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Flu Shots - Effective or Politics?
Both the government and Big Pharma have a lot invested in flu shots and this is why they relentlessly promote flu vaccination every year. But are flu shots effective? Are they safe? The available evidence indicates that flu vaccines are no better than placebos and can be quite dangerous to your health. So, why are they blindly recommended every year? Read to find out the chain of interest reaching all the way down from vaccine manufacturers to your doctor’s office.
by Brad Chase
Every flu season, health regulatory bodies and vaccine manufacturers make flu vaccines that target a few strains of influenza viruses they believe will be virulent that year.
The typical flu shot is a trivalent or quadrivalent vaccine. This means that it contains 3 or 4 live, attenuated viruses or surface proteins from those viruses. For example, one of the viruses targeted in the 2012/2013 flu season was the influenza A virus known as H3N2.
To select the strains targeted by flu shots, 2 or 3 strains of influenza A virus and 1 or 2 strains of influenza B viruses are chosen.
Besides the antigens and LAIV in a flu shot, there are other additives. The most commonly found additives in flu vaccines include leftover egg antigens (because vaccines are prepared with eggs), thiomersal (a mercury compound), antibiotics, polysorbate 80, formaldehyde and monosodium glutamate (in the nasal spray vaccine).
In addition, it is possible that flu vaccines contain avian viruses. In fact, flu shots may serve as one means by which avian flu viruses cross over to humans.
The additives in flu shots make them especially dangerous. For example, thiomersal is a preservative that contains mercury. Therefore, it can lead to heavy metal poisoning and cause neurological damage. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and polysorbate-80 can cause infertility.
Flu vaccines have a history of adverse effects. Unfortunately, the results of most safety (and even efficacy) studies are suppressed. But there are evidences that flu shots are linked to chronic disorders.
Unfortunately, flu vaccines are actively pushed for children, pregnant women and the elderly. Yet these are the same groups of users that are most at risk of the dangers of these vaccines.
Even proponents of vaccination agree that flu vaccines offer the least benefits and the greatest risk to the elderly. Yet the flu shots given to old people hold higher doses of the vaccine as well as harmful additives found in flu vaccines.
Flu vaccines have also been linked to a number of childhood diseases include asthma and autism.
The flu vaccine produced to combat the 2009 H1N1 swine flu was found responsible for increased diagnosis of narcolepsy among children who received it.
Unfortunately, most countries refused to acknowledge the proven link between the vaccine and the chronic disorder. However, the government of Finland was penitent enough to promise lifelong health cover for the children affected.
Government scientists in the US have also found that flu vaccines raised the levels of inflammatory markers in pregnant women and caused preeclampsia and preterm birth.
These examples are only some of the high-profile adverse effects linked to flu vaccines. There are a lot of smaller cases that were never picked up by the media. For example, allergic reactions to flu vaccines are quite common especially among people with egg allergies.
But if flu shots are far from safe, are they at least effective?
The efficacy of flu vaccines is one of the hotly debated topics in public health. Some prominent health experts have come out to call flu vaccination a waste of money and even reviewers from Cochrane Collaboration concluded that there was no way to know for certain that flu shots are working especially because vaccine manufacturers withhold the results of vaccine trials.
Is it possible then that flu shots are no good? Let us first consider the odds of providing full cover against the many strains of influenza virus.
To make the flu shot for each year, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) selects 2 – 3 strains of influenza A virus out of the over 250 strains identified and 1 – 2 strains of influenza B virus from about 100 strains.
By targeting 3 – 4 strains out of over 350 strains of influenza viruses, the odds that the flu shot for a year will provide full cover is not 1 in 100 but 1 in 10,000.
To further compound the odds, influenza viruses evolve quickly and easily outpaces the vaccines that are prepared to target them.
Because it takes 6 – 9 months to manufacture flu vaccines, they are often useless by the time they get out of the lab because the viruses targeted have already mutated and are now different from the ones being targeted.
This is most likely the case with the 2012/2013 flu season. Even though researchers confirmed that one of the viruses (H3N2) predicted and targeted by the flu shots produced that year was indeed the virulent strain, the flu season almost turned into a flu pandemic.
Therefore, even when the CDC and vaccine manufacturers succeeded in predicting the flu virus to target, the vaccine produced was still ineffective.
Even health experts who promote vaccination are not always ready to back flu shots. In a rather tepid argument, they usually shrug and conclude that “flu shots are the best options we have”.
In simple terms, flu shots do not protect us against influenza viruses and are no better than placebo.
Not only are flu vaccines mostly useless, there is evidence to suggest that the epidemiology of flu is exaggerated.
This means that most of the deaths ascribed to influenza infections are not really due to flu. A careful examination of records showed that as many as 80% of the cases believed to be caused by flu may be due to other respiratory and circulatory problems.
If flu shots are no use and can potentially cause chronic diseases, why is flu vaccination still zealously promoted by the government, pharmaceutical companies and the medical community? The simple answer is financial gains.
Even then there have been cases in other countries where flu vaccination has been stopped. For example, certain provinces of Canada halted seasonal flu vaccination in 2009.
