Flu Vaccine 2012-13: Does it Work?

It’s flu season Again. Time to run out and get your flu vaccine 2012-13 version before you too become infected. Everyone’s doing it, but does it work?

As a result of the near universal recommendation from your physician and the seemingly endless barrage of advertisements on the radio, TV and print media, you decide that the influenza vaccination must be effective.

As you reach for the car keys to run to your nearest drug store for your life saving vaccination, thoughts run through your head of smoking promotion for health (yes–for many years we denied the evidence that smoking was harmful), ineffective and even dangerous hormone replacement therapy for women and the marketing ploy that suggests that milk does a body good.

Is marketing and scare tactics running cover for an ineffective flu vaccine?

In case you haven’t been convinced by the evidence I have presented in previous blog posts that can be found here, you may want to pay attention here.

This particular report commissioned by the Federal Government at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy is described as one of the largest ever reviews of the influenza vaccination and the politics, recommendations and effectiveness surrounding it. I will not go into the specific details (they are available in the report), but just take my word for it that the undertaking was nothing short of massive.

The findings of the committee may be a little surprising to some. The committee looked at the evidence for both types of vaccines in use. The trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (TIV) uses a dead virus, while the live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV-aka Flumist) uses a weakened, but still alive, virus. The TIV is given via injection while the LAIV is given as an intra-nasal injection. Since the LAIV is still alive, it has the potential to cause the flu in those with weakened immune systems.

With this in mind, here is what the committee found for TIV:

  • Moderate protection (about 59%) for healthy adults 18 to 64 years of age.
  • Inconsistent evidence of protection in children age 2 to 17 years.
  • Almost no evidence for protection in adults 65 years of age and older

For LAIV, the results weren’t too much better:

  • High protection (about 83%) for young children 6 months to 7 years of age.
  • Inconsistent evidence of protection in adults 60 years of age and older.
  • No evidence for protection in individuals between 8 and 59 years of age.

The bottom line needs to be summed up in a short list:

  • The greatest risk of influenza complications occur in the elderly. That means that there is very little evidence that either vaccine works in the group we really need it to work in (Tweet this).
  • Healthy adults showed strong evidence ONLY for TIV, but, in general, this group is the least likely to suffer complications.
  • The only group that showed high protection was 6 months to 7 years, but LAIV is only licensed here in the US from 2 years on.

Despite the strong push to vaccinate our children despite the weak evidence, few pediatricians will share the evidence on probiotics, vitamin D or green tea on lowering the risk of upper respiratory tract infections in children, all of which I have reviewed in previous blog posts that can be read here. Overall, does this sound like the evidence is there to back up the massive push our country makes every single year for influence vaccination?

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.