Should we bother getting the flu shot (or nasal mist)?

Dr. Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, released in early 2012 the findings of his systematic review of studies that used strict criteria for evaluating the flu vaccines’ effectiveness.

An article in the Allamakee County Standard, “Waukon native Dr. Michael Osterholm shares his views on recent reports on the effectiveness of vaccines,” by David Johnson, does a good job of conveying the results of Dr. Osterholm’s findings and opinions.  For two vaccines, the article reports:

“According to the report, randomized controlled trials of TIV vaccine, which is given to 90 percent of the nation’s adults receiving flu shots, were effective in preventing influenza in eight of 12 seasons and had a combined efficacy of 59 percent against the flu in healthy adults. The LAIV was shown to provide protection in nine of 12 seasons against infection and was 83 percent effective combating the flu when given to children aged six months to seven years. For LAIV, there was no data showing efficacy for people aged eight to 59 years. There were no randomized controlled trials of TIV for children two to 17 years of age meeting the study inclusion criteria. One study assessing TIV vaccine efficacy in children age six months to two years was done over two seasons with good matches between vaccine and circulating virus strains in both years. There were no studies of TIV and one study of LAIV showing protection for those 60 years of age and older. The study feels that this information gap needs to be addressed.

As for the bottom line:

“Dr. Osterholm stresses that everyone read the last statement of the report, …“We maintain public support for present vaccines that are the best intervention available for seasonal influenza.”

…Depending on the relative strength of each seasonal influenza outbreak, some three to 50 thousand people die each year in this country and over half a million world-wide. Thus, it is encouraged that everyone receives a vaccine as the vaccine is the best tool to fight the flu. The report urges that a new generation of more effective flu vaccines is needed. What is recommended is “active partnerships between industry and government needed to accelerate research, reduce regulatory barriers to licensure and support financial models that favor the purchase of vaccines that provide improved protection.”

And he warns about particularly deadly influenza strains emerging in Egypt, Southeast Asia and Africa, some with 35%- 75% fatality rates:

“Dr. Osterholm is concerned about not only the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccines, but the vaccines for the more dangerous pandemic influenzas that can kill millions.”

…”With a possible spread and worldwide affliction of a killer or pandemic flu, Dr. Osterholm stresses the importance of a ‘21st century’ vaccine to be developed to combat future health threats.”

Whle Dr. Osterholm offers constructive criticism, he takes great umbrage with public figures who are dismissive of the flu vaccine as the point of his findings is not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water but to raise awareness of the need to come together to accelerate the development of improved influenza vaccines. The reporter reflects Osterholm’s viewpoint:

“What Dr. Osterholm finds more troubling are the many declarations by individuals, such as Dr. Russell Blaylock and Dr. Wolfgang Wordarg, an epidemiologist and president of the Health Committee of the Council of Europe. These gentlemen and Dr. Mehmet Oz, who announced on CNN that his wife was not going to vaccinate their children with a swine flu vaccine, claim that vaccines such as the pandemic flu vaccine are not safe or the dangers of a pandemic are nothing more than a “great campaign of panic.”

Dr. Osterholm can add Jennifer Margulis of Ashland, Oregon, to the list.  She is an author who earned her PhD in English who regularly speaks out against the efficacy, safety, and need for vaccinations – although she purports to favor “selective vaccination” and individual choice rather than non-vaccination.  In 2011 she wrote a science-y looking piece for Mothering Magazine to dissuade pregnant woman from the influenza vaccination.

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