"Flu vaccines revealed as the greatest quackery ever pushed in the history of medicine."
Against all evidence to the contrary, she continued to refuse any form of “conventional medicine.” She still believed that her ” healer” could save her life, even though she now had a large, bleeding, stinking mass in her breast stuck to her chest wall that had three years ago been a pea-sized cancer that could have easily been excised with a small surgical procedure. She was well on her way to dying in the horrific way that so many women died of this disease 100 years ago.
[W]hile other flu researchers may not like what Jefferson has to say, they cannot ignore the fact that he knows the flu-vaccine literature better than anyone else on the planet. He leads an international team of researchers who have combed through hundreds of flu-vaccine studies. The vast majority of the studies were deeply flawed, says Jefferson. “Rubbish is not a scientific term, but I think it’s the term that applies.” Only four studies were properly designed to pin down the effectiveness of flu vaccine, he says, and two of those showed that it might be effective in certain groups of patients, such as school-age children with no underlying health issues like asthma. The other two showed equivocal results or no benefit.
Flu researchers have been fooled into thinking vaccine is more effective than the data suggest, in part, says Jefferson, by the imprecision of the statistics. The only way to know if someone has the flu—as opposed to influenza-like illness—is by putting a Q-tip into the patient’s throat or nose and running a test, which simply isn’t done that often. Likewise, nobody really has a handle on how many of the deaths that are blamed on flu were actually caused by a flu virus, because few are confirmed by a laboratory. “I used to be a family physician,” says Jefferson. “I’ve never seen a patient come to my office with H1N1 written on his forehead. When an old person dies of respiratory failure after an influenza-like illness, they nearly always get coded as influenza.”
There’s one other way flu researchers may be fooled into thinking flu vaccine is effective, Jefferson says. All vaccines work by delivering a dose of killed or weakened virus or bacteria, which provokes the immune system into producing antibodies. When the person is subsequently exposed to the real thing, the body is already prepared to repel the bug completely or to get rid of it after a mild illness. Flu researchers often use antibody response as a way of gauging the effectiveness of vaccine, on the assumption that levels of antibodies in the blood of people who have been vaccinated are a good predictor—although an imperfect one—of how well they can ward off the infection.
There’s some merit to this reasoning. Unfortunately, the very people who most need protection from the flu also have immune systems that are least likely to respond to vaccine. Studies show that young, healthy people mount a glorious immune response to seasonal flu vaccine, and their response reduces their chances of getting the flu and may lessen the severity of symptoms if they do get it. But they aren’t the people who die from seasonal flu. By contrast, the elderly, particularly those over age 70, don’t have a good immune response to vaccine—and they’re the ones who account for most flu deaths. [. . .]
In Jefferson’s view, this raises a troubling conundrum: Is vaccine necessary for those in whom it is effective, namely the young and healthy? Conversely, is it effective in those for whom it seems to be necessary, namely the old, the very young, and the infirm? These questions have led to the most controversial aspect of Jefferson’s work: his call for placebo-controlled trials, studies that would randomly give half the test subjects vaccine and the other half a dummy shot, or placebo. Only such large, well-constructed, randomized trials can show with any precision how effective vaccine really is, and for whom.
Jackson’s findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the “frail elderly” didn’t or couldn’t.
In 2004, for example, vaccine production fell behind, causing a 40 percent drop in immunization rates. Yet mortality did not rise. In addition, vaccine “mismatches” occurred in 1968 and 1997: in both years, the vaccine that had been produced in the summer protected against one set of viruses, but come winter, a different set was circulating. In effect, nobody was vaccinated. Yet death rates from all causes, including flu and the various illnesses it can exacerbate, did not budge.
Only four studies were properly designed to pin down the effectiveness of flu vaccine, he says, and two of those showed that it might be effective in certain groups of patients, such as school-age children with no underlying health issues like asthma. The other two showed equivocal results or no benefit
Unfortunately, the very people who most need protection from the flu also have immune systems that are least likely to respond to vaccine. Studies show that young, healthy people mount a glorious immune response to seasonal flu vaccine, and their response reduces their chances of getting the flu and may lessen the severity of symptoms if they do get it. But they aren’t the people who die from seasonal flu.
For this reason, our finding that differences in health status between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups leads to bias in estimates of influenza vaccine effectiveness against all cause mortality and other non-specific outcomes does not mean that there is no effect of vaccination against serious complications of influenza infection.
I keep getting asked about the Atlantic Magazine article, Does the Vaccine Matter? by Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, two reporters whose particular bias is that we as a nation are "over treated." As a generalization that's probably true, and finding examples isn't hard. Unfortunately by taking as their main example flu vaccine during a pandemic, they have not only picked the wrong example but created more confusion at a time when there's already too much. ...
The maddening thing about this article is that there are valid points to be made here and we have tried to make them until we were blue in the face (random examples here, here, here, here, here, here). We have always felt the way to prepare for and battle a pandemic is to rely on a strengthened and robust public health and social services infrastructure, not to plan for the best (that there will be an effective and timely vaccine available to everyone) while hoping the worst won't happen. Vaccines and antivirals are a poor second best as a strategy. But that's what we have now, and while not the optimum, they do work. On the other hand, the nostrums also touted in this article as a substitute for vaccines and antivirals, like washing your hands, have almost no scientific support in the literature for influenza. They are still good things to do, although if Dr. Jefferson decides to review the literature, I wouldn't count on him finding any support for them. So what?
The bottom line is this. There is excellent and credible evidence in the scientific literature that vaccination against influenza reduces infections in people under 60, evidence that even Dr. Jefferson accepts. For those over 60, there are legitimate questions that were raised by others about the extent of the benefit of seasonal flu vaccine, but they were raised before Jefferson got into the act. The argument put forward in this piece is a straw man argument as far as pandemic influenza is concerned (and in which context it was placed).
I understand the rhetorical value of having a martyr-hero when pitching a story, but this was a particularly irresponsible time to pull this stunt.
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