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the new flu review: are those of us who question the effectiveness of the flu vaccine responsible for children dying?


Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Statistics

Flu vaccine efficacy numbers may seem lower than normal, but any flu vaccine is better than no vaccine, says William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University….  Schaffner characterizes the current vaccine’s efficacy numbers as “not bad,” and reiterates that vaccination helps prevent severe flu even if it isn’t perfect. He also emphasizes the importance of pediatric immunizations, given the latest CDC data about pediatric deaths, and looks ahead to upcoming flu vaccine research.” MedPage Today’s Molly Walker from yesterday’s article, Flu Vax Data ‘Only Tell Half the Story’

I’ve shown you time and time again just how easy it is to tinker with numbers or statistics, making them “prove” almost anything you want.  In fact, I just gave you a prime example of not only how this is being done in medicine in general, but particularly in relationship to the various debates swirling around this year’s flu season (HERE).  Molly Walker was back for the attack in MedPage Today with yet another article beating the drum for flu vaccines, while simultaneously beating up those of us she would characterize as “ANTIVAXXERS” (Are ‘Vaccine Skeptics’ Responsible for Flu Deaths?  Some Experts Say Anti-Vaccine Lobby Took Over Messaging About Flu Vaccine).

Look folks; this isn’t that tough.  I know very few people who are actually “anti” vaccine.  What thinking-people are is pro-vaccine choice.  Nowhere is this truer than with the ridiculously crappy flu vaccine.  I say crappy because that is exactly what this shot is (and although Cochrane says it a bit nicer, they would agree). 

Walker quotes Baylor’s Dr. Peter Hotez (MD / PhD) as placing blame for a good percentage of this season’s flu death directly at the feet of people like me.  “This current flu epidemic may turn out to be the first major example of how the antivaccine lobby in America was effective in dissuading people not to get vaccinated, and may be responsible for hundreds or more American deaths.” 

Walker found several other experts to agree with this assessment, somehow managing to get the director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology of an Ivy League school (Columbia’s Stephen Morse) to say something totally and utterly scientifically indefensible.

“For flu, even 20% protection can prevent many cases and save many lives directly and indirectly…”

On the surface, this statement makes some modicum of sense.   The thought process is simple — 20% immunity sucks, but I guess it’s better than nothing.  But is this really true?  Let me show you how we’ve all been hoodwinked by statisticians with Ph.D’s in chicanery.  

Firstly, I’ve shown you several times that VE for this year’s virulent portion of the flu vaccine (the H3N2 portion) is actually 10% or less (HERE), and not Morse’s 20% (the CDC says 17%).  And secondly, in the always-interesting comment section, “Dr. CC” provided one of the singularly clearest explanations of the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABSOLUTE AND RELATIVE RISK I have ever seen in regards to VE (Vaccine Effectiveness).  Watch the yellow ball and try to figure out which cup it’s really under.

I support appropriate vaccination, but I feel it is irresponsible to label patients exercising their decision for informed consent as being responsible for deaths. Clearly, we as a medical profession have done a poor job of educating the public and gaining their trust, and trying to badger them into compliance only increases the distrust they have in medicine. I have to say I even had to rethink my support of the flu vaccine when I learned that the efficacy numbers used were misleading to the public.

Most assume that “20% efficacy” means 1 in 5 people would be protected from the flu —- as do many of my fellow physicians. It took a colleague of mine to point out that it is a ‘relative’ risk reduction, which means you actually are only reducing the typical estimated 4% risk a person has each year, down to 3.2%. In other words out of 100 vaccinated people, 1 person (0.8%) would be protected from the flu if all 100 were vaccinated. 

What is more disheartening, and something patients are becoming increasingly aware of, is the fact that the ‘flu deaths’ reported are actually ‘flu-associated’ illnesses…..

Amazing!  And as crazy as it may seem, if you use this year’s actual numbers (10% VE instead of 20%), the odds are even worse (.4 instead of .8).  This means that you would have to vaccinate 200 people instead of 100 in order to prevent a single case of flu. Gulp! 

And in the same way that a measles vaccine does not protect one from polio, neither does a flu shot protect one from the myriad of diseases that fall under the category of FLU-LIKE ILLNESSES (or as Dr. CC said, “flu-associated“).   And as to Dr. CC’s statement, I even had to rethink my support of the flu vaccine when I learned that the efficacy numbers used were misleading to the public, ask yourself whether the ‘misleading‘ is intentional? 

At the very least, BIG PHARMA is gleefully reveling in the error, while doing nothing to correct said misconception (If I had time I could show you how they are actually exploiting it).  Speaking of misconceptions, let’s take a moment to discuss a biggie — the “life saving” effects of the antiviral, Tamiflu.



Gary Schwitzer and his team of 40+ physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, and journalists run the site Health News Review.  Their organization looks at media stories (or PRESS RELEASES) on DRUGS, MEDICAL DEVICES, NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS, DIAGNOSTIC MEDICAL TESTS, SURGERIES, DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS, etc, then reviews them, ranking them from 1 to 5 stars based on the amount of truth they contain.  In other words, HNR considers themselves experts at sniffing out FALLACIES IN EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE.

Rather than taking on a single article, a week ago, journalist Mary Chris Jaklevic, went off on the coverage of an entire class of drugs (antivirals) in a piece called Stories About Tragic Flu Deaths Wrongly Portray Tamiflu as a Panacea.  I’m not going to spend an inordinate amount of time on TAMIFLU because simply understanding how the FDA approved it (60% of the studies on the drug — the studies showing how crappy it really is — were BURIED) provides most of what you need to know. 

Furthermore, after crunching the data on dozens of Tamiflu studies of over 24,000 people, Cochrane concluded that if you can get the drug into a person during the first two days of their illness, it will convey “small benefits on symptom relief, namely shortening duration of symptoms by half a day on average.” Half a day?  Is this a joke? This is the “life saving” miracle drug that everyone in the media is clamoring about?  You bet your sweet bippy it is…. and they are.  Can anyone say “fake news”?

Jaklevic went on to list a number of media stories with deceptive headlines, as well as a clip from the national news showing how this drug is being represented — as the “panacea” mentioned in her story’s title.  If you want more proof of how bad Tamiflu really is, you can read her article, or you can read my brother’s really short article (HERE — he’s an MD).  As my friend DR. ERIC SERRANO so “eloquently” wrote (HERE), you need to realize that this drug does not even remotely come close to doing what it is represented to do by the media, or those in industry who are pulling their strings.

Although I thought most of Jaklevic’s story was spot on, for some reason she felt an obligation to parrot a widely touted CDC statistic that is both wrong and misleading.  “The CDC has estimated U.S. flu deaths this season could be close to their peak in recent years of 56,000, and most deaths occur in the elderly.”  Firstly, most of these deaths occur not only in the elderly, but in a sub-group of the geriatric population that scientists and doctors refer to as “the frail elderly”.  Secondly, Dr. Ed Yazbak, a pediatrician and professor, showed everyone how ridiculously exaggerated flu mortality stats really are in a story he wrote a number of years ago (HERE).

If you are one of those people who has fallen into the pit of chronic pain and chronic illness, be sure to read my DIY generic protocol that may help you start pulling yourself out of that pit (HERE).


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