This is certainly not the first time I’ve addressed the flu vaccine in the Rantings.  But despite my widespread influence, word just doesn’t seem to be getting out.  Given the massive hype that accompanies “flu season” every year and the urging that everyone who can breathe get vaccinated (the lack of recommendations for vaccinating dead people is merely because insurance does not reimburse for treatment of dead people….), one would think that the effectiveness is as clear cut as it gets, right?  Not even close..

Consider this particular study.  First, the authors looked at clinical trials of the flu vaccination that met specific criteria.  One of the more powerful things they did was looked at lab confirmed influenza.  Many studies refer to “influenza-like illness,” which leaves much room for error.  So, authors looked at 5,707 trials over 34 years (1967-2011).  Wow–that is a LOT of trials on the flu vaccine.  Think of the money spent on this number of trials alone.  How many met the criteria for this review?  Take a guess…

31.  Yes, 31.  A smidgen over 0.5% of the studies met this criteria.  This does not mean almost every study was junk science, however, but the use of true lab confirmed influenza is a big differentiating factor for me.

Researchers looked at the trivalent inactivated vaccine (TIV) and the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LIAV).  The virus is still alive in the later, making it a riskier vaccination for those who may have weakened immune systems, which, ironically, are people who are more strongly pushed towards getting vaccinated…

 Here are the results for whether or not the vaccine was even effective against the year’s dominant strain…

  • TIV, in adults (18-65) was effective in 2/3 of the seasons
  • LIAV, in children (6 mos – 7) was effective in 3/4 of the seasons
  • For TIV, no trials in children or seniors met the criteria
  • For LIAV, no trials in children 8-17 met the criteria

So, once we can determine if vaccination is effective, THEN we can look at good it is at preventing the flu…

  • Only 35% of the studies showed vaccine effectiveness against the flu

So what were the authors’ conclusions from all this data?  “Influenza vaccines can provide moderate protection against virologically confirmed influenza, but such protection is greatly reduced or absent in some seasons. Evidence for protection in adults aged 65 years or older is lacking”

So, overall, the flu vaccine, despite being a major, massive, hyped up campaign, and, despite 100 years of it’s use still is questionable as far as how well it works.  These results are not spectacular, and yet we line up in droves to get the flu shot now even at Wal-Mart and Walgreens.  The “public health” campaign to promote this vaccine is nothing if not an incredible study of marketing.  And yet, ironically, few know what a refined carbs truly is or that you can prevent cancer.  Go figure…

So, instead of your annual jab, try things like probiotics, drinking green tea and vitamin D and a healthier lifestyle, all of which can lower your risk of getting the flu and, if you do still catch the flu, will likely lower the severity of the illness.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.