Flu vaccine 'over-hyped' and wastes taxpayer's money

Experts say British public have been mislead over the effectiveness of flu jab given to millions each year

LAST UPDATED AT 16:20 ON Wed 21 Nov 2012

THE FLU vaccine given to millions of people each year at a cost of £120 million is a waste of taxpayer's money because the protection it offers is "over-hyped", scientists say.

Up to 4,000 people, most of them elderly, die of flu-associated illnesses in a mild year, but the vaccine offered free by the NHS to everyone over 65 is of "limited effectiveness", says The Independent.

The paper quotes health expert Tom Jefferson as saying the government should be held accountable for "wasting taxpayer's money" on the annual multi-million pound vaccination campaign which it describes as a "bonanza for drug companies".

A report published by the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota says the tendency of governments to exaggerate the effectiveness of the flu vaccine misleads the public and hinders the development of new, better vaccines. Failure to tell the truth about the vaccine's efficacy also risks undermining public confidence in mass immunisation.

CIDRAP's director, Michael Osterholm, says he is a "strong proponent" of vaccination in general, but feels the flu vaccine has been "over-promoted".

"For certain age groups … its effectiveness has been severely limited relative to what has been previously reported," he adds.

Douglas Fleming from the Royal College of General Practitioners's Influenza Monitoring Unit says better vaccines are needed particularly for the elderly. He agrees the current vaccine has been "over-hyped by many people".

But others believe it is still worth getting a flu jab because at present "it's the best we have". A spokesman for the Department of Health said the effectiveness of the vaccine had been reviewed within the last year and "there is no doubt" the programme saves lives. · 

Disqus - noscript

There have been no placebo-controlled studies on flu vaccines because the vaccine manufacturers say such clinical trials - prospective double blind studies, are "unethical." Yet, prospective double blind studies are the gold standard in establishing whether any treatment is truly effective. There is no strong science supporting the effectiveness of flu vaccination

The "50 percent reduction in mortality" statistic ascribed to vaccines is actually a reduction in total deaths in the flu season, not deaths caused by flu. Large cohorts are studies, i.e., the total death rate of those taking the vaccine versus the death rate of those not taking the vaccine. In these studies there is no provision to control for certain factors. For example, those who seek out vaccination tend to be healthier, have health insurance and are more concerned about their health and fitness than those who do not. And in fact if death rates outside of the flu season are calculated, the same 50% reduction is found in vaccinated v non vaccinated cohorts. Also, when vaccines aren't available or the vaccine formulation was wrong, as occurred in 1957, 1968 and 2004, there was no spike in death rates, indicating that vaccines offer no real reduction in mortality.

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