Are flu vaccines as effective and safe as we think they are?
Seasonal Influenza will cause 3-5 million cases of severe illness and 250,000-500,000 deaths around the world every year. Flu viruses evolve freshly somewhere in east or southeast Asia every year, spreading around the world over the next nine months before dying out… Genetic analysis by two teams of international researchers show that there are just a few initial sources of annual, seasonal influenza epidemics. Every year, new strains emerge to infect people spreading around the world from these before dying out. However adults will only get Flu once or twice every decade. (7)
The influenza vaccine is medically considered to be the most effective line of defence against flu. However, there is increasing volume of voices and evidence being uncovered that suggests the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine has been overestimated and wrongly applied to the public.
Reports from CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) in America show a staggering rate of flu shot failure during the 2014 -15 season: only 23% of immunisations were effective during their last flu season. That leaves nearly 80% of those who got the jab without ‘protection’, an immunisation that was useless and unnecessary. Lets not forget to mention along with the death of 15 children, is mind boggling… (5,6)
Recently a review found that there was a severe lack of evidence for the influenza vaccination in adults aged over 65 years old. (2) This is interesting considering that there is a dramatic push for older adults to receive their annual vaccination to as protection from the flu. It is clear that this is an area that needs to be researched further…
Yet another review conducted in North America regarding the effectiveness and safety of flu vaccines looked at the results of fifty different reports, forty of which were observing populations of over 70,000 people. Overall, there seemed to be some positive impact on the amount of working days lost to illness but no impact on hospital visits. (1) It is worth noting that a large percentage of the articles were industry funded and were more likely to show positive aspects of vaccines and therefore positive results, while publicly funded reviews were less likely to report favourable conclusions. This observation provides an insight into the industry about why so many studies have conflicting results (1).
Healthcare workers are also recommended to receive the flu vaccine to reduce the risk of spread to elderly patients. However, a 2010 study investigated patients living within long-term care facilities and found that there was no reduction of getting the Flu, developing pneumonia or death caused by pneumonia (3).
In young children, the evidence for inactivated flu vaccines is also scarce. In children under the age of 2, evidence suggests that an inactivated vaccine is no more effective than the placebo, and maximum efficacy is usually seen in children over the age of 2 (4). This is another interesting observation as governments in both the United States and Canada recommend the vaccination for children as young as 6 months old. There doesn’t seem to be sufficient safety data for this age group to justify this recommendation and large scale studies should be conducted.
These reviews present evidence that provide conflicting information to the many public health guidelines and recommendations surrounding vaccines. It is important to be aware of these studies and the data they present in order to make informed decisions regarding our personal health, and the health of the greater public.
(1) GreenMedInfo. (2010). There is little evidence supporting the belief that vaccines are effective in preventing influenza in healthy adults. Retrieved from: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/there-little-evidence-supporting-belief-vaccines-are-effective-preventing
(2) The Lancet: Infectious Diseases. (2017). Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved from: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(11)70295-X/fulltext
(3) GreenMedInfo. (2010). Influenza vaccination for healthcare workers who work with the elderly has no effect on laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia or deaths from pneumonia. Retrieved from: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/influenza-vaccination-healthcare-workers-who-work-elderly-has-no-effect
(4) GreenMedInfo. (2009). Inactivated flu vaccines have not been proven to be effective or safe in preventing influenza in health children under two. Retrieved from: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/inactivated-flu-vaccines-have-not-been-proven-be-effective-or-safe-preventing-influenza
 Whiteman, H. Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/288153.php
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm
(7) News in Science http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/04/17/2219549.htm