By Dr. Mercola
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as "the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses."
This advice applies to everyone 6 months of age and older, and the CDC stresses that you "should get a flu vaccine as soon as [they] are available."
With a promotion this strong, you might assume that getting a flu shot is a "sure thing" to protect you from all flu-like illness this year, but actually it's not.
Not even close.
Most Flu-Like Illness is NOT Influenza
During the "flu season," doctors and patients alike often attribute respiratory illness to "the flu" or influenza viruses when they most of the time flu-like symtpoms are actually associated with other types of viruses and bacteria.
The only way to know for sure what type of virus or bacteria is causing flu-ike symptoms is to have it lab confirmed.
The seasonal influenza vaccine only contains three strains of type A or type B influenza, which U.S. and WHO health officials select each year as the most likely influenza strains that will circulate around the world.
There are many influenza strains and most cases of flu-like illness that occur in the U.S. during a typical flu season are not associated with type A or type B influenza strains.
So, it is important to remember that, when you feel like you have the "flu," you can't automatically assume that your flu symptoms are caused by type A or type B influenza strains included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Also, people who do get a flu shot every year cannot automatically assume they will not get sick with either type A or type B influenza or another respiratory iillness that looks and feels like influenza.
Flu Vaccines Prevent the Flu in Only 1.5% of Adults
A new study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases reveals that the flu vaccine prevents lab confirmed type A or type B influenza in only 1.5 out of every 100 vaccinated adults … but the media is reporting this to mean "60 percent effective."
It is estimated that, annually, only about 2.7% of adults get type A or type B influenza in the first place. The study showed that the use of flu vaccines appear to drop this down to about 1.2%. This is a roughly 60% drop, but that ignores the fact that the vaccine has no protective health benefit for 97.5% of adults.
The researchers' own conclusions are also somewhat more lackluster in their tone than the media would have you believe:
"Influenza vaccines can provide moderate protection against virologically confirmed influenza, but such protection is greatly reduced or absent in some seasons. Evidence for protection in adults aged 65 years or older is lacking."
So where is the 60% effectiveness claim coming from? This number is based on relative risk, and it does not mean that 59 out of 100 people who get the flu shot will be protected against the flu … allow me to explain.
Why You Need to Understand Basic Statistics Before Getting a Flu Shot
Some clinical trials are only able to show a meaningful benefit because they focus on relative risk reduction rather than absolute risk reduction. What's the difference? You can find a very simple explanation of relative risk vs. absolute risk at the Annie Appleseed Project web site, but let me sum it up here.
- Relative risk reduction is calculated by dividing the absolute risk reduction by the control event rate
- Absolute risk reduction is the decrease in risk of a treatment in relation to a control treatment
In plain English, here's what that means: let's say you have a study of 200 women, half of whom take a drug and half take a placebo, to examine the effect on breast cancer risk. After five years, two women in the drug group develop breast cancer, compared to four who took the placebo. This data could lead to either of the following headlines, and both would be correct:
"New Miracle Drug Cuts Breast Cancer Risk by 50%!"
"New Drug Results in 2% Drop in Breast Cancer Risk!"
How can this be?
The Annie Appleseed Project explains:
"The headlines represent two different ways to express the same data. The first headline expresses the relative risk reduction — the two women who took the drug (subjects) and developed breast cancer equal half the number (50%) of the four women who took the placebo (controls) and developed breast cancer.
The second headline expresses the absolute risk reduction — 2% of the subjects (2 out of 100) who took the drug developed breast cancer and 4% of the controls (4 out of 100) who took the placebo developed breast cancer — an absolute difference of 2% (4% minus 2%)."
You can now see why clinical trials, especially those funded by drug companies, will cite relative risk reductions rather than absolute risk reductions, and as a patient you need to be aware that statistics can be easily manipulated.
As STATS at George Mason University explains:
"An important feature of relative risk is that it tells you nothing about the actual risk."
Flu Shot Protects Against Only Three Flu Viruses …
As stated previsously, each year the flu shot contains three influenza viruses -- one influenza A (H3N2) virus, one seasonal influenza A (H1N1) virus, and one influenza B virus. It only has a chance of preventing you from getting a flu-like respiratory illness during the flu season IF you so happen to be infected with one of these three specific influenza viruses.
