This time of year it’s almost impossible to call to any pharmacy or doctor’s office and not here a pre-recorder voice letting you know that it’s the time of year to get your flu shot, and that they would be more than happy to give it to you.
I often have patients ask me my opinion of the flu shot, and I always tell them the same thing; “It’s not for me, I don’t personally feel that it is necessary, although everyone should do their own research.”
So let’s look at some of the research.
I say this because there are a lot of misbeliefs which are promoted through misinformation, because sadly enough, most practitioners only do what they are told without doing their own due-diligence. This becomes a trickle-down effect where patient’s line up for their flu shots without asking questions themselves.
Today I would like to share with you four misbeliefs, or myths you might have invested in the flu shot. I will share with you why I feel the flu shot is not necessary for the bulk of the population, how it can possibly challenge ones health, and how there are not economic benefits in the hopes of preventing loss days of work.
Myth #1- The Flu Shot Is Highly Effective For The Population At Large- The Power of “The Number Needed To Vaccinate”
One of the biggest misconceptions in belief is that the flu shot should be giving to every baby, man, women, child, and senior citizen and it will dramatically drop the number of cases which people experience.
You might hear headlines such as “Flu shot has a 60% effectiveness rate” which in itself is very misleading. This headline actually came from the CDC in the fall of 2011 when the CDC reported on a study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, saying that the flu vaccine has a 60% effectiveness rate. The study was titled, Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Hearing “60% effectiveness rate”, one would think that for every 100 people vaccinated, 60 would have the flu prevented, right? Here’s the thing, when you look at the study, it actually reveals that the flu vaccine only prevents influenza in 1.5 out of 100 adults injected, thus the 60% seems a bit sketchy. Let’s see how the numbers unfold this time.
The basis of the real numbers comes from metrics in the review itself, that only about 2.7 in 100 adults get the first place. Thus, potential to get it is very low to begin with.
In the analysis there were 13,095 adults who did not receive the vaccine. Of these 13,095 individuals, 347 of them came down with influenza. By dividing 347 by 13,095, this means that only 2.7% of not vaccinated even caught the flu.
Of those who received the vaccine, 1.2% did not catch the flu.
So, now let’s look to see how they came up with a 60% effectiveness rate when it is obvious that the chances of catching the flu are quite low, regardless.
What do we know now?
2.7% of those who did not have the flu shot, got the flu.
1.2% of those who got the flu shot got the flu.
The difference between these two groups is 1.5%, pointing to the fact that out of every 100 people vaccinated, only 1.5 are prevented from getting the flu. Thus in this example, the Number Needed to Vaccinate to prevent one case of the flu is approximately 66 people. (By dividing 100 by 1.5 you get 66.6)
Let me repeat the take-home here: In this example you need to vaccinate 66 people for the flu shot to prevent one case of the flu!
Here’s another great example of “The Number Needed to Vaccinate” in regards to the flu shot.
In March, 2014, a very thorough review was published in the Cochrane database.
The researchers compared influenza vaccines with placebo in healthy individuals aged 16 to 65 years. This included 90 reports containing 116 data sets; among these 69 were clinical trials of over 70,000 people, and 23 reports of the effectiveness and safety of vaccine administration in pregnant women (about 1.6 million mother-child couples).
The results if injectable flu shot:
- To prevent one influenza like illness (ILI) at least 40 people would need to be vaccinated.
- To prevent one case of influenza, 71 people would need to be vaccinated.
- Vaccination shows no appreciable effect on working days lost or hospitalization.
Studying the effects of the live aerosol vaccines in healthy adults:
- To prevent one influenza like illness (ILI) 46 people would need to be vaccinated.
- Vaccination had a modest effect on time off work and had no effect on hospital admissions or complication rates.
Influenza vaccines have a very modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost in the general population, including pregnant women.
As you can see, the chances of contracting the flu in the general population are not that high, and the flu shot only offers marginal benefits in relationship to flu prevention. Looking at two different well performed analyses, the numbers needed to vaccinate to prevent just one case of the flu fall in the same area, averaging 55…55 people needed to vaccinate at large, to prevent one case of the flu.
Consider the amount of money spent, time invested, for what in many ways can amount to a non-issue.
