We’re entering the ‘flu season here in the UK. Last year, my local surgery put a banner outside urging us to ‘roll up’ for the ‘flu vaccine. I wrote a blog post which explained why this practice is not nearly as effective or ‘evidence-based’ as one might think. In a previous blog post here I cited the evidence from bona fide researchers (known as the ‘Cochrane Collaboration’) which painted a pretty damning picture of the effectiveness of flu vaccination and the potential for industry-spinning of the benefits.
Anyway, this year, the banner has yet to make an appearance. Has the surgery’s enthusiasm cooled on this? I have no idea, but what I do know is that a group of researchers have recently come out to say that the benefits of flu vaccination have been ‘over-promoted’ and ‘over-hyped’. I became aware of this interesting turn of events while reading the UK national newspaper the Independent here. The story is based on a report from the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, US. You can read a summary of the report here.
Here’s three of the key findings from this report:
During some influenza seasons vaccination offers substantially more protection for most of the population than being unvaccinated; however, influenza vaccine protection is markedly
lower than for most routinely recommended vaccines and is suboptimal.
A major barrier to the development of game-changing influenza vaccines is the perception that current vaccines are already highly effective in preventing influenza infection.
In an effort to reduce influenza morbidity and mortality, over the last three decades the ACIP [Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] has expanded the populations recommended to receive influenza vaccine. These recommendations, however, often were based on professional judgment and not on scientifically sound data.
The Independent article also includes input from Tom Jefferson – a Cochrane Collaboration researcher – who is quoted as saying:
We have conducted four reviews since the late 1990s. We calculated that you need to vaccinate between 33 and 99 people to prevent one case of flu, depending on the match between the vaccine and the circulating strains of the virus. I want people held accountable for wasting taxpayer’s money on these vaccines. The reviews have been available for years and nothing has been done.
This would not be the first time accusations have been made that Government’s have wasted money on the ‘management’ of flu. Earlier this month we had a similar situation with the flu drug Tamiflu: The UK Government has spent millions on this drug and dished it out like sweeties, yet its manufacturer (Roche) is steadfastly refusing to release proper data on its effectiveness and safety. You can read about this rather sorry state of affairs here.
Slowly but surely the truth is coming out about the ineffectiveness of flu management and the profiteering that appears to have gone on around this. Even though healthcare workers are encouraged to be vaccinated against flu, I’ll be taking my chances this year like every other year and passing on this. What’s interesting, is that there appears to be lots of other healthcare workers like me. According to the Independent piece, last year only 28.4 per cent of healthcare workers took up the offer of flu vaccination. Despite vigorous promotion, it seems the vast majority of doctors and nurses see flu vaccination as non-essential (or worse). Kinda tells us something, I reckon.