In the United States, federal health officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are in charge of selecting which viruses to include in seasonal flu vaccine, a process that is based on international "surveillance-based forecasts about what viruses are most likely to cause illness in the coming season." U.S. health officials works with World Health Organization (WHO) health officials to come up with projectons about which three type A or type B infuenza viruses should be included in seasonal influenza vaccine each year.
In other words, it's an educated guess.
As you might suspect, getting a "good match" between the chosen vaccine virus strains and the actual influenza viruses that do end up circulating and causing most of the type A or type B influenza in the U.S. and around the world is challenging.
As the CDC notes:
"There are a number of factors that can make getting a good vaccine virus strain for vaccine production challenging, including both scientific issues and issues of timing. Currently, only viruses grown in eggs can be used as vaccine virus strains. If specimens have been grown in other cell lines, they cannot be used for vaccine strains.
However, more and more laboratories do not use eggs to grow influenza viruses, making it difficult to obtain potential vaccine strains. In addition, some influenza viruses, like H3N2 viruses, grow poorly in eggs, making it even more difficult to obtain possible vaccine strains.
In terms of timing, in some years certain influenza viruses may not circulate until later in the influenza season, or a virus can change late in the season or from one season to the next. This can make it difficult to forecast which viruses will predominate the following season, but it can also make it difficult to identify a vaccine virus strain in time for the production process to begin."
When you add to this gamble, the little-known fact that, according to the CDC, only about 20 percent of flu-like illnesses are actually caused by influenza type A or B, you realize how limited an effect the flu vaccine has on keeping people well during the flu season. Too many people assume that all flu-like illness is caused by influenza viruses when the truth is that about 80 percent of flu-like illness is NOT caused by type A or type B influenza. Most flu-like symptoms are actually associated with more than 200 other bugs that can make you feel just as sick -- respiratory syncytial virus, bocavirus, coronavirus, and rhinovirus, to name a few.
What this means is that if you think you have the flu, odds are five to one that you actually don't have the flu but a flu-like virus, against which the flu shot is absolutely worthless!
Is the Small Purported Flu Shot Benefit Actually due to the "Healthy User" Effect?
Lisa Jackson, a physician and senior investigator with the Group Health Research Center in Seattle, found that healthy people tend to choose flu vaccination, while the "frail elderly" didn't or couldn't. Her research suggested that flu vaccine itself does not reduce mortality at all.
Healthy (and health-conscious) people tend to get the vaccine AND come down with influenza less often, not because of the vaccine itself but because they are healthier to start with.
"The reductions in risk before influenza season indicate preferential receipt of vaccine by relatively healthy seniors... the magnitude of the bias demonstrated by the associations before the influenza season was sufficient to account entirely for the associations observed during influenza season."
Unfortunately, Jackson's papers were turned down for publication in the leading medical journals, even though her hypothesis makes perfect sense.
Every day you're around viruses and bacteria and, when you're healthy, you usually don't get sick. But even if you do get sick, most healthy adults and children will not have serious problems moving through and recovering from influenza or other flu-like illnesses. If you do come down with influenza and have a good immune response, you will likely recover quickly without serious complications, as well as obtain natural immunity to that strain of influenza and to similar ones.
As an aside, this is one more health benefit to achieving immunity naturally by experiencing and recovering from normal infectious diseases, such as influenza.
Vaccine-acquired immunity is temporary, which is why even though the viruses in this season's flu vaccine are the same viruses that were selected for the 2010-2011 influenza vaccine, the CDC is still recommending you get vaccinated again, even if you got the vaccine last year. The immunity that healthy individuals get by recovering from influenza naturally is usually much longer lasting.
Why Are Vaccinated Kids Getting the Measles?
Vaccine effectiveness simply cannot be taken at face value, and this applies not only to the flu vaccine but also to other diseases, like measles. Measles cases have greatly increased in parts of Canada and the United States this year. Although unvaccinated children and teens are often blamed for driving the high numbers, a recent investigation into a measles outbreak in a high school found that about half of the cases were in teens who had received the recommended two doses of vaccine in childhood.
In other words, many of the cases were among those whom health authorities would have expected to have been protected from the measles virus. Conventional medical wisdom states that the measles vaccine should protect against measles infection about 99 percent of the time.
