The ‘flu shot’, or influenza vaccine is being widely touted again. Winter every year causes incidences of influenza to rise, and there is no doubt that getting the flu is not much fun. Following on from my last article regarding the dubious benefits of Tamiflu, I thought I would give you the real low down on the flu vaccine.

What is the flu?

The flu is a virus that attacks the body causing symptoms such as headaches, muscle pains, nausea, chills/fevers, and general fatigue and discomfort. It has some similar symptoms to a common cold, but generally more severe. Most experts believe it is spread by droplets exhaled when people sneeze or cough, or even just talking…and the range can be up to 2 metres.

When I was doing further research for this article, I found a New Zealand website called fightflu.co.nz. This website comes up in any search and is run by a group called the NISG – National Influenza Specialist Group. The group contains various doctors as well as two representatives of the drug companies who make the flu vaccines. Despite some of the group being employees of the vaccine manufacturers – whose goal must be to shift as much vaccine as possible, the NISG states it is a non-profit organisation.  In the United States it is standard practice for giant businesses to use supposedly ‘independent’ organistaions to further their interests. Their marketers know that a ‘third party’ endorsements or statements by such organisations are much more powerful than making statements about their own products. I don’t see how a group can be called non-profit when some of its principal participants are there to promote the interest of the drug companies, whose agenda must be to sell as many doses of vaccine as possible.

From the flightflu.co.nz website, the stated goal of the group is to promote the benefits of immunisation for ‘those most at risk’. Those words are very important. Those ‘most at risk’ from influenza are elderly, children, people who are obese, or people who have lung problems (such as asthma). People most at risk are not healthy adults under the age of 65. But a quick look at the FAQ’s of this website suggests a different story – FAQ’s explaining why it should be given to ‘healthy adults’. A second FAQ – the only FAQ that states how effective the vaccine is – says that in years when there is a ‘good match’ between the flu strains going around, and the flu strains included in that years vaccine, it can prevent flu in 80% of cases – again, this data is only for ‘healthy adults’.

As their stated goal (from their website) is to promote the use of the vaccines for those ‘most at risk’, why don’t the FAQ’s actually state the benefits for those ‘most at risk’?  ie Elderly people or people with asthma?  I believe the reason is easily explained; the benefits appear greatest in healthy adults – because healthy adults have healthier immune systems. The supposed benefits are not listed for people in high risk groups, as no amount of statistical manipulation can demonstrate that they are effective for these groups.

To explain some of this I need to give you a brief run-down of how the vaccines are made. Every year the manufacturers choose 3-4 strains of the flu that they hope will be the dominant strains in the coming flu season. It’s a lottery. There are many more strains of flu than are covered by the vaccine. The vaccine is comprised of deactivated ‘dead’ fragments of the virus. Your body then produces the antibodies for those specific strains which are meant to protect you by fighting the virus – if you get it. The process of making the next years flu shot takes time, so if a new strain crops up there is quite a long lead-time before a new vaccine can be made.  For the vaccine to have a chance of working, the strains you are vaccinated for needs to match the strains in that year’s flu as closely as possible.

Does the flu vaccine work at all?

The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) in the United States says that it does.  I believe they are essentially a cheer leader for the flu vaccine manufacturers. It is implausible that they could not be aware of the Cochrane Groups independent reviews of the vaccines questioning their efficacy at every level. They actually quote different figures for the efficacy of the vaccines than the New Zealand Group (NISG); they say that vaccine effectiveness is ‘reduced’ in studies of the elderly – one of the prime risk groups. Their figures also state the vaccine can reduce incidences of the flu by 60% in ‘recent studies’. Selecting recent studies to base a decision introduces bias, why not include all the studies?

The Cochrane Group is a not-for-profit, independent group of scientists from 100 countries. They review trials for medical interventions (pharmaceutical drugs and others) to determine whether they actually work, and are safe. Here is a summary of their findings regarding influenza vaccines.

Flu Vaccines use in Healthy Adults

As drug companies have been touting the benefits of vaccinating healthy people (because vaccinating everyone is much more profitable than vaccinating just those who are classed as ‘high risk’) The Cochrane Group did a systematic review on whether it was effective in healthy people. The review found that in an average year, where there is a partial match between the strain of flu going around, and the vaccine, 100 people needed to be vaccinated in order to prevent one single instance of the flu. They also found that the vaccine had no effect the number of people hospitalised or working days lost, but did cause one case of Guillian-Barré syndrome (a major neurological condition leading to paralysis) for every one million vaccinations.

