of his death and the reports that he might have been suffering from the flu would give the cranks and quacks a field day, and it didn’t take long for the crazy to start flowing like Niagra Falls. Of course, we don’t know what killed Prince yet. It could well be days before we know. Could it have been the flu? Of course, although there did appear to be a bit of jumping the gun declaring that Prince might have died of the flu. The flu can kill perfectly healthy young and middle-aged people, contrary to the misconceptions so many people have these days that the flu is not a dangerous disease. However, after speculations about the flu as the cause of Prince’s death, reports are now coming out that it might have been a drug overdose and that’s what Prince’s hospitalization last weekend was for. The bottom line is that I have no idea whether Prince had a drug problem or not. Although a fan, I wasn’t what one would call an “ardent fan” and didn’t really pay attention to news about Prince. However, I do know that many are the publicists of performers with drug problems who missed concerts (as Prince apparently had missed two recently) who would explain the absences by telling the press that the star was suffering from the flu. Again, though, we don’t know.

That’s why, in cases like this, the prudent thing to do is to take a wait-and-see attitude, until the coroner reports a cause of death. Of course, the celebrity gossip sites (like the TMZ.com articles I linked to) can’t wait, and neither can the quacks. First off the mark was the ever-nutty Infowars, which asked, Did the chemtrail flu kill Prince and Merle Haggard? Was Prince killed by the chemtrails he and Haggard spoke out against?

I must admit that I laughed out loud when I watched the video above; so I thank Alex Jones for lightening my depressed mood. I also hadn’t realized that Prince believed in woo like chemtrails. Oddly enough, I had never heard of “chemtrail flu” before. Curious, I did some Googling and learned that chemtrail flu is what you would guess that it is: A disease that resembles the flu caused by chemtrails, a “mystery flu” that doesn’t behave like regular flu. Of course, chemtrails don’t exist other than in the minds of conspiracy theorists like Art Bell.

I knew, for instance, that, after years of living a rock star’s life of excess, Prince had become a teetotaling vegan and Jehovah’s Witness, a supporter of PETA who was named the Sexiest Vegetarian Alive in 2006, which, of course makes it difficult for alternative medicine believers to be able to blame his death on big pharma, the way quacks like to do whenever a celebrity dies. by all reports (at least the ones I’ve been able to see), Prince had become the picture of health.

Given that, it must have been the flu vaccine. So sayeth TruthKings, the website run by antivaccine loon Sherri Tenpenny, proclaiming Vaccine Injury Suspected In Prince’s Death. Citing the emergency landing of Prince’s plane, Gary Barnes, the writer of this dreck, speculates:

The medical emergency which caused the plane to land remains unclear, but suspicion is now high that Prince was potentially given a flu shot injection or heavy doses of Tamiflu. Prince suffers from epilepsy, and the flu shot can be deadly for those suffering from that illness.

Of course, the story cited also reports that Prince says he no longer suffers seizures. Of course, vaccines are safe in children and adults with epilepsy, for whom routine vaccines on the vaccination schedule are still recommended.

Not that this stops Barnes from pulling this out of his posterior:

The key will be the discovery of Prince being given a flu shot, which isn’t clear as of yet. However the situation seems to reflect such potential.

Thank you, Gary Barnes. I laughed out loud again reading that. The situation seems to reflect such potential (of Prince having been given a flu shot)? Based on what information? Basically Barnes pulled that out of his nether regions. So outrageously dumb is it that one of the commenters at this new wretched hive of antivaccine scum and quackery asked, “Why would they give him a flu shot if he already had the flu?”

Exactly.

Even more hilariously, another commenter tries to explain: “Why do they give you a tetanus shot when you step on a nail?” Well, actually, you don’t if the person has had three or more doses of tetanus vaccine. In the case of an unclear vaccination history or not having had the vaccine, you givetetanus toxoid and a tetanus booster, the latter of which will boost the immune response in time to help prevent tetanus. This is not like the flu. Once you have the flu, it’s too late for the vaccine. In other words, Barnes is wrong, but I thank him for playing.

