Finally, a major US network, CNN, tells the truth about flu vaccine policy:
The flu hasn’t hit Europe as hard as it has the United
States, health officials say, but when and if it does, don’t expect a call for
vaccination of the entire population.
Only the U.S. and Canada actually encourage everyone older
than 6 months to get the flu vaccine. Apparently, not a single country in Europe asks the general
population to seek that same kind of protection, according to Robb Butler, the
World Health Organization technical officer in vaccine preventable diseases and
immunizations in the organization’s Europe office in the Netherlands.
That’s because global health experts say the data aren’t
there yet to support this kind of blanket vaccination policy, nor is there
enough money. In fact, some scientists say the enthusiasm for mass vaccination
in the United States may hurt efforts to create a better vaccine.
And in the segments of the population that are most
susceptible to the extreme effects of the flu — like the elderly, who make up
the majority of the cases of flu-related deaths — the vaccinations are even
less effective. [Or not ineffective–Nass]
So is why is everyone urged to get vaccinated?
Simply put, it’s a clearer policy, and some protection is better
than none at all, according to Dr. William Schaffner, the chair of the
department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. He was also on the
national committee that made the decision to encourage everyone to get
vaccinated. “It was debated by the CDC Advisory Committee on
Immunization Practices for many years, and the indication for the use of
influenza vaccine for an increasing number of groups on a piecemeal basis
didn’t make sense,” Schaffner said.
In 2010, the CDC expanded its guidance encouraging the
vaccination of vulnerable population groups.
“When you do the back-of-the-envelope calculations (of
all the separate groups recommended for vaccination), you are actually already
making a recommendation that 75% of the population get it,” Schaffner
said. “And when it became apparent the issue of shortages was largely put
on the back burner, then in 2010, we said, ‘Let’s simplify this and recommended
this vaccine for anyone over 6 months old.'”
It also helps that the flu vaccine is easy to get, he said.
Pharmacies offer it. Companies sometimes bring in nurses to give shots to their
employees on site. In Europe, only doctors are legally allowed to administer
the vaccine, according to Butler.
There may be another economic reason for more Americans to
get vaccinated — one in three U.S. workers get no paid time off when they are
sick, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally, Europeans have
much more generous sick leave policies.
“Although flu can be unpleasant, if you are otherwise
healthy, the illness will usually clear up on its own and you will recover
within a week,” according to Britain’s National Health Service website.
In a contrast to U.S. policy, the World Health Organization
recommends only six “priority populations” get “the flu
jab,” as it’s called in Britain. These six groups are nursing home residents, people with
chronic medical conditions like asthma, the elderly, pregnant women, health care
workers, and children from ages 6 months to 2 years, Butler said. They are more
vulnerable to the severe effects of the flu or come into contact more often
with this highly contagious virus.
“We think the recommendations we have right now (are) a
good start,” Butler said. “Universal campaigns are quite challenging
“We have 53 countries in our region that all have
different recommendations based on different studies and evidence, and the
depth of evidence in Europe right now is pretty limited in terms of flu
vaccines. We would need more evidence that more than these six key, target
high-risk groups that are prioritized can benefit… “