They issued a warning, that this result is likely ‘more optimistic’ as to the flu vaccines benefits because of the 36 studies reviewed, 15 were funded by industry, and 4 were undeclared. They stated that studies funded from public sources were ‘significantly less likely’ to report conclusions favourable to the vaccines than industry funded studies. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin and that there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. What all this means is that instead of vaccinating 100 healthy adults to stop a single instance of the flu, you probably need to vaccinate a much greater number of people.  You can read it all here – there is a plain language section.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001269.pub4/abstract

Flu vaccine use in people over 65

The Cochrane Groups 2010 assessment of over 40 years of data states that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to recommend elderly people get flu shots. They state that the 75 studies reviewed were mostly ‘observational’ studies which are of greater risk of bias. They also state that to resolve whether they have any benefit, then large publicly funded trials need to be run.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004876.pub3/abstract

Flu Vaccine for people with asthma

There may be some benefit for asthmatics to get a flu shot, but there remains the possibility that the flu shot can worsen symptoms of asthma.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000364.pub4/abstract

As you can see there appears to be little evidence to warrant getting flu shots. If you stack the Cochrane data up vs. what you will find on the New Zealand fightflu.co.nz website, you will wonder if they are discussing the same vaccines.  Most of the studies claiming the vaccines work are funded by the drug companies who make them, and that simply means you can’t trust them. There might be some evidence that they can be of small benefit to at risk groups, but there is insufficient evidence to even make this small claim. Again, we are told to trust our doctors advice because it’s founded in ‘evidence based medicine’, but you can see from the Cochrane reviews, the vaccines do not meet that threshold. I am not ‘anti’ all vaccines and this article is not about the vaccine safety debate, it’s just about the flu shot,  which I believe to be  a colossal waste of tax-payers money and time. Flu vaccines appear to be a cash cow for the manufacturers and they have been foisted on a trusting, non-scientific public, via campaigns misrepresenting the benefits. It is likely that simple measures such as washing hands helps prevent the transmission of the virus.

Additional Note: This article focuses on the mass vaccination strategy employed by health authorities. The studies measure results over a population to see if there are benefits when comparing vaccinated groups to non vaccinated groups. If a particular years flu vaccine is an exact match with the flu going round, you may well gain immunity. Based on the Cochrane Reviews, I don’t believe this happens very often. During the swine flu scare, there was a second vaccine given to people. This would likely be effective against swine flu, because it was created specifically for this exact strain.

Daniel King MSc

24 Comments

  1. Thank you for your analysis, it confirms what I have long suspected.
    Cheers

  2. I believe the Flu Vaccine does work. Four years ago myself and my 3 children came down with the Flu. I am not talking about a bad cold I mean the real Flu, H1N1! 2 weeks of feeling lousey and incredibly unwell with nausea, vomiting muscle aches, headaches etc. My husband who had had the Flu vaccine, via his work, was not affected at all! Since then my children and I have had the vaccine every year and not a sign of any illness. People do not realise how sick you are with the flu, a cold is NOT the flu!

    • Daniel Reply

      the vaccine can work, if it is a close or exact match to the strain going around. your family had swine flu, you husband was probably given a second vaccine that was developed specifically for this more dangerous strain. this article focuses on the standard flu vaccine … which is probably not the one your husband got.

  3. warren Fountain Reply

    You have confirmed my suspicions re flu vaccines and “fire walled” promotion by drug companies.

    cheer s

  4. heather amos Reply

    I believe this absolutely! have never had a flu shot although in late seventies,every morning a short gargle with listerine or dettol in water does the trick for me…..all flu germa start in the throat! Haven’t had a cold or
    flu for years!

  5. jean turner Reply

    In my seventies and never had Flu shot do not believe in the injection.Take garlic and orange c tablets. Eat healthy food.

  6. Glen Irving Reply

    I don’t believe in the injection at all! I have a clove of fresh garlic every day chopped up on my sandwich or whatever for lunch and that keeps anyone with any germs away from me….garlic breath but who cares….I do also use a mouth gargle at night. Eat healthy, stay positive and put a smile on your dial!!!! it can be infectious….

  7. aneta ottema Reply

    Some people might need a flu injection.Personal i never had one in my
    83 years and never have the flu.I do take a vitamin c tablet lots of fruit
    and good food all year round.

