Rob: What are we talking about today Kev?
Dr. Kevin: I want to talk to our listeners about the flu vaccine and whether it’s a valid preventive option for the flu.
Rob: I think most people out there assume the flu shot is a viable preventive treatment I’m going to guess and say you disagree with this thought process.
Dr. Kevin: You’re right Rob. We need to first consider the basic epidemiology of the flu. There are thousands of influenza subtypes infecting people around the world. There are over 200 viruses that cause influenza-like illness and can produce symptoms similar to the everyday flu. It is estimated that 80 percent of flu-like illness reported during the “flu season” is not caused by influenza. As well, influenza viruses constantly evolve and mutate and since it takes microbiologists up to nine months to develop the annual flu vaccine, they have to “guess” at which 3 strains of flu will be prevalent 9 months after the production of the vaccine is actually started. So just a little bit hit and miss.
Dr. Tom Jefferson, is a researcher with the Cochrane Collaboration. He wants to make sure flu policies affecting millions of people are based on actual proof not supposition. He says “There is no reliable evidence that inactivated influenza vaccines [the standard types of vaccines of today] affect either person-to-person spread of influenza or complications such as death or pneumonia…and [this] relates both to healthcare workers, community-dwellers and people in institutions.”
Rob: What’s the Cochrane Collaboration?
Dr. Kevin: The Cochrane Collaboration (www.cochrane.org), is an international organization of consumers, doctors, scientists and researchers, gathering and systematically examining all the studies ever conducted to see how well a treatment works. Cochrane’s work is unique in at least two ways: it refuses to receive funding from the drug or vaccine manufacturers to bankroll its research, and it uses the highest gold-standard methodologies when looking at research.
The Cochrane examination of flu vaccines in healthy adults, a body of literature spanning 25 studies and involving 59,566 people, finds an annual flu shot reduced overall clinical influenza by about six percent. It would reduce absenteeism by only about four hours for each influenza episode, a small effect given that the average flu bout lasts five to seven days. What was most interesting was the conclusion of the study that said: “There is not enough evidence to recommend universal vaccination against influenza in healthy adults.”
Rob: So what is the government’s stance on the flu vaccine?
Dr. Kevin: The government’s answer is “influenza vaccine is extremely safe and the most effective way to prevent illness from the influenza virus, helping to prevent infection in healthy adults by as much as 80 percent.”
Yet like most health statistics, that 80 percent is misleading. In Jefferson’s opinion, “The best-conducted and largest trials in the healthiest populations show that you need to vaccinate 33 to 100 healthy people to avoid one set of symptoms of influenza (a ‘case’).” Peter Doshi, a researcher whose graduate thesis from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine focused on the politics of influenza policies, wrote in the British Medical Journal: “If CDC [Center for Disease Control] viral surveillance data is correct, then in recent years true influenza viruses have only caused an average of 12 percent of influenza-like illness.”
Rob: I know that in our area there is a lot of controversy around the flu shot especially with health care workers who are being forced to get flu shots – what does the research tell us about benefit to this segment of the population?
Dr. Kevin: Dr. Jefferson’s examination at the Cochrane Collaboration of four cluster randomized trials and one cohort trial of nearly 20,000 health care workers showed “no effect on specific outcomes: laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia or deaths from pneumonia.” Another research study observed the same phenomena as he did, but noted the vaccine was effective for ILI, hospitalizations for ILI, and death from all causes.
Rob: Some people say that the flu vaccine is politically motivated can you speak to that?
Dr. Kevin: On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 flu outbreak a pandemic. Governments everywhere ordered billions of dollars’ worth of vaccines and antiviral drugs as fear of an epidemic spread like wildfire around the world. But critics accused the WHO of crying wolf and scaring member governments with predictions of a deadly pandemic. Within a year the entire enterprise would be revealed as fraudulent, with two studies charging that the WHO changed the definition of a pandemic and that WHO’s decision-making was rife with conflicts of interest. We learned that the 2004 WHO committee which ordered world governments to set up immunization programs and stockpile antiretroviral drugs in the event of a flu pandemic, was loaded with scientists with ties to drug companies.
In September 2012, Canadian researchers revealed a study showing that at the start of the 2009 “pandemic,” those who got the seasonal shot in the 2008-2009 flu season were more likely to get infected with the pandemic virus than people who hadn’t received it. Because researchers had noticed the phenomenon in the early weeks of the pandemic, Dr Danuta Skowronski, an influenza expert at the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, and a strong supporter of annual flu vaccine campaigns, more recently conducted a blinded test using ferrets (a mammal with human-like susceptibility to colds and flus). She found that those ferrets who got the seasonal flu shot got sicker when they were exposed to the pandemic H1N1 virus. Such research indicates there might be many potential unknown factors affecting our immune systems when it comes to the flu vaccine.
