Michael Osterholm on flu shots: “It’s all a sales job; it’s all public relations” / NY Times

I missed this November article on flu shots from the NY Times blog.  Yes, it repeats material I have covered before.  But as healthcare workers continue to be fired from their jobs for refusing flu shots, I will continue to post on why their firings make no sense.


Here are excerpts:

It’s flu-shot season, and public health officials
are urging everyone over 6 months of age to get one. Many businesses provide
on-site flu shots, and some hospitals have told staff members that they have to
wear masks if they do not get the vaccine. By 2020, United States health
leaders want 80 percent of the population to get yearly shots.
 

For vaccine manufacturers, it’s a bonanza: Influenza shots — given every year, unlike
many other vaccines — are a multibillion-dollar global business.
But how good are they?

Last month,, in a step tantamount to heresy in the public health
world, scientists at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at
the University of Minnesota released a report saying 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?’ ”
 … 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.
 (When the vaccine matches the circulating viruses, 33 adults
need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms; when there is
only a partial match, 100 people must be vaccinated for the same effect.)
It
was also concluded that the vaccines appear to have no effect on hospital
admissions, transmission or rates of complications. A separate Cochrane review
on vaccines for the elderly determined the evidence was so scant and of such
poor quality that it could not provide guidance.
 … 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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Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

If you read the whole, unedited article, he still recommends getting the shot. Full picture is important for informed decisions. He says he is "pro-vaccine" too.

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