You’ve probably heard the warnings on the news, get your flu shot early. On January 11, 2013, The Washington times reported the worst flu season in 10 years. The statistics given are an increase of 3.4 percent in flu-like symptoms. (1)
You may be one of those who hesitates, recalling the H1N1 scare of 2009 that deflated like a leaky balloon when the Internet began to buzz with information about the vaccine. Is the 2013 flu fear just hype or is it a real threat? Who really profits from the sale of flu vaccines? Who suffers?
In 2009, the WHO (World Health Organization) warned that the H1N1 flu was a “pandemic”. This wasn’t the first time that such a warning went out. In 1977, the swine flu was touted as the worst flu epidemic since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that killed 50 million people worldwide and would surpass the 1968-69 Hong Kong flu that claimed 1 million lives.
Pandemics can certainly happen again, but after the 2009 H1N1 fiasco, the general public doesn’t place much confidence in the CDC or the WHO’s (World Health Organization) flu warnings.
1976-1977 Swine Flu Scare
The swine flu panic began in 1976 when a soldier at Fort Dix in New Jersey died and several other soldiers contracted the same flu. President Ford allocated $134 million to create over 200 million one-time doses of swine flu vaccines in preparation of the impending 1977 flu season. (2)
In 1977, the swine flu epidemic never arrived, but 4,700 of those vaccinated developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). This is “a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.” (3)
The side-effects of the vaccine created such controversy over flu shots that even if modern vaccinations were proven effective without any margin for doubt, the majority of the Americans that currently balk at taking a flu shot would not be convinced. It’s nearly impossible to regain trust once it’s been broken. And, many Americans don’t trust flu shots.
Leading Experts Nix Flu Vaccine Effectiveness
Dr. Tom Jefferson, a British epidemiologist with the Cochrane Collaboration (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews) reported the group’s findings in 2010 that flu vaccines are ineffective.
Cochrane is an “international network of more than 28,000 dedicated people from over 100 countries”. Their reviews are recognized internationally as “the benchmark for high quality information about the effectiveness of health care”.
In a TIME interview, Jefferson stated the group found:
“insufficient evidence to indicate that flu vaccines reduce infection rates or mortality, even in the elderly. We have studies that claim up to 90% effectiveness against death from all causes … If you were to believe that evidence, you would believe that flu vaccine is effective against death not only from influenza, but also from heart attack, stroke, hypothermia, accidents and all other common causes of death among the elderly. That is quite clearly nonsense.”
Jefferson made it clear that he isn’t anti-vaccinations, citing that he’s vaccinated all five of his children. He states those vaccines have solid good data backing up their effectiveness. Flu vaccines don’t. (4)
Politics of Policymakers
Bureaucracy may be the biggest culprit for such controversy over the effectiveness of vaccines. According to Jefferson, it’s “disturbing how large the gap is between policy and evidence”.
He went on to describe how organizations such as the WHO, CDC and European agencies have a “citation bias”. Simply put, he claims these organizations cite studies that support vaccines and ignore those that cite no marked effect. He attributes this practice to the governments’ need to appear proactive about a health concern. Jefferson says that hand-washing is one of the best “physical interventions” available to the public. (4)
CDC States Flu Vaccines a Must
Each year, the CDC issues a flu warning and maintains that flu vaccinations are effective. The early January, 2013 CDC information states, “Findings from early data suggest that this season’s vaccine so far is reducing the risk of having to go to the doctor for influenza by about 60% for vaccinated people.” (5)
Yet in April 2010, a Canadian study published their results that flu vaccinations to nursing-home workers did nothing to reduce flu cases among their elderly patients. The study recommended that a program of better hand-washing practices be instituted as the best defense against spreading the flu virus. (6)
Medical Caregivers Refuse Flu Shots
Every year the news is filled with stories of medical professionals refusing mandatory flu shots and being fired. This year has seen quite a few refusals from healthcare workers. In an interview with Cheryl Peterson, Director of Nursing Practice and Policy for the American Nurses Association, she expressed concerns, “It’s one thing to encourage healthcare workers to get the vaccine,” she says. “It’s another one to fire someone for not getting it.” (7)
Statistics reveal that only 40% of the doctors who recommend flu shots to their patients get the vaccinations themselves. (8)
Who Reaps the Profits?
Many critics of flu vaccines claim that Big Pharma reaps the benefits of flu vaccines. But, others believe what money the drug companies make from flu vaccine sales is a drop in the bucket compared to their mainstay drug profits.
Arthur Caplan, PhD (Director of the Center for Bioethics and the Sidney D Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania) commented on this tiny drop of money in a 2011 article. He stated, “And as for profits from launching a worldwide flu shot campaign—you have to be kidding! Flu shot manufacturers make very little from flu shots.” (9)
Yet, on September 11, 2009, the Washington Post reported that the US Government “spent $2 billion to buy 195 million doses of vaccine and plans to purchase enough to vaccinate every American if necessary.” (10)
In 2009, the majority of the people who didn’t answer the call for vaccinations felt that Big Pharma was behind the so-called pandemic threat and it was because of the rapidity of information accessible through the Internet that the scare tactic failed. The US government ended up with billions of dollars worth of vaccine stockpiled in warehouses.
Had the H1N1 pandemic happened or had the public bought the $4 million “get your flu shot” CDC ad campaign, the Big Pharma could have seen a much larger profit from the sale of H1N1 vaccines. Others argue that this isn’t chump change; it’s extra money that can line those deep pockets. After all, no one walks away from money left lying on a table.
Taxpayers are the ones that pay. Data analysis revealed that those who took the swine flu vaccination in 1977 had a seven times greater risk of developing GBS than those who didn’t.
The government (taxpayers) ended up not only paying $134 million to finance the vaccine, but also paid compensation via lawsuits. (11)
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the claims compensation paid to date total $2,389,329,250.45 and $94,604,103.72 in attorney and legal fees. (12)
The argument over whether or not the profit is big enough is moot since clearly someone profits. It’s just not the average person. Taxpayers foot the bill for the production of vaccines via government financing. The vaccinations are free and those providing the shots can’t charge directly for the vaccine and supplies. They can, however, bill for administering of the vaccination. (13)
But, that is now covered for the average American, according to the US Government’s Flu website, “Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover certain preventive services, like the flu vaccine, at no cost to you.” (14)
It clearly doesn’t make sense to support and demand the production of a vaccine that hasn’t been definitively proven to work. This vein of logic demands answers through larger case studies and follow-up on the effectiveness of the vaccines. To do less spawns conspiracy theories and greater distrust of institutions meant to serve the people.
References & Image Credits:
(1) Washington Times
(2) Bowling Green State University
(5) CDC: Flu Season
(7) Religion News
(8) Save Our Bones
(9) Science Progress
(10) Washington Post
(11) Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review
(12) US Department of Health Resources and Services Administration, (HRSA)
(13) CDC: Vaccine Financing
(15) USACE Europe District via photopin cc
(16) artist in doing nothing via photopin cc
(17) Mark Sinderson via photopin cc
(18) cafemama via photopin cc