Flu Watch: UPDATED with Facts and Everything!
UPDATE: This post is simply a suggestion to educate yourself before getting a flu shot. I am NOT opposed to vaccines in general, but am questioning the wisdom of the flu shot for reasons explained below.
Flu shots are nowhere near 100% effective; in fact, even proponents admit that 69% is about the best effectiveness rate they can get in adults, and that’s in a very good year. The sources in the original post were called into question, though, and I agree -- they were not great. So here are new sources, including the CDC, a couple of flu experts, and a major medical journal.
First, here is what the CDC’s own website states in response to the question, “How well does the seasonal flu vaccine work?”:
How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent influenza illness) can range widely from season to season and also can vary depending on who is being vaccinated. At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that influenza vaccine will protect a person from influenza illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or "match" between the influenza viruses in the vaccine and those spreading in the community. During years when the viruses in the vaccine and circulating viruses are not well matched, it’s possible that no benefit from vaccination may be observed. During years when the viruses in the vaccine and circulating viruses are very well matched, it’s possible to measure substantial benefits from vaccination in terms of preventing influenza illness. However, even during years when the vaccine match is very good, the benefits of vaccination will vary across the population, depending on characteristics of the person being vaccinated and even, potentially, which vaccine was used.
[bolding throughout added]
For a better look at flu vaccine effectiveness, here’s a link to an interview an NPR reporter did with two vaccine experts, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and a professor of environmental health sciences, at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, and William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, as well as a professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
The interview looked at details of a study showing that flu vaccines are not much use for individuals over age 65. The study was co-authored by Osterholm and published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, a highly regarded British medical journal, so whatever its flaws, it is a serious piece of research.
When questioned about the effectiveness of the traditional flu shot, Osterholm notes:
“…we found that the vaccine was protective, so in two-thirds of the studies.
And when it was protective, it was protective at about a 59-percent rate across all the different studies.”
In children, the shot was less effective, according to Osterholm:
“In the first year, they found the vaccine worked 66 percent of the time. And in the second year, they found it worked minus-7 percent of the time or not a measurable effect."
What about the newer nasal “puff” vaccine? For adults, Osterholm says:
“… we could not identify any studies that either from an observational disease - or observational study standpoint or from an actual vaccine randomized control trial standpoint, showed that the vaccine was effective.”
Using the nasal puff vaccines in children had better results:
“…the live attenuated vaccine in children under eight years of age actually worked quite well. It was consistent protection. The pool, the average protection level was 83 percent.”
But here’s what the study found in regard to seniors, one of the groups often urged to get flu shots because older people tend to be less healthy than younger people. Again, here is Osterholm:
Even in this year's  data for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was reported several days ago for the 2009-2010 influenza season, they were unable, in their observational studies, to demonstrate a significantly protective effect in those 65 years of age and older.
At this point in the program, a caller asks why we need an annual flu shot, when other vaccinations last for years. Osterholm replies:
… the fact that we have to get vaccinated every year shows you that somehow the immune system's not picking this up. And when you put that into perspective with what happened with the pandemic, we had a number of 70- and 80-year-olds during the pandemic who surely had some innate protection against that virus based on just looking at the population risk of getting infected, and it turned out that these were people who were exposed 60 years before or more to that same circulating type of virus, and 60 years later, their bodies still recognized the fact that they had seem a similar virus 60 years ago.
It had induced antibody or a number of other parts of their immune system so that they were protected. That's what we need to move towards. The idea that we have to vaccinate every year already says that we're not doing a very good job of taking that immune system we have and turning it on in the right way to protect ourselves.
Immunity in people who are in their 70s and 80s is most likely due to having had the flu, not from flu shots, since those were not being widely given to the general public 60 years ago. In other words, the immunity they obtained from having the flu lasted for decades, something that doesn't happen with today’s flu shot.
Finally, the CDC’s estimate of 33,000 to 36,000 annual deaths attributed to the flu has been revised downward – by the CDC. The actual figure is about 22,000 deaths each year, and that includes those attributed to flu and pneumonia. That’s a fatality rate of .007 – not even close to 1%. Of course zero would be better, but scaring people into getting a shot of questionable effectiveness without informing them of the issues involved is not playing fair.
And yes, I know this is way too long for a Quick Hit and I promise I won't do it again.
[here is the original post]
Swine flu mutations are underway, with the virus gaining the ability to move from animals to people.
Is this the massive pandemic epidemiologists say is coming? No one knows yet. But before you rush out to get a flu shot, it would be wise to educate yourself so you can make an informed decision on protection issues and potentially serious side effects.