Question: It's time for flu season again. What is the latest information about the vaccine options? Am I better off without it?
Having been in critical care nursing as well as chiropractic, I have a foot in both worlds. Wisdom dictates to me that vaccines, like any other drug, should be used very carefully, and only when they are shown to be effective with minimal side effects. The new flu vaccine has shown me nothing in the research to make me think it is effective, even if it is safe.
First, at this writing, there is no flu problem. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta admits that all is quiet on the flu front as of this writing. Nevertheless, new vaccines have been produced this year, including one that "protects" against three different strains of the flu virus.
Remember that this year's vaccine was made last year, using complete guesses as to which strains of flu would be prevalent. That kind of guesswork does not lead me to a position of comfort related to whether this vaccine, or any other flu vaccine, will be effective.
The vaccine craze tends to target seniors (over 65 years of age, which seems arbitrary to me as I get closer to that vintage) as a vulnerable population. The fact is that the flu vaccine is only 30 to 40% effective in this population. That is a 60 to 70% failure rate. This would only be a passing grade in the context of issues related to the federal government. No rational person would consider the flu vaccine to be effective.
Accordingly, there is a new high dose flu vaccine available for seniors from Sanofi Pasteur. The assumption is that since the immune system of seniors is not as strong as it would be in younger people, they need a higher dose vaccine. This vaccine was licensed by the FDA in 2009 following a study of 32,000 seniors over two years, half of whom got the regular seasonal flu vaccine, while the other half got the new more potent version. The study cited a 24% increase in effectiveness, accounting for a boost in effectiveness to an impressive 50%. Even in younger populations, the effectiveness is only about 60%.
The ideal drug does what it is supposed to do with no side effects. It should be completely safe and completely effective at the same time. A drug that does what it is supposed to do 50% of the time does not meet my personal standard to justify potential side effects or the expense. I just do not see the risk benefit ratio tipping in favor of taking this vaccine.
The real problem with flu is pneumonia, which is the killer complication for children and seniors with influenza. The flu vaccines do nothing to prevent pneumonia.
Despite the lack of evidence of effectiveness of the flu vaccines, we will doubtless hear endless hype and printed advertisements as well as television and radio commercials pushing people to take this vaccine. The cost for the new one will be about $27 for the Sanofi vaccine as opposed to $12 for the old one, but officials from Sanofi dismiss costs as an issue because "Medicare will pay for either one." Given our impending financial implosion, that last statement should be disturbing.
I will depend on my own immune system until it lets me down. I am exposed to a lot of people every year who are sick in my daily practice, and so far my natural defenses have held. Taking a vaccine is a personal choice, but I encourage everyone to look at the facts. Research should guide our decisions.