Researchers reported that influenza vaccinations provide only modest protection for healthy young and middle-age adults, and little, if any protection, for those 65 and older, who are most likely to succumb to the illness or its complications.
Tis’ the time for the flu and some are questioning the value of getting the flu vaccine.
Scientists at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota released a report seriously questioning the efficacy of the flu vaccine.
Researchers reported that influenza vaccinations provide only modest protection for healthy young and middle-age adults, and little, if any protection, for those 65 and older, who are most likely to succumb to the illness or its complications. Moreover, the report’s authors concluded, federal vaccination recommendations, which have expanded in recent years, are based on inadequate evidence and poorly executed studies.
“We have overpromoted and overhyped this vaccine,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, as well as its Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. “It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.”
Dr. Osterholm, who says he is concerned that confidence in current vaccines deters research into identifying more effective agents, comes from the world of public health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A bioterrorism and public health preparedness adviser to Tommy Thompson, the former health and human services secretary, he served on the interim management team during a transition period at the C.D.C. in 2002.
“I’m an insider,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Until we started this project, I was one of the people out there heavily promoting influenza vaccine use. It was only with this study that I looked and said, ‘What are we doing?’ ”
He still considers himself “a pro-vaccine guy,” Dr. Osterholm said.
“I say, ‘Use this vaccine,’ ” he said. “The safety profile is actually quite good. But we have oversold it. Use it — but just know it’s not going to work nearly as well as everyone says.”
While researching the report released last month, Dr. Osterholm said, the authors discovered a recurring error in influenza vaccine studies that led to an exaggeration of the vaccine’s effectiveness. They also discovered 30 inaccuracies in the statement on influenza vaccines put forth by the expert panel that develops vaccine recommendations, all of which favor the vaccine.
CDC officials acknowledge that the vaccines do not work as well in the elderly population as they do in younger healthy adults. But, they say, the effectiveness of the flu shots, which are reformulated every year in an attempt to match the strains most likely to be circulating that season, varies depending on the population being inoculated and the year.
“Does it work as well as the measles vaccine? No, and it’s not likely to. But the vaccine works,” Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of epidemiology and prevention in the CDC’s influenza division, said. And research is advancing to improve the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Although the vaccine may be less effective at preventing influenza in the elderly, Dr. Bresee said, that is the population most susceptible to the disease and at highest risk. Anywhere from as few as 3,000 to as many as 49,000 Americans die of influenza each year, some 90 percent of them elderly.
The article ends with a piece of sound advice….“Another option for those who want to reduce their risk of influenza and flulike infections may be simply this: Wash your hands more often. There is good evidence this works.”
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