  8. Allan Butler Reply

    I believe the flu injection actually made me very ill, I’d never had one before and my company was offering so I had one and I was ill for around ten days dysentery vomiting had all kinds conventional tests, faeces ,urine , blood and nothing showed up, it was too coincidental for me and I’ve never had one since never will again and I’ve not had even a head cold since.

    • John Robinson Reply

      I was offered a free Flu injection from the company Iwas working for, didn’t suffer from the flu in the past but as it was free and I was with more people in a closed enviroment I decicded what harm could it do, I have suffered ever since, can’t prove it was the flu jab but

    • John Robinson Reply

      I was offered a free Flu injection from the company Iwas working for, didn’t suffer from the flu in the past but as it was free and I was with more people in a closed enviroment I decicded what harm could it do, I have suffered ever since, can’t prove it was the flu jab but

  9. I have the flu vaccination every year now, after numerous episodes of asthma immediately following the flu. I own a small business & I can’t afford the amount of time off work that I was previously having to take.
    Again, I am talking about the FLU! Not a nasty cold or a sniffle.
    Since beginning the annual vaccinations, I have not had the flu again so far & consequently no attacks of asthma. I have been having the annual jabs for about 4 years now & it’s working for me.

  10. A number of years back my doctor suggested I get flu injections due to having a lowered immune system. I used to get the flu every year and I was always very ill for about a week. I started to get yearly flu injections about 7 years ago and have not had the flu since, whereas others in my family have regularly. So from my perspective it works and I will continue to have my shots.

    • I agree that the flu vaccine is most likely a tremendous waste of money which could be used elsewhere. To Rob pleased he has not had flu but why didn’t his Dr recommend him to build up his immune system? Seems much more logical to me with benefits to his whole body. I am now retired and have never had flu jabs
      Have always taken Vitamin A and D and have always told my children and grandchildren to do the same.

  11. I was offered the flu vaccine once as I had a sole charge job and my boss was going away and he didn’t want me off work. Never again! Felt I had the flu for about four days. My elderly parents also had the flu jabs and always ended up in bed for about four days after. Never could understand why they continued each year.

  12. My husband and I have contracted awful flu five years ago that laid us both very low for about two weeks and created a cough that remained with us for several weeks. We now have the flu injection which seems to have prevented us from flu symptoms so far. However, our daughter (who had never had flu before) was offered a free flu injection through her work but a couple of months later contracted an awful flu virus. That was three years ago and she has not had a flu vaccinations or flue symptons since. I guess we all react differently and what helps one does not help another.

    • Daniel Reply

      beware of case studies of one. These things are best looked at wrt the effect over thousands of people

  13. Have read your article with much interest, but still a bit confused as to
    the pros and cons ?
    I visited my doctor recently and told him that i will be travelling to the UK later this year and he advised me(after being questioned) to have a flu shot. I am nearly 67 years of age and have never had a flu injection before. Apart from the occasional cold, i have never had a severe dose of the flu that has laid me low and off work. Did i need to have the injection ?

  14. Brent Dinnan Reply

    i will always have the Flu shot as i have seen the results of a real Flu strike, not this heavy cold most think is the flu, better to play safe.. as even without an outbreak, there were 340 deaths in NZ last year attributed to the flu and complications from the flu

  15. Margaret Hamilton Reply

    After having the flu vaccine…I had the most terrible headache which lasted 3 day’s. I rang the Medical Centre and asked if you could have a reaction to the vaccination. I was tolds it would be most unlikey. I then went on to have earache & was feeling so unwell.. A few days later I was taken to the Hospital by ambulance & I now have Bell’s Palsy. The headaches have been horrific I have felt as though my brain was going to explode. Since having Bell’s Palsy I have read that in some case’s the flu vaccine can bring on Bell’s Palsy. Suffering this is worse than any flu…and I will never have the vaccine again

  16. Rosemary Tanner Reply

    I find your newsletters very informative. My husband had Gillian-Barre syndrome last August and has recovered well. A nurse told him not to have a flu injection but his doctor seemed to feel it was ok. I wonder if he should as his immune system has been compromised. I would appreciate your advice please. Thank you. Rose

    • Stephani Lord-Harman Reply

      I’m so glad you enjoy our newsletters, Rosemary. And I’m happy to hear your hubby recovered 🙂 It’s hard to say with 100% confidence what is the best course of action. The best thing you can do is to ask a few different health professionals and get their opinions. But make sure to get an opinion or two from health practitioners who prefer natural rather than medicating & masking the symptoms further.

  17. Kate O'Connor Reply

    Thank you Daniel, valuable research and just what I am needing!
    4

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