"So the discovery that 52 of the 98 teens who caught measles were fully vaccinated came as a shock to the researchers who conducted the investigation ... If other groups confirm what the Quebec investigation found, it could mean there is a lot more susceptibility to measles in the vaccinated population than is currently being assumed."
In the United States, the minimum age for the first dose of measles vaccine is recommended as 12 months, but this may actually render the vaccine ineffective. If a breastfed child is given a measles vaccine too early, their mother's antibodies transferred to the baby via breast milk (which also protect the baby from measles disease naturally), canl interfere with the baby obtaining measles vaccine strain virus induced antibodies. It was, in fact, due to a high rate of measles vaccine failure that a second dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was introduced in the United States in 1991.
As noted by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC):
"An MMR vaccine manufacturer states that in a study of 279 children 11 months to 7 years of age, MMR vaccine was shown to be 95 to 99 percent effective. Protection is estimated to persist for up to 11 years. In a measles outbreak in the U.S. in the late 1980's and early 1990's, it was found that there were a significant number of vaccine failures in older children, teenagers and adults, when the disease can be more severe. The government proceeded to recommend that a second MMR shot be given to boost immunity either before entrance to kindergarten or before entrance to junior high school.
In the national outbreak of measles during the late 1980's and early 1990's, it also became apparent that children who had been vaccinated before 15 months of age were also at risk for vaccine failure, especially if their mothers had recovered naturally from measles disease as children.
An MMR vaccine manufacturer states "Infants who are less than 15 months of age may fail to respond to the measles component of the vaccine due to presence in the circulation of residual measles antibody of maternal origin, the younger the infant, the lower the likelihood of seroconversion." The manufacturer goes on to advise that infants vaccinated at less than 12 months of age will have to be revaccinated after 15 months of age even though "there is some evidence to suggest that infants immunized at less than one year of age may not develop sustained antibody levels when later immunized.""
Quite simply, vaccines do not confer the same type of immunity that exposure to the actual disease does …
Why the Herd Immunity Concept is Flawed
Typically, vaccine promoters will stress the importance of compliance with the vaccine schedule that requires multiple doses of a vaccine in order to create and maintain vaccine induced "herd immunity," because a vaccine is never 100 percent effective. However, they never quite seem to be able to explain why the majority of outbreaks occur in areas that are thought to HAVE herd immunity status, i.e. where the majority of people are vaccinated and "should" therefore never get the disease.
The problem is that there is, in fact, such a thing as natural herd immunity. But what has happened is that public health officials have taken this natural phenomenon and assumed that vaccine induced herd immunity is the same as disease induced herd immunity and it is not the same. The science clearly shows that there's a big difference between naturally developed herd immunity and vaccine-induced herd immunity in a population.
To learn more, I urge you to listen to the video above, in which Barbara Loe Fisher and I discuss the concept of herd immunity.
"The original concept of herd immunity is that when a population experiences the natural disease… natural immunity would be achieved – a robust, qualitatively superior natural herd immunity within the population, which would then protect other people from getting the disease in other age groups. It's the way infectious diseases work…" Barbara explains. "But the vaccinologists have adopted this idea of vaccine induced herd immunity.
The problem with it is that all vaccines only confer temporary protection… Pertussis vaccine is one the best examples… Pertussis vaccines have been used for about 50 to 60 years, and the organism has started to evolve to become vaccine resistant. I think this is not something that's really understood generally by the public: Vaccines do not confer the same type of immunity that natural exposure to the disease does."
Vaccine professionals would like you to believe they are the same, but they're qualitatively two entirely different types of immune responses.
"In most cases natural exposure to disease would give you a longer lasting, more robust, qualitatively superior immunity because it gives you both cell mediated immunity and humoral immunity," Barbara explains. "Humoral is the antibody production. The way you measure vaccine-induced immunity is by how high the antibody titers are. (How many antibodies you have, basically.)
But the problem is that cell mediated immunity is very important as well. Most vaccines evade cell mediated immunity and go straight for the antibodies, which is only one part of immunity. That's been the big problem with the production of vaccines."
Are You Willing to Accept the Risks for a 1.5% Benefit?
The latest study showing the incredibly minimal benefit of the flu vaccine is in line with past research that has also concluded that flu vaccines appear to have very limited measurable benefits for children, adults or seniors.
