How Many Lives Could A Flu Shot Save, If A Flu Shot Could Save Lives?

This is a re-post of an article from 2008… just getting ready for the HYPE!

It’s flu season again and the Campaign has started off strong with recommendations for everyone to get the flu shot. Well, not everyone, just people who are at high risk. People like children aged 6mos to 18 years, anyone who may come into contact with these children or those under 6 months, people over 50 years old and anyone who comes into household contact with these high risk people, any woman who may become pregnant, all healthcare personnel, and people who have medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and people who are taking medications that affect the immune system, and children who take aspirin. Did I leave anyone out? While nearly 100% of the population is recommended to get the shot, on average only 5%-20% of the population will get the flu. (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/index.htm)

The CDC website states what has been commonly accepted in the lay and scientific press “about 36,000 die from flu”. It’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.(http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/index.htm). But an actual look at the statistics tells a very different story. These numbers combine the flu and pneumonia together for some strange reason. According to the British Medical Journal article Are U.S. Flu Death Figures More PR Than Science? (Dec. 2005), “there are significant statistical incompatabilities between official estimates and national vital statistics data. Compounding these problems is a marketing of fear- A CDC communication strategy where medical experts ‘predict dire outcomes’ during flu season.”

Influenza and pneumonia took 62,304 lives in 2001. 61,777 were attributed to pneumonia, and 257 to flu, and in only 18 cases was the flu virus positively identified. Only 18 cases!  It would be tough to build a vaccine campaign on only 18 cases. The thinking is this: the flu leads to pneumonia, pneumonia kills. We must kill the flu with a shot. But who dies from pneumonia and what caused pneumonia? I’ll go with the pneumonia numbers:

Let Me Count Thy Ways

  1. 90% of pneumonia deaths are ages 65 and older with the majority of those being 85 and older. That’s about 55,000 deaths for this group and leaves 7,000 deaths for the rest. Remember, pneumonia not necessarily influenza.

  2. Pneumonia makes up a small portion of overall deaths in this group.

  3. Hardly anyone dies from ages 5-55 compared to the other ages, the first blip on the screen starts at the 55+ age group. Another relatively small blip is in the 2 and under age group.  This is the baseline for recommendations. Asthma death statistics follow a similar trend.

Risk factors associated with pneumonia that won’t help a vaccine awareness campaign:

  1. Pneumonia is mainly caused by viruses, bacteria and other organisms. Pneumonia can also be caused by the inhalation of food, liquid, gases or dust. One type of pneumonia caused by fungi is pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) which primarily affects AIDS patients. Certain diseases, such as tuberculosis, can also predispose someone to pneumonia.

  2. A recent study found that stomach acid suppressing drugs (Prilisec, Nexium, Zantac, etc,) are associated with community acquired pneumonia (JAMA 2004: 292;1955-1960)

  3. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimated that 1,000,000, world wide pneumonia deaths could be prevented in moderately undernourished childen. Certainly that could play a part in some of the deaths in the U.S.

  4. You can acquire pneumonia just from going to the hospital itself. This is called HAP or hospital acquired pneumonia.

  5. Getting intubated at the hospital is linked to pneumonia. Flu shot won’t prevent this.

  1. I found at least one case where Antideppresants are linked to pulmonary changes without the patient even knowing until it’s too late.( Eur Respir J, 1996, 9, 615–617DOI: 10.1183/09031936.96.09030615).

  2. Approximately 50 percent of pneumonia cases are believed to be caused by viruses and tend to result in less severe illness than bacteria-caused pneumonia. Most pneumonia in the very young is caused by viral infection, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The symptoms of viral pneumonia are similar to influenza symptoms and include fever, dry cough, headache, muscle pain, weakness, fever and increasing breathlessness( Pneumonia http://www.marylandlung.org/content/1/2/32.html). Flu shot won’t save these lives either

  3. Rotavirus vaccine  associated with increase in pneumonia related deaths.  RuetersFeb. 15, 2008

  4. .Pneumococcal pneumonia accounts for 25 to 35 percent of all community-acquired pneumonia, and an estimated 40,000 deaths( Pneumonia http://www.marylandlung.org/content/1/2/32.html).  Wow! Flu shot won’t help here either.

  5. A vaccine is also available for bacterial pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria populations and is effective in approximately 80 percent of healthy adults. Unfortunately, the vaccine may be less effective in people in high risk groups. People over age 65, and those over 2 years in high-risk groups are still advised to receive the pneumonia vaccine.  (Pneumonia http://www.marylandlung.org/content/1/2/32.html).  Did you just hear that? It doensn’t work very good for the people who may benefit the most but “good news its 80% effective in everyone else. The same is said for the flu shot.

  6. Staph infections (76% MRSA) caused pneumonia and killed otherwise healthy people in 2006 AmericanCollegeofEmergency Physicians.

  7. The Lancet (aug.2,2008) concluded that the flu shot did not reduce the risk of pnuemonia in the elderly.

  8. The British Medical Journal (October 28, 2006) showed that for people under 65  the flu shot “did not affect hospital stay, time off work or death from influenza and it’s complications”

  9. The Cochrane collaboration published a review concluding that children younger than 2, flu shots are no better than placebo, and safety has not been established.

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