fluAs we start another winter in the southern hemisphere the doom and gloom calls are already up. This will be the worst winter for viruses. There is a killer flu on the loose. The system will not cope. The only answer is to get a flu shot.

We are told that having a flu shot saves lives. This is great marketing. Who would argue with saving lives? And who is even prepared to question the collective wisdom of the medical authorities and assorted health departments.

In any other area, claims like those made about flu shots would be subject to scrutiny.

Advertisers would be hounded by regulatory agencies. Consumer groups would be outraged. Yet because it is the flu shot it is just accepted.

Fortunately some are asking questions. And the answers may surprise. Previous reviews done by the independent Cochrane collaboration have found that around 100 people need to be immunized to prevent one case of flu. Other reviews have shown no impact on hospitalizations or days off work. A review of 75 studies on flu vaccination in over 65’s found no evidence of any benefit.

Now a review in the British Medical Journal has made the (in my opinion), very strong case) that marketing of flu vaccine is a triumph of spin over substance.

Between 1990 and 2010 there was a four-fold increase in flu vaccinations delivered in the USA. Yet number of cases and in particular the number of fatalities has not altered. In fact deaths per 100,000 population, from influenza fell sharply between 1930 and 1960. It then fell a bit further over the next 20 years and since 1980 has been unchanged at a very low level.

The first recommendation for an annual influenza vaccine was in 1960.

Sharp readers will notice that I have switched from using the term “flu” to “influenza”. This is significant. The term “flu” has become generic for a range of viral illnesses. Many people even use the word “flu” to describe a “cold”. The illnesses are quite different.

Even without including colds, the influenza virus causes this only one in six cases of “flu” when lab tests are done.  So whilst all influenza is flu, only one in six flu’s are influenza.

Little wonder then that many people find that they get the flu after having had the “flu shot”.

One of the best ways in medicine to expand markets and sales is to lower thresholds and expand the boundaries of disease. By lowering targets for blood pressure or cholesterol more drugs can be sold. In this case by expanding the notion of who is at risk of flu you can sell more flu shots. So each year we hear about more and more groups being “at risk”

Claims of killer flu and life saving flu shots are designed to frighten people into having a vaccination. . Yes, each year there are deaths associated with influenza. Some 98% of these are due to secondary pneumonia in those aged over 85.

Employers have been sold the notion that vaccinating staff will prevent absenteeism in winter. Some institutions have sought to make to mandatory.

And it gets even worse. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) the efficacy of the influenza vaccine is at best 56% and is as low as 9% in those aged over 65. Australian tracking shows a 1% difference in viral symptoms reported each week between vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Despite this low usefulness the CDC continues to recommend the shot for all, as do health authorities in most other countries. When the facts are examined this makes no sense.

So here is the bottom line. A four-fold increase in influenza vaccines has not led to any decline in cases of influenza or deaths. Around 100 people need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of flu symptoms. When you multiply that by the fact that only one in six cases of flu are due to influenza it means for every 600 who get a flu shot, one person will get benefit. And if we then factor in a 50% efficacy rate this drops to one in 1200.

And all this for an illness that for the vast majority of people will be over in a week anyway!

Whether or not you choose to have a flu shot is up to you. This article is not telling you what to do. It is providing information, which you may not otherwise come across.

The push for flu shots is a textbook example of disease mongering. Scare people about a common condition. Expand the definition of those who are “at risk” and then sell them a product. This would be bad enough if the solution was of any use.

The fact that a flu shot does very little for most who have it makes the whole thing a disgrace!