Flu vaccination ‘over-promoted’ and ‘over-hyped’ according to researchers

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.

18 Responses to Flu vaccination ‘over-promoted’ and ‘over-hyped’ according to researchers

  1. Dr. Bill Wilson 23 November 2012 at 12:55 am #

    Although we had a few early successes with vaccines–polio and small pox come to mind, the idea that we can slay any virus or bacteria with vaccines has lead us down an uncertain road. This is especially true when it comes to influenza, a virus that is known to mutate frequently.

    I am not a big fan of flu vaccines. If you eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, the chances of getting flu drop considerably. I also have taken high dose vitamin C for years and I also consume a fair amount of coconut oil which has anti-infective properties. I haven’t had a cold or flu in decades. I know, it’s not a controlled study, but as a practicing clinician I am a slave to good outcomes and I really like this outcome.

  2. Judith Fage 23 November 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    I know this is a purely personal and anecdotal point of view, and I am not a good case study since, at the age of 70, I have never had flu in my life and very rarely get a cold (maybe a brief mild cold once every 5 years), but I can’t help noticing that among my friends and acquaintances over 60, who all have the vaccine, I can only think of one instance of flu over the past 3 or 4 years. As I say, hardly what anyone would call a proper study, but I will continue to have the vaccine, as I never have the slightest reaction to it.

  3. Dr John Briffa 23 November 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Judith

    I have no problem with people sharing personal anecdotes and that’s especially the case when we have nothing else to go on. In the case of flu vaccination we do, however, and what the evidence shows is that flu vaccination is not very effective, and the evidence for true benefit is particularly scant in your age group. I don’t dismiss your experience, but I’d say that the results of systematic study of flu vaccination trumps it, generally speaking.

  4. hedleypaul 23 November 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    On the subject of vaccines, can I ask whether there is any truth in the assertion that the flue vaccine carrier often has an aluminium base, (aluminium sulphate possibly?) and the consequence of five years flu jab is the strong certainty of Alzheimer’s onset?

  5. Hilda 23 November 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Saw a TV programme recently on aluminium. Apparently some vaccines contain aluminium – which seems to cause Alzheimer’s and cancer – another reason to avoid vaccination!

  6. Pete Grist 23 November 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    As I understand it, flu vaccines are a best guess at what the virus might be like in any one year, which is borne out by the first observation that in some years they are more effective than others. I have mild asthma and am susceptible to chest infections, so having the jab seems worthwhile (as I do not get any side effects from it) to lower the risk. However I wouldn’t bother if I was younger and without asthma.

    The conclusions that expanding the current programme is not cost effective seem reasonable, and maybe it does inhibit a better approach. However you do seem to go for a there are some doubts, so it’s no good at all approach as opposed to with things you agree with where it is more there might be limited evidence but it’s worth trying.

  7. Raylene 23 November 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    What is particularly disturbing in British Columbia, Canada, this year is that the powers that be are not just pushing health care workers to have the vaccine, they are basically making it compulsory. If you decide against you are made to wear a mask for the entire flu season and apparently a pin saying you have had it or not. The”Health Authority” (Self-named) knows that the masks are useless after 5 minutes, so I can only guess that these and the pins are punitive.
    It is very interesting that a group of educated health care workers, who stay quiet while millions of others get jabbed without informed consent, all of a sudden start fighting when their own group gets targeted. Maybe mainstream media will finally start writing something that is thought provoking, instead of the usual rhetoric.

  8. helen 25 November 2012 at 2:51 am #

    The flu vaccine just like many others is given just in case ………I have issue with this fear based mentality that seems to run through the entire medical establishment. I have no issue with vaccinating people who have a particular disease to help them get over it but I cant understand why we would give a perfectly healthy person and or baby germs and viruses just in case they might get something in the future?? In the past small pox vaccine was given to people who already had the disease then some bright spark decided that everyone even those who would never come in contact with it should have it I just dont get it. & all the hysteria around about those who wont vaccinate their kids being accused by the ones who do vaccinate of being a threat to their vaccinated children??? if vaccinations work then your kid is safe from a kid who hasnt been vaccinated at all …..as for flu look to the world health organisation as the biggest kid who cried wolf ever!! saying we had a pandemic of swine flu …..none of my pigs got it :) anyway daily doses of vitamin C have kept me healthy for decades never have the flu never have allergies and never have a cold …..oh but supplementation of vitamins and minerals doesnt work or so the big business with illness would have us believe…………….I know who I believe and that is my body not someone who peddles dangerous drugs based on fear mongering.

