Monday, September 29, 2008

Re-Thinking the Flu Vaccine

Aah, Autumn! My favorite time of year. Mild temperatures, brilliant colors, football…..and flu shot campaigns!

Judging by the forcefulness of the advertising one would think that the flu shot is vital for the very survival of mankind. But is there more to the story? Yes!

According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the flu shot needs to be reconsidered.

Dr. Tom Jefferson, coordinator of the Cochrane Vaccines Field in Rome, Italy who was quoted in the BMJ article, said much of the data supporting yearly flu vaccinations was flawed and found that there was little merit in wintertime flu shots. BMJ editor Fiona Godlee agreed, stating that she was critical of the way the UK evaluated the merits and costs of annual flu shots, calling for change in British procedure.

In Britain, experts say the people most at risk -- such as the elderly -- should get the vaccine during the flu season. However, it is difficult for scientists to make the vaccine effective because the influenza viruses mutate, and the strains which are circulating change from year to year.

Dr. David Salisbury, director of immunization at the Department of Health, acknowledged that the vaccines were not perfect, but remained hopeful. "We are hopeful that new vaccines currently in development may overcome some of the concerns raised about efficacy."

But some disagree with the concept of yearly flu vaccinations entirely.
"The winter flu shot myth is based entirely on junk science designed to serve the interests of pharmaceutical companies who sell the vaccines," explained Mike Adams, consumer health advocate and author of the book, Conquering the Common Cold. “An honest look at the science reveals the unavoidable truth about flu shots-- they're virtually worthless at preventing the flu," Adams said. "People would be much better off to skip the shots and engage in healthier exercise and dietary habits."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), perhaps the biggest advocate of flu shots, has admitted in a study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that the 2007-08 flu vaccine was only 44 percent effective, making the flu season the worst since 2003-04.

Flu vaccines are formulated based on health officials' educated guesses about which strains of the virus are most likely to be circulating in a given year. Three of these strains are picked for inclusion in the vaccine. On the rare occasions when officials guess correctly, the vaccine is between 70 and 90 percent effective. When they don’t guess correctly, well, the results are not so good.

This past year most flu infections were caused by a Type A H2N2 Brisbane strain that was not included in the vaccine. Another common infectious agent was a Type B Florida strain. According to data collected by the Marshfield Clinic in central Wisconsin, the 2007-08 flu vaccine was only 58 percent effective against the Brisbane strain and totally ineffective against the Florida strain.

Researchers usually measure the severity of a flu season by comparing either adult or child mortality data. By both measures, the 2007-08 season was the worst in recent years. In the 2003-04 season, the flu vaccine also failed to function at peak effectiveness, due to the primary infectious agent for that year not being included.

It also appears that flu vaccines are largely ineffective in the populations for which they are most highly recommended, according to the British Medical Journal study. Dr. Tom Jefferson, quoted earlier, conducted an extensive review of previous studies on the effectiveness of inactivated [dead virus] flu vaccines on hospital admissions, death rates and time off work.

"We've got an exaggerated expectation of what vaccines can actually do," Jefferson said. "I'm hoping American and European taxpayers will be alerted and start asking questions."

Jefferson notes that recommendations for flu shots have significantly increased in recent years, a move he says may not be justified.

"I looked at the evidence described by systematic reviews and confronted it with policy and I found that there is a massive gap," he said. "Almost none of the benefits that these policy documents list are actually given by inactivated vaccines or, if they are, they are given in slighter measure."

Consumer health advocate Mike Adams called flu vaccine shots "one of the greatest medical cons perpetrated on the populations of the world," and questioned new U.S. policies pushing the vaccines on young children and expectant mothers.

"Flu shots only prevent colds in about 1 percent of people who get them, making them 99 percent useless," Adams said. "They also inject unhealthy substances such as mercury preservatives directly into tissues, poisoning the patient with a chemical burden that accumulates with each flu shot."

In contrast, there is a cornucopia of nature-derived substances that boost the immune system and strengthen the body against illness and infection – none of which present a toxic load to the body like flu shots. But more about that in the next post.