Time for the Flu Vaccine? Think Again
The flu vaccine gets the most-useless-vaccine-of-all-time award. Now the CDC
is recommending the vaccine for children under two years old and all adults
over 50. Don't fall for it. Read the flu chapter from the new edition of my
book, The Vaccine Guide, (North Atlantic Books 800 337-2665) which will be
available at bookstores by late October.
Randall Neustaedter OMD
Author of The Vaccine Guide, North Atlantic Books
Everyone knows about the flu and the flu vaccine. What people do not know is
that flu vaccines are nearly useless in preventing flu, they will cause the
flu, and they often result in nervous system damage that can take years for
the body to repair. Other nations chuckle at Americans' infatuation with the
flu vaccine. The joke would indeed be funny, if it weren't for the damaging
effects caused by the vaccine.
The history of the flu vaccine reads like one stumbling fiasco after
another. Take an example. Ever wonder how the particular viruses are chosen
for next year's vaccine? The answer could be drawn from a 1930s film noir of
Shanghai villainy. Scientists kill migrating ducks in Asia, culture the
viruses and put those in next year's vaccine, because they have seen an
association between bird and pig viruses and the following year's human flu
epidemics. Perhaps this desperate guesswork is responsible for so many years
when the flu vaccine's viruses had nothing in common with circulating
viruses. According to a CDC report of the 1994-1995 flu season, 87 percent
of type A influenza virus samples were not similar to the year's vaccine,
and 76 percent of type B virus were not similar to the virus in that year's
vaccine. During the 1992-1993 season, 84 percent of samples for the
predominant type A virus were not similar to the virus in the vaccine.
Here is a list of the most common side effects of the flu vaccine as
stated by the CDC - fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and headache. Sound
The primary targeted population for flu vaccine is the elderly, yet
the vaccine is notoriously ineffective in preventing disease in that
population. According to the CDC, the effectiveness of flu vaccine in
preventing illness among elderly persons residing in nursing homes is 30-40
percent (CDC, 2001b). Other studies have shown an even lower efficacy of
0-36 percent (averaging 21 percent). The CDC proudly notes that for those
elderly persons living outside of nursing homes, flu vaccine is 30-70
percent effective in preventing hospitalization for pneumonia and influenza.
Yet the Department of Human and Health Services found that, with or without
a flu shot, pneumonia and influenza hospitalization rates for the elderly
are less than one percent during the influenza season. Regardless of
vaccination status, 99 percent of the elderly recover from the flu without
being hospitalized. The ineffectiveness of flu shots in the elderly led the
CDC in 2000 to begin recommending the shots for all persons age 50 years and
older. The rationale being that one third of Americans have a risk factor or
chronic disease that puts them at risk of increased morbidity from the flu.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for those individuals with
asthma and other chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. However,
those people with impaired immune systems are the most likely to suffer
adverse autoimmune reactions.
Children are the next frontier for the lucrative flu vaccine campaign.
Vaccination is currently recommended for children over six months of age
with high-risk medical conditions, but is not recommended for healthy
children. Experts in the field suggest that parents of children age six
months to two years "be informed that their children are at risk for serious
complications of influenza, and allowed to make individual informed
decisions regarding influenza immunization for their children" (Neuzil et
al., 2001). This statement was made by Marie Griffin (and others), the same
author who was implicated in the flawed study that supposedly exonerated the
pertussis vaccine of nervous system damage. She is also a paid consultant to
one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers, Burroughs Wellcome. The
children's market is the next big hope for vaccine campaigners. A 1998
working group began investigations to not only support, but also to
"recommend" flu vaccine for young children.
The next big change in flu vaccines will be the introduction of a live
intranasal flu vaccine, a dose that is actually sprayed into the nose. This
vaccine has already been tested on young children. Live intranasal vaccine
was found 93 percent effective in preventing influenza in children age one
to six years old (Belshe et al., 1998). Unanswered questions about the live
vaccine include the possibility of transmitting other, more dangerous
viruses through the vaccine, the possibility of enhanced replication of the
attenuated virus in individuals with compromised immune systems, and the
possibility of bacterial superinfection if the replicating live virus
disrupts nasal membranes (Subbarao, 2000). This vaccine waits in the wings
for its chance as the next big gun in the vaccine arsenal aimed at our
In 1976 the flu vaccine was dealt a near fatal blow when reports appeared
that the vaccine caused Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune nervous
system reaction characterized by unstable gait, loss of sensation, and loss
of muscle control. A mass vaccination program was mounted that year by the
US Government, and 45 million Americans received the swine flu vaccine.
Statistical studies have confirmed a causal relationship between the vaccine
and GBS. During that year the rate of GBS in Ohio was 13.3 per 1,000,000 in
vaccine recipients compared to 2.6 per 1,000,000 in nonrecipients (Marks &
Halpin, 1980). A follow-up study also showed a significantly increased
incidence of GBS during the first 6 weeks following receipt of the vaccine
in patients residing in two other states. The rate of GBS was 8.6 per
million vaccinees in Michigan and 9.7 per million vaccinees in Minnesota
(Safranek et al., 1991). This episode, which became known as the swine flu
catastrophe, left doctors extremely reluctant to administer flu vaccine, and
shattered the public trust in the flu vaccine campaign.
The association between GBS and flu shots was not unique to the swine
flu. Earlier reports had also summarized cases of nervous system disorders
occurring soon after the flu vaccine (Flewett & Hoult, 1958; Horner, 1958).
More recently, an increased risk for GBS occurring in patients during the
six weeks following the flu vaccine was revealed in the 1992-1993 and the
1993-1994 flu seasons (Lasky et al., 1998).
One of the most bizarre twists on the flu vaccine saga is the CDC
recommendation of 2001 that all pregnant women receive the vaccine in their
second or third trimester. This recommendation even has doctors confused,
since the vaccine remains a category C drug (unknown risk for pregnancy). No
adequate studies have been conducted to monitor safety of the vaccine for
mother and fetus. The only studies of adverse effects in pregnancy were
conducted in the 1970s (Heinonen et al., 1973; Sumaya & Gibbs, 1979). Some
flu vaccines still contain mercury as a preservative, despite a 1998 FDA
instruction to remove mercury from all drugs. According to the CDC, two
groups are most vulnerable to methylmercury---the fetus and children ages 14
and younger. An article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in
1999 stated, "the greatest susceptibility to methylmercury neurotoxicity
occurs during late gestation" (Grandjean et al., 1999). How did CDC
committee members determine that flu vaccines were safe for pregnant women?
They did not. The committee, despite its own recommendation, states,
"additional data are needed to confirm the safety of vaccination during
pregnancy" (CDC, 2001b).
* Flu vaccine manufacturers are notoriously inaccurate at predicting the
appropriate viruses to use in an individual year's vaccine, rendering the
* Flu vaccine is relatively ineffective in those patients most at risk of
* The vaccine has caused GBS in recipients during several different flu
* Those most at risk of flu complications probably share a higher risk of
adverse reactions to the flu vaccine as well.
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