How Safe and Effective Is the Flu Shot?

This year influenza has been widespread.  We have seen patients who have reported rapid onset of symptoms with severe respiratory symptoms and persistent cough for weeks after infection.  The virulence of the current flu epidemic raises questions about how best to prevent and treat influenza.

Our research has revealed only a single study that broadly evaluated the existing medical literature on the vaccine.  Published in 2011, the authors reviewed 44 years of research and concluded that the treatment modestly reduces flu symptoms.  They found no evidence, however, that the vaccine is effective in those over the age of 65, and their analysis revealed that protection is best in children between the ages of 6 months and 7 years who have received the live vaccine. 

The study contradicts what we are told by our doctors who typically encourage the flu shot.  Is the 2011 study rigorous and reliable?  According to reviews, the research by an American infectious disease team was, in fact, of high quality, and the study was peer-reviewed and selected for publication in The Lancet, a respected journal.  Why then are our healthcare professionals making recommendations not in line with good scientific data?

Keep in mind that the healthcare professionals who interact with patients, by and large, are not obligated to follow the standards especially regarding vaccinationsset by governmental authorities, namely the CDC and the FDA.  These organizations, in turn, make decisions based on research, and meaningful, large-scale studies are usually performed by entities with deep pockets, namely the pharmaceutical companies.  Not surprisingly, independent research often challenges the findings from industry scientists, raising the question of conflicts of interest.

The authors of the 2011 study emphasized in interviews that their research should not be taken as a recommendation against the influenza vaccine.  After all, the meta-analysis did demonstrate some benefit with the flu shot.  The lack of evidence for effectiveness in older patients is attributable to the fact that, since the 1960's, it has been considered unethical to perform RCT studies which deprive high-risk patients of protection against the flu.  Due paradox, public policy likely continue based on assumption rather than scientific findings.

Like the researchers, it is not our intention here to contradict current public health policy.  But with reports that this year's vaccine is less than 10% effective against the H2N3 strain of the flu, public health authorities and researchers should reexamine our current protocols and perform additional research.  Although the medical establishment maintains that standard vaccinations are safe, the government VAERS database demonstrates a wide range of adverse events resulting from vaccines.  In a field where under-reporting is likely, more studies to clearly demonstrate that the benefits of vaccines are worth the risk are desperately needed.