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Effectiveness of the Flu Vaccine: Vaccine Messaging

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Chapter 3: Article 5

HOW PROTECTIVE is the flu vaccine? That's a pretty important question.

Researchers actually measure this for flu, which often isn't done with the other illnesses. So what do the researchers discover year after year?

Today, media explains the findings to us as follows, "Your risk of contracting the flu is cut in half if you’re vaccinated!"

Well now that sounds like worthwhile protection. Doesn't it?

What I find interesting though is over the last decade it seems the rate of protection from flu vaccine has been dropping. In the early years of this decade, when I first began researching the topic, year after year I heard the media state that the flu vaccine is 70-90% effective at reducing the rate of illness. Whereas in recent years, media reporting says your risk of flu is reduced by 30-50%. Doctors often explain that these figures result from checking flu hospital admissions and vaccination status. Of course such measurement misses the population which doesn't require medical support - and the majority of all flu cases don't result in visiting your doctors office or hospital.

So lets look more closely at research, using clinical testing completed by manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline for the Flulaval-Tetra (Flulaval) vaccine as an example.

In the Flulaval trial, they followed the health of 2,379 children who were vaccinated with the Flulaval vaccine. They also followed the health of 2,398 children who were given a non-influenza vaccine, as an active control (they use an active control in place of an inert saline placebo). All the children were followed after vaccination to gather data on those children who were naturally exposed to influenza by chance AND became sick with one of the influenza strains that was covered in the flu vaccine. Of the Flulaval recipients, 58 children later tested positive for influenza. Of the control group, 128 children later tested positive for influenza. The conclusion of that trial is that 2.4% of the “vaccine protected” group contracted influenza, compared to 5.3% of the “non-protected” group.

As I said earlier, over the last few years I have repeatedly heard media state that the flu vaccine reduces your risk of contracting influenza by at least 50%. And this clinical trial on children validates those statements completely.

But really, does it seem like a massive success that they have to vaccinate 100 people for 3 of those people to experience a benefit? Though they aren’t lying about the results of the data, they are ONLY sharing the figures which makes the success look significant. Fifty percent sounds significantly better than 3 out of 100. That has become a standard practice in vaccine messaging.

Looking at the same trial data, they present information about the moderate to severe influenza cases. Keep in mind that when they say "moderate to severe," that encompasses a broad range of medical symptoms. If you experienced a fever of 39°C, you'd ended up lumped in that group of serious outcomes. In the data, they show that in the protected group, 0.6% of the population experienced a case of moderate to severe influenza, compared to 2.2% in the non-protected group. In media reporting, they then stress that cases of moderate to severe illness are reduced by 70%. But again, in real life that amounts to 100 people being vaccinated to protect less than 2, meaning 98% of them receive no benefit.

Although this clinical trial did show lower rates of influenza in the vaccinated group, it's important to point out that all the trial participants were vaccinated, receiving either Flulaval or an non-influenza vaccine. What might be the result of a study that compared vaccine recipients with the never vaccinated? 

Another important point you need to reflect on is noted by the manufacturer in their insert. The package insert states (emphasis mine):

Specific levels of haemagglutination-inhibition (HI) antibody titer post-vaccination with inactivated influenza virus vaccines have not been correlated with protection from influenza illness but the HI antibody titers have been used as a measure of vaccine activity. 

Though correlations are used all the time as evidence that vaccination protects against illness, the manufacturer admits here that they have been unable to establish a correlation between flu vaccine and protection from illness.

Despite that, the message presented through media is that to protect yourself and others, to be considered a responsible and considerate member of society, WE ALL must get vaccinated. What they don’t tell you is the real data and real numbers of exactly how many people will benefit -  in this case according the manufacturer, only 2.7 will benefit for every 100 vaccinated. If there were zero risks involved with the flu vaccine, maybe those figures would constitute a worthwhile risk to benefit ratio. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine is not risk free. In the USA, millions and millions of dollars are paid out to compensate flu vaccine injuries every year. And therefore, whether you choose to accept a vaccine or not, should remain a personal choice, with no pressure or stigma attached.

CONTINUE to the next article: Ch3: Article 5

Article Sources

  • Your risk of flu is reduced if you're vaccinated - earlier years protection rates appear higher  2011 Here 2015 Here 2018-2020 Here Here Here Here

  • Flulaval-Tetra Package Insert – Clinical Trial Data is Presented on Pages 19-20 Here

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