  9. Paul 25 November 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Me and my wife had a flu jab back in 1989 and we were both very ill that year, the worst we have ever felt. We have not had any flu jabs since and will never again.

  10. terrence 26 November 2012 at 12:09 am #

    I NEVER get the infamous flu shot; and I NEVER get the flu, never, ever, I HAVE NOT HAD ONE CASE OF THE FLU. I know a number of other people who also never get the infamous flu shot, and they, too, NEVER get the flu.

    The whole BUSINESS of flu shots is a BUSINESS – A number of people make a LOT of money producing, promoting, and selling the shots.

  11. Liz Smith 26 November 2012 at 12:27 am #

    With all the media pushing the praises of Vitamin D3 I wonder how anyone accepts a flu vaccination. There is a lot of information on the web of the value of Vit D3 for people with asthma. Add in some omega 3 (vit d3 works better with an oil taken at same time) and you can solve many problems.

  12. Katie 26 November 2012 at 3:16 am #

    I’m 27 weeks pregnant & being hounded about having the flu jab to protect both myself & my unborn baby. I’m so confused! I don’t want it & am usually a very fit & healthy young woman & would never normally have it. I also take high doses of vitamin c during winter & the thought of all those heavy metals going into my body to apparently protect me seems a double edged sword. I asked my Midwifes opinion & she simply said she only tells me what the Departmentbof Health tell her too…..

  13. Pam 27 November 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    Katie-I too was hounded while pregnant to get a flu shot and a swine flu shot (three years ago during the swine flu “outbreak”). I’m a nurse practitioner myself but held my ground and just kept saying no thank you. I listened to the lectures about how it was harming me and my baby not to get them, and politely said no thank you again. I’m not telling you whether or not to get the shot but stand your ground in what you feel in your heart/gut is right for you and your baby. Please don’t ever feel bullied by a health care provider to do something you don’t want done. It’s your body and your right. (off my soapbox now).

  14. katharine 27 November 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    What are the thoughts on pregnant women getting the shot? I (like the woman above) have never had the shot, nor have I ever had the flu. My doc, however, is strongly urging me to get the shot.
    Thoughts?

  15. Nick 30 November 2012 at 9:09 am #

    The authors did make this statement in their report:

    In short, we found that current influenza vaccine protection is substantially lower than for most routinely recommended vaccines and is suboptimal. It
    is clear, however, that during some influenza seasons vaccination offers substantially more protection for most of the population than being unvaccinated. For this reason, we believe current influenza vaccines will continue to have a role in reducing influenza morbidity until more effective interventions are available. But we can no longer accept the status quo regarding vaccine research and development.

    At the website ‘Science Based Medicine’ the authors are very much of the opinion that it is irresponsible of health care workers to forego an annual flu vaccine.
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/protect-yourself/#more-22914

    Other opinions worth considering while one makes up their mind.

  16. josefa 15 December 2012 at 1:02 am #

    As a person translating academic scholarship to the lay media landscape, extra care should be taken when interpreting results:

    In terms of epidemiological conceptions of risk, effect, etc…:

    This doesn’t mean the flu vaccine is ineffective:
    “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.”

    It means:
    This means: the flu vaccine is not as effective as other vaccines.

    This doesn’t mean the flu vaccine is ineffective:
    “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.”

    It means:
    {(My interpretation based on context–>) Because vaccines are typically incredibly effective} The biomedical perception is that flu vaccine is very effective. This prevents funding allocations for more research.

    This does not mean the flu vaccine is ineffective:
    “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.”

    It means:

    There isn’t population group-specific research exploring flu vaccine effect in immuno-compromised populations.{(My interpretation of context–>) Evidence-Based Practice guidelines suggest the importance of preventing communicative disease in these populations.}

    The Cochrane review you cite previously introduces a reduced figure for vaccine effect. This effect is still statistically significant. As you know, it means that the vaccine has a measurable effect on disease incidence in vaccinated populations. As a matter of fact, regardless of type. Both affects are statistically significant. This research is important because it is more information about level of effectiveness, not because it proves ineffectiveness.

  17. sabina 20 December 2012 at 3:00 am #

    I’m so perplexed by this scare tactic. I’ve found that every time I get a flu shot, I get sick, when I don’t, I’m never ill. I eat exceptionally well, am fit, active, athletic and well rested. I do have an auto-immune issue that may have been exacerbated by heavy metals, which are included in the flu jab. Do you think a person with an auto-immune issue should worry, or am I a candidate for this vaccine? Also, they only last a few months is my understanding, is that correct?

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