Note: These population studies were done on generally healthy individuals, up to the age of 65, not the elderly, immune compromised population where there has been research showing some benefit.
Now this leads us to Myth #2…
Myth #2- The Flu Shot Comes With No Risks
I think you will soon see that if the flu was highly contagious, and more people would contract it when un-vaccinated, as well as if the numbers needed to vaccinate to prevent one case were much lower- that the benefit might outweigh the risk. Although as you just saw, this does not seem to be the case.
And research has shown that flu shots can decrease immunity in certain populations. For instance, as reported in the Journal of Virology in 2012, “The flu shot may weakens children’s immune systems and increase the chance of getting sick rom viruses not included in the vaccine.”
The research which led them to this conclusion also points to the fact that the seasonal flu shot might in fact inhibit a child’s immune system from developing natural immunity, as the body is designed to do.
The researchers looked at blood samples that were taking from 27 unvaccinated children, and 14 children who received the flu shot. The results showed that the unvaccinated naturally built up more antibodies against a wide variety of influenza strains compared to the vaccination group, thus were better protected.
Then there is the issue of neurological damage such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). And where “official” numbers affected can be considered to be low, many experts believe that GBS is not attached to the flu shot because vaccine reactions are dramatically undereported. And with the already low chance of acquiring the flu in the unvaccinated population, as well as the marginal effectiveness to of the flu shot to the general population, if you ever hear the story of just one person who acquires such as devastating disease, you really have to question if the flu shot is worth it at all.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder that develops when a person’s own immune system attacks and damages the myelin sheath of the body’s nerves, causing muscle weakness and paralysis.
Check out the video below about Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the non-profit National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), as she interviews a Connecticut artist and her mother, a former professor of nursing, who developed GBS after getting a seasonal flu shot in 2008 and today is permanently disabled with total body paralysis.
Getting your flu vaccination at a local pharmacy compounds the risks to your health, as while pharmacists are trained to administer the vaccine, they’re not necessarily trained to address a sudden and life threatening health emergency that may arise after the shot is given and virtually none of them are likely to warn you of the vaccine risks as required by federal law.
It’s important to understand that ALL vaccines carry a risk for provoking an acute adverse reaction, such as fainting or having a seizure, which could be truly life threatening if you’re driving a car or crossing a street after you have left the store, for example. Further, all vaccines are immune suppressive — that is, they suppress your immune system, which may not return to normal for weeks to months. Here are just some of the ways vaccines impair and alter your immune response:
- Some components in vaccines are neurotoxic and may cause immune and brain dysfunction, particularly heavy metals such as mercury preservatives and aluminum adjuvants
- The lab-altered vaccine viruses and bacteria themselves may further impair your immune response
- Foreign DNA/RNA from animal tissues can wreak havoc in your body and trigger serious health problems for some people
- Vaccines may alter your t-cell function and lead you to become chronically ill
- Vaccines can trigger allergies by introducing large foreign protein molecules into your body that have not been properly broken down by your digestive tract (since they are injected). Your body can respond to these foreign particles in the form of an allergic reaction
Myth #3- The Pneumonia Myth
Some popular misconceptions are that the flu shot can help prevent pneumonia, and that the flu leads to many many deaths, when in fact, pneumonia is often the culprit to death, and the story gets even a bit more complicated, so I will let some information from Dr. Whitaker on his blog:
Although no one wants to deal with congestion, cough, fever and other miseries of the flu, symptoms are usually short-lived and not particularly serious. Far more worrisome are complications such as bacterial pneumonia, which causes most of the thousands of annual deaths that are chalked up to the flu. The flu vaccine is purported to reduce hospitalization by a third and cut deaths in half. But this notion has been shot down as well.
A study published in The Lancet found that the flu vaccine does not reduce risk of pneumonia in people older than 65. In fact, during peak flu season, pneumonia rates were actually higher in vaccinated individuals. The researchers concluded that this lack of benefit means one of two things: Either influenza is not a primary cause of pneumonia or the flu vaccine is ineffective.
Let me make it clear that this study involved people over 65 living on their own. Previous research suggests that the flu vaccine may be advisable for frail older people in assisted living facilities.