Rob: I remember hearing that back in the 70’s there were major problems with the flu vaccine then.
Dr. Kevin: That’s right Rob, the 1976 swine flu outbreak, known as the swine flu fiasco, was a strain of H1N1 influenza virus that appeared in 1976. Infections were only detected from January 19 to February 9, and were not found outside Fort Dix, NJ. The outbreak is most remembered for the mass immunization that it prompted in the United States.
In late January 1976 a number of recruits at Fort Dix in New Jersey began to complain of respiratory illness, on February 5, 1976, David Lewis, an Army private said he felt tired and weak. Private Lewis then left his sick bed to go on a forced run, collapsed, was revived by his Sergeant only to die a few days later and four of his fellow soldiers were additionally hospitalized. Two weeks after his death, health officials announced that swine flu was the cause of death and that this strain of flu appeared to be closely related to the strain involved in the 1918 flu pandemic. Public-health officials decided that action had be taken to head off another major pandemic, and they urged President Gerald Ford that every person in the U.S. be vaccinated for the disease’ despite prior knowledge that one version of the vaccine could cause neurological damage.
The strain itself killed one person and hospitalized 13. However, side-effects from the vaccine are thought to have caused five hundred cases of Guillain–Barré syndrome and 25 deaths.
Rob: So what are the recommendations by our governments as to who should get the flu vaccine?
Dr. Kevin: The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all Americans six months of age or older get a flu shot every year throughout life. The CDC states that babies between six and eight months old should receive two doses of influenza vaccine one month apart.
Rob: You mentioned side effects – are there others?
Dr. Kevin: Reported moderate reactions to influenza vaccine include fever, local reactions (pain, redness, swelling at the site of the injection), headache, fatigue, sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, joint and muscle pain, and nausea. Reported serious complications include brain inflammation, convulsions, Bell’s palsy, limb paralysis, neuropathy, shock, wheezing/asthma and other breathing problems. Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a disabling neurological disorder that involves temporary or permanent paralysis that can lead to death and has been causally related to influenza vaccinations.
As of November 2013, there have been more than 93,000 reports of reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following influenza vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 1,080 related deaths, 8,888 hospitalizations, 1,801 related disabilities and over 1,700 cases of GBS.
Rob: I’ve heard about Tamiflu – it’s a medication to treat the flu – what do you know about it?
Dr. Kevin: The efficacy of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and its overall risk-benefit ratio are controversial. Several meta analyses have concluded that oseltamivir’s benefits in those who are otherwise healthy do not outweigh its risks. Randomized clinical trials have failed to find a benefit of treatment among people seeking care for flu-like symptoms and / or that treatment does not change the risk of hospitalization in the elderly or other high risk populations and that it is unclear if it affects rates of death.
Rob: …And what’s the deal with mercury in vaccines – I’ve heard there are links of mercury to some pretty extensive and severe side effects?
Dr. Kevin: You’re right Rob
Ingredients in the Flu Vaccine
|Type of Ingredient||Examples||Purpose|
|Preservatives||Thimerosal (only in multi-dose vials of flu vaccine)*||To prevent contamination|
|Adjuvants||Aluminum salts||To help stimulate the body’s response to the antigens|
|Stabilizers||Sugars, gelatin||To keep the vaccine potent during transportation and storage|
|Residual cell culture materials||Egg protein||To grow enough of the virus or bacteria to make the vaccine|
|Residual inactivating ingredients||Formaldehyde||To kill viruses or inactivate toxins during the manufacturing process|
|Residual antibiotics||Neomycin||To prevent contamination by bacteria during vaccine manufacturing|
The 4 Flu Vaccines that still contain thimerosal as of 2014
Flulaval < 25 mcg mercury
Flulaval Quad < 25 mcg mercury
Fluvirin 25 mcg mercury/dose in multi-dose vial
Fluzone 25 mcg mercury/0.5mLNone in .25 mL, Fluzone HiDose or Intradermal
CDC Website on mercury toxicity
Symptoms include: neurological disturbances, memory problems, skin rash, and kidney abnormalities. Infants born to women who were poisoned with methylmercury had developmental abnormalities and cerebral palsy.
- The position of the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry at Saint Louis University is that aluminum may cause liver toxicity and lead to degenerative symptoms, including Alzheimer’s.
- Researchers at The School of Studies in Zoology at Jiwaji University in India describe aluminum as a potent neurotoxin associated with Alzheimer’s.
- The University of California, Irvine’s Department of Medicine has reported that aluminum causes inflammation in the brain. No surprise, Alzheimer’s disease is often associated with elevated inflammation.
- The University School of Medicine in Belgrade published information showing that drinking water with a high aluminum concentration is associated with Alzheimer’s risk.
Dr. Kevin: So there you have it Rob something for our listeners to ponder and if nothing else investigate on their own before they jump into vaccinating themselves and family members.