Still, I saved the best (if you can call it that) for last. I will admit that our old fried Mike Adams threw a bit of a curve ball. Apparently stymied by Prince’s being a vegan and having no known major health issues requiring treatment with pharmaceuticals, he cleverly retreats to using Prince’s death as an excuse to rant against vaccines as only he can in a post entitled No evidence Prince died from a flu shot… rumors are pure speculation that distract from the real vaccine holocaust harming children everywhere.

Yes, Adams starts out trying to be the sane one:

As one of the most outspoken critics of vaccines, I’d like to politely chime in on this rumor and say that to my knowledge, there is no evidence whatsoever linking Prince’s death to a flu shot. These stories appear to be pure speculation. (And I say that as someone who likes both of those websites!)

For the record, it is absolutely true that flu vaccines do indeed kill some people. They severely damage some children, in fact, and many flu shots still contain mercury. I’ve actually tested flu shots in my laboratory (CWClabs.com) and found them to contain over 25,000 times the EPA limit of mercury in drinking water.

There is no question that injecting someone with toxic mercury is going to cause some sort of neurological damage. Sometimes it’s subclinical damage that doesn’t appear obvious, but other times it can be catastrophic… or even fatal. However, none of this means Prince was injected with a flu shot.

So much antivaccine crazy, leading up to stating the bleedingly obvious: that no one knows if Prince was vaccinated against the flu or not, much less whether it happened recently. It’s unlikely that it did, even if Prince did receive the vaccine, given that flu season is almost over. It’s far more likely that Prince died of the flu (or, even possibly a drug overdose) than it is that he died from the flu vaccine. Hell, given that he was a 57 year old man, it’s more likely that he died of a sudden unexpected heart attack or a cardiac arrhythmia than it is that he died because of the flu vaccine. It doesn’t take an intellectual giant to come to this conclusion, as evidenced by Adams coming to it.

The hilarity continues, though. Adams, knowing of Prince’s apparent belief in chemtrails and other woo, seems to think he’s found a kindred spirit. He goes on at length about how Prince “comes off as extremely well informed about certain agendas” and how he just knows that Prince was not “the kind of person who liked to be injected with vaccines in the first place.” Along the way, Adams spouts ridiculous claim about how he tested flu shots for mercury and found them to “contain over 25,000 times the EPA limit of mercury in drinking water.” I discussed how silly this all was in the long version. The short version is that vaccines and drinking water are two different things and that it’s utterly inappropriate to apply standards designed for drinking large quantities of water to 0.5 mL vials of flu vaccine.

Of course, the crazy in the post above was nothing compared to another post that Adams did about Prince entitled Prince is dead, the Queen is 90, and men can now pee all over the women’s restroom toilet seats at Target (satire). It is truly the most amazing “WTF?” moment I’ve ever seen from Adams. You have to read it yourself to see how Adams uses Prince’s death as the introduction to a truly bizarre post about transgender bathroom laws.

The bottom line, of course, is that we don’t know what killed Prince. It could have been the flu, but, sadly, in light of the news being reported at TMZ.com about his having been treated recently for a drug overdose I find the likelihood that he died of a drug overdose to be the more plausible explanation, particularly given his rep’s reports that he had been battling the flu for “several weeks.” However, I do keep in mind that these stories are from TMZ.com and therefore should be taken with a huge grain of salt, even though TMZ.com did report it first and correctly that Prince had been found dead.

And let’s not forget that it could well have been the flu, as the flu does kill and Prince was seen at a local Walgreens looking “more frail and nervous than usual” the evening before his death. Whatever the cause of Prince’s death, the antivaccine loons who try to take reports that Prince might have died from the flu as a cue to try to blame his death on the flu vaccine are a despicable lot, same as it ever was.

R.I.P. Prince Rogers Nelson. I fear the attempts to co-opt your death are far from over.