Vaccines are better than drugs and more important to the bottom line of Big Pharma. Although they do not grab headlines as bestselling drugs, vaccines make a very profitable part of pharmaceutical business.
Besides their low recurrent cost, vaccines hold two key advantages over prescription drugs. First, their patents do not expire quickly (or even at all in some cases). Secondly, the manufacturers are largely immune from damages done by these vaccines.
By keeping the patents of vaccines for years, manufacturers are assured that their cash cow will keep minting money without worrying about competition or further innovations. In fact, manufacturers can keep the pace of innovation slower for vaccines.
Even today, vaccines follow the same old formula: live attenuated virus or virus protein + preservatives.
Therefore, vaccines are big earners and manufacturers are assured of their revenues as long as people believe in their powers.
Flu vaccines are even doubly profitable because they have to been given yearly. Unlike some vaccines that provide full protection for years or even a lifetime, flu shots are taken every year by the same set of people.
This means that vaccine manufacturers can shift their focus from research and development to lobbying to keep their vaccines promoted by governments and public health regulatory bodies.
The broad immunity from lawsuits (pandemic vaccines have total immunity) means that vaccine manufacturers do not have to take from their profits to pay for damages caused by their vaccines. This freedom from financial liability serves to embolden vaccine makers to cut corners, take huge risks and blindly promote their products.
Immunity from liability is the reason why vaccine makers are now moving from trivalent to quadrivalent flu vaccines and also why they are genetically engineering influenza viruses and growing them in insect cells and animal cell cultures.
You do not have to wonder too long why vaccine manufacturers are not better regulated by CDC, NIH and the FDA. Vaccine makers simply hire the “best of the best”.
In 2004, a WHO (World Health Organization) committee advised governments to stockpile flu vaccines and antiretroviral drugs in anticipation of a flu pandemic.
Right on time, the health body declared the H1N1-fueled flu season of 2009 as a flu pandemic and triggered a global mad scramble for flu vaccines and antiretroviral drugs. However, just as different governments sank billions of dollars into these vaccines, independent health experts revealed that there was no flu pandemic.
In fact, close investigations revealed ugly details about how government officials and health regulatory bodies responded to financial incentives to scare people into vaccinating against a “ghost pandemic”.
But scare tactics is only one way by which vaccine makers build their big empires. Their close ties to health regulatory bodies ensure that there will always be a market for vaccines even when these vaccines do more harm than good.
Julie Gerberding was once a director of CDC. During her controversial tenure, she was known as a vaccine zealot who threw away all evidences indicating that vaccines were dangerous.
Her tenure ended with the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine controversy. It was later revealed that the CDC suppressed data about the miscarriages caused by this vaccine.
Gerberding also contributed to widening the target for flu vaccination to include infants as young as 6 months, pregnant women and everyone else. It is no wonder than that she moved from CDC to Merck in 2010 to serve as the president of their vaccine division.
Merck has a strong presence in the vaccine industry. It manufactures 90% of adult vaccines and 14 out of 17 pediatric vaccines recommended by the CDC.
Of course, Gerberding’s influence at the CDC was central to the approval of these vaccines. Therefore, it was only good for the company’s financials to offer Gerberding its vaccine unit. After all, her ties to government health agencies will still serve them well.
However, Gerberding is not the only high-profile government official to seamlessly move to Big Pharma. Elias Zerhouni, a former NIH (National Institutes of Health) director, also moved to Sanofi-Aventis to head their research division.
In 2003, the NIH under Zerhouni came under fire for allowing its scientists to “work” for medical and pharmaceutical companies without approval. Such close financial ties between a government granting and regulatory agency and the private profit-driven drug industry can only lead to huge bias and the rubberstamping of ineffective and unsafe pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Zerhouni’s response was most shocking when he defended this betrayal of public trust by maintaining that the talents of NIH scientists are rare and needed in private research institutions.
What was equally shocking was that Congress agreed with him and only made the slightest of changes to the policy guiding the legality of government scientists freelancing for Big Pharma.
Basically, Zerhouni’s legacy in the NIH made it a lot easier for Big Pharma to contract government scientists for their clinical trials. It also significantly improved the odds of getting their vaccines and drugs approved easily, quickly and only after a cursory look at their trials and without scrutinizing research data.
The conflict of interest arising from the co-opting of government officials into Big Pharma can only introduce bias into the processes involved in drug approval and public health recommendations.
The needlessness and dangers of flu vaccination is only one example of how politics and the lure of financial gains are making the health sector worse.
Unfortunately, the unbiased voices of independent health experts are getting smothered in the PR noise of Big Pharma and biased government scientists. Ultimately, the politicization of health care in the US is a clear and present danger to everyone.
What you need do is to learn to separate the truth from the paid lies. Will flu shots protect you this flu season? No. But don’t take my word for it. Take up the responsibility of seeking out the research data they want suppressed and learn for yourself.
Your doctor should not be your medical oracle. You should know when a doctor’s advice is to his financial gain or for your benefit.
The truth is that doctors are financially motivated to give you flu shots. Yet they skip their own shots.
Official statistics show that only 40% of health workers (including doctors) take flu shots. Shouldn’t they know better? Actually they do and that is why 60% of them know flu shots are duds and potentially harmful.
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