Officials Admit Flu Vaccine 2017 Likely Worthless

Flu season in Australia, located in the Southern Hemisphere, occurs while residents of the U.S. in the Northern Hemisphere are enjoying summer. What happens in Australia is a good bellwether for how bad the flu season in the U.S. will be come winter. And if this holds true for the 2017-2018 flu season, influenza vaccine experts are warning that the U.S. could be in for a doozy.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, health officials with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the World Health Organization (WHO) and in Australia described “record-high numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications and outbreaks and higher-than-average numbers of hospitalizations and deaths” during Australia’s 2017 influenza season.1

What’s more, the influenza vaccine, which is still described by public health officials as the best tool to stay healthy during flu season despite years of dismal failures, turned out to be mostly worthless in Australia this year. The predominant circulating flu viruses were influenza A (H3N2), against which the 2017-2018 flu vaccine had a preliminary effectiveness of just 10 percent. Health officials have admitted that this season’s influenza vaccine is likely to be a major flop in the U.S. and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Given that … the composition of the 2017–2018 Northern Hemisphere vaccine is identical to that used in Australia, it is possible that we will experience low vaccine effectiveness against influenza A (H3N2) viruses and a relatively severe influenza season if they predominate,” they noted.2 As of early December 2017, more than 7,000 U.S. influenza cases have been lab confirmed, which is more than twice the number confirmed one year ago at this time,3 and 90 percent of states have reported some type of influenza activity.4

Multiple Reasons Why the 2017 Flu Vaccine Is Likely to Fail

There are many reasons why flu vaccines are often ineffective, starting with vaccine mismatches. Each year, health officials make educated guesses as to which influenza virus strains will be circulating in order to include them in that year’s vaccine.

For the past 12 years, influenza vaccines have failed to work more than half the time.5 “Even in years when influenza vaccines are well matched to circulating viruses, estimates of vaccine effectiveness range from 40 percent to 60 percent, which is lower than that for most licensed noninfluenza vaccines,” the researchers wrote in NEJM.6

But in cases when they’re not well matched, the flu shot’s effectiveness is even lower — such as this year’s preliminary estimate of 10 percent, or less. Another factor is the substrate used to produce the flu vaccine, namely eggs. In the U.S., for decades most selected influenza viruses for influenza vaccine production have been grown in eggs.

Now researchers are reporting that use of eggs to grow influenza viruses can cause the vaccine-strain viruses to mutate, which can render the vaccine ineffective in preventing infection with circulating influenza viruses. According to the NEJM report:

“During the egg-based production process, the vaccine virus acquires amino acid changes that facilitate replication in eggs, notably changes in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein that mediates receptor binding. Since the influenza HA is the primary target of neutralizing antibodies, small modifications in this protein can cause antigenic changes in the virus and decrease vaccine effectiveness.

Egg adaptation has been postulated to contribute to low vaccine effectiveness, particularly with influenza A (H3N2) viruses [the type predicted to be most widely circulating this year].”7

Studies have repeatedly shown that, since 2005, in most flu seasons influenza vaccines have been from zero to less than 50 percent effective in preventing type A or B influenza.8 Yet, even as the flu vaccine’s effectiveness for the 2017-2018 flu season appears to have a dismal outlook, public health officials continue to push vaccination harder than ever and recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu shot every year.

“However imperfect, though, current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated,” the researchers wrote,9 although they gave no rationale for this absolute statement. Perhaps they don’t want to admit that the long-term effects of annual flu vaccination on human health and the evolution of influenza viruses are not known.

Now, this closed-minded approach appears to be backfiring, as evidence mounts to suggest that people who get flu shots every year are actually less protected and more likely to get a serious case of influenza than those with no prior flu vaccination history.10

Research presented in 2009 at the 105th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego revealed that children who get seasonal flu shots are more at risk of hospitalization than children who do not. Children with a history of receiving the flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization as children who had not been vaccinated. Among children with asthma, the risk was even higher.11

Most Influenza-Like Illness During Flu Season Is NOT Influenza

The CDC states that, “Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.”12

An important point to remember that gets lost in the CDC’s promotion of annual flu shots is that most of the time when you get sick with a respiratory infection during the flu season, you do not have type A or B influenza. In fact, the vast majority of “influenza like illness” (ILI), which often includes symptoms like fever, fatigue, body aches, runny nose and cough, is caused by other kinds of viruses and bacteria.

The only way to positively identify whether or not you have influenza or another type of infection is for your doctor to send a respiratory specimen to a lab to be tested.13

Statistics from the 2015-2016 flu season show that only 3 percent to 4 percent of suspected cases of influenza that were lab tested were actually positive for influenza virus infection.14 This year, for the week ending December 2, 2017, the CDC reported there have been 170,372 influenza specimens tested and 7,178 specimens have come back positive for influenza type A or B, with 74 percent of those testing positive for influenza A.15

That means that so far this flu season, about 4.2 percent of all suspected influenza infections that were lab tested turned out to be another type of viral or bacterial infection not caused by a type A or B influenza virus. So just how much respiratory illness are flu shots really preventing during a given flu season, especially when the vaccine is only 10 percent effective against selected influenza strains in a season like this one?

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