The Cochrane Database Review—which is the gold standard for assessing the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of commonly used medical interventions -- published the following telling statistics:
"Over 200 viruses cause influenza and influenza-like illness, which produce the same symptoms (fever, headache, aches and pains, cough and runny noses). Without laboratory tests, doctors cannot tell the two illnesses apart. Both last for days and rarely lead to death or serious illness. At best, vaccines might be effective against only influenza A and B, which represent about 10 percent of all circulating viruses. Each year, the World Health Organization recommends which viral strains should be included in vaccinations for the forthcoming season.
Authors of this review assessed all trials that compared vaccinated people with unvaccinated people. The combined results of these trials showed that under ideal conditions (vaccine completely matching circulating viral configuration) 33 healthy adults need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms.
In average conditions (partially matching vaccine) 100 people need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms.
Vaccine use did not affect the number of people hospitalized or working days lost but caused one case of Guillain-Barré syndrome [GBS] (a major neurological condition leading to paralysis) for every one million vaccinations."
Is it really worth risking the health and well-being of 100 people in order to prevent ONE case of the flu, which may or may not result in serious illness or death in that one individual to begin with?
While infants and young children are at greatest risk, no one is exempt from the potential serious complications of vaccination, one of which is GBS.
In the video profile of vaccine injury above, Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of NVIC, interviews a Connecticut artist and her mother, a former professor of nursing, who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after getting a seasonal flu shot in 2008 and today is permanently disabled with total body paralysis. This family has chosen to share their heartbreaking story to help those who have had the same experience feel less alone, and to educate others about what it means to be vaccine injured.
What happened to this family is a potent reminder of just how important it is to make well-informed decisions about vaccinations.
The Best Way to Prevent the Flu Has Little to do With a Vaccine
Avoiding influenza and flu-like illness during the flu season or any season doesn't require a flu vaccine. By following the simple guidelines below, you can help keep your immune system in optimal working order so that you're far less likely to get sick or, if you do get sick, you are better prepared to move through it without complications and soon return to good health.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. As I've previously reported, optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the absolute best strategies for avoiding infections of ALL kinds, and vitamin D deficiency is likely the TRUE culprit behind the seasonality of the flu -- not the flu virus itself. This is probably the single most important and least expensive action you can take. Regularly monitor your vitamin D levels to confirm your levels are within the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml.
Ideally, you'll want to get all your vitamin D from sun exposure or a safe tanning bed, but as a last resort you can take an oral vitamin D3 supplement. According to the latest review by Carole Baggerly (Grassrootshealth.org), adults need about 8,000 IU's a day.
- Avoid Sugar, Fructose and Processed Foods. Sugar impairs the function of your immune system almost immediately, and as you likely know, a healthy immune system is one of the most important keys to fighting off viruses and other illness. Be aware that sugar is present in foods you may not suspect, like ketchup and fruit juice.
- Get Enough Rest. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you're tired, if your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for it to fight the flu. Be sure to check out my article Guide to a Good Night's Sleep for some great tips to help you get quality rest.
- Have Effective Tools to Address Stress . We all face some stress every day, but if stress becomes overwhelming then your body will be less able to fight off the flu and other illness. If you feel that stress is taking a toll on your health, consider using an energy psychology tool such as the Emotional Freedom Technique, which is remarkably effective in relieving stress associated with all kinds of events, from work to family to trauma.
- Exercise. When you exercise, you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of finding an illness before it spreads.
- Take a Good Source of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats. Increase your intake of healthy and essential fats like the omega-3 found in krill oil, which is crucial for maintaining health. It is also crucial to avoid excessive and/or oxidized omega-6 fatty acids, as well as trans fatty acids commonly found in processed foods, as they will seriously damage your immune response.
- Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Be sure you don't use antibacterial soap for this -- antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, and they cause far more harm than good. Instead, identify a simple non-toxic soap that you can switch your family to.
- Use Natural Antibiotics. Examples include colloidal silver, oil of oregano, and garlic. These work like broad-spectrum antibiotics against bacteria, viruses, and protozoa in your body. And unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, they do not appear to lead to resistance.
- Avoid Hospitals. I'd recommend you stay away from hospitals unless you're having an emergency and need expert medical care, as hospitals are prime breeding grounds for infectious microorganisms of all kinds. The best place to get plenty of rest and recover from illness that is not life-threatening is usually in the comfort of your own home.