Mandatory flu shots — round two

February 25, 2012

Children and Teens, Flu, Health, Vaccination

The CDC, in the face of mounting criticism, has discarded the statistic that for decades announced the start of flu vaccination season: Influenza kills 36,000 people a year.

by Mary Budinger — 

Even though public health officials expect an average flu season this year, New York State Senator Tom Duane introduced a bill that would require health care workers who work in medical facilities in his state to receive mandatory flu shots.

“People don’t like being told what to do, but frankly, if you work in a hospital setting, flu vaccination should be mandatory,” Duane (D-Manhattan) said. He went on to say that health care workers would be less likely to spread the virus if they were vaccinated.

The bill, if passed, would be the first of its kind in the nation. It has support from numerous medical groups, and strong opposition from unions and health care professionals who call it an extreme step.

Anyone in the country who gets a seasonal flu shot this winter will automatically get the swine flu shot. The vaccine formulated for the 2010 season is a combination of two strains of seasonal flu and last year’s H1N1 virus. As usual, it will be sold in multi-dose vials, which are preserved with mercury. Single-dose, mercury-free vials are made, but insurance rarely pays for them.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also changed its recommendations about who should get flu shots. They broadened the field, saying everyone 6 months and older should get the shot. “This represents an expansion of the previous recommendations for annual vaccination of all adults aged 19 to 49 years and is supported by evidence that annual influenza vaccination is a safe and effective preventive health action with potential benefit in all age groups,” the agency said in a news release. This means that in the 2010 season, just about everyone is also recommended to get the swine flu vaccination as well.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently issued a recommendation urging all pregnant women to get the flu shot. This is not new, but it comes this year with a statement published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, purporting evidence of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors make flu vaccines easily accessible by extending office hours during peak vaccination periods, creating walk-in flu clinics and collaborating with schools and churches to immunize community members.

But there is growing consumer resistance to vaccinations in general, and specifically for the H1N1 vaccine. Last year, only about 25 percent of Americans rolled up their sleeves for the H1N1 vaccine. People in India today are so leery of it that pharmacists report almost no sales. India has seen four deaths after the measles vaccine and six deaths after the HPV vaccine this year. Last August, the Finnish National Institute for Health and the Medical Products Agency of Sweden suspended vaccinations for H1N1 swine flu while they investigated suspected links to increased narcolepsy in children and adolescents.

The CDC, in the face of mounting criticism, has discarded the statistic that for decades announced the start of flu vaccination season: Influenza kills 36,000 people a year. CDC statistics show there were 1,812 fatalities in 2005; 1,100 in 2004; 1,792 in 2003; and 727 in 2002. So how do you get a number like 36,000? It is because the CDC combines pneumonia deaths with influenza deaths. “Seasonal influenza-related deaths are deaths that occur in people for whom seasonal influenza infection was likely a contributor to the cause of death, but not necessarily the primary cause of death.”

The British Medical Journal wrote a scathing critique in 2005 of the CDC’s numbers. In an editorial entitled, “Are U.S. Flu Death Figures More PR Than Science?” they stated that the CDC “acknowledges a difference between flu death and flu-associated death, yet uses the terms interchangeably. Additionally, there are significant statistical incompatibilities between official estimates and national vital statistics data. Compounding these problems is a marketing of fear — a CDC communications strategy in which medical experts ‘predict dire outcomes’ during flu seasons. CDC is working in manufacturers’ interest by conducting campaigns to increase flu vaccination.”

In August, the CDC said the actual number in the past 30 years has ranged from a low of about 3,300 deaths to a high of nearly 49,000. The long-held 36,000 estimate, the agency said, was based on data from the 1990s when H3N2 viruses were prominent.

It is rare that a healthy person succumbs to influenza; some 90 percent of seasonal flu fatalities occur in people 65 and older who are already in fragile health. This group, the elderly, is most vulnerable to flu and is also the least helped by the vaccine because their immune systems are frail and compromised.

For the rest of us, the medical literature shows that flu shots do not work very well either. Several recent studies show that a high level of vitamin D wards off the flu better than a vaccine.

Hugh Fudenberg, M.D., an immunogeneticist and biologist with nearly 850 papers published in peer review journals, has reported that if an individual had five consecutive flu shots between 1970 and 1980 (the years studied), his/her chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease is 10 times higher than if he had zero, one or two shots.

In 2009, the British medical journal Lancet published a report from Dutch virologists who suggest that a yearly influenza vaccination may leave infants vulnerable to pandemic strains of flu. Children who “catch” the flu build better antibodies to all strains of flu. It makes sense — nature knows best.

Flu deaths in the United States Year Flu deaths Year Flu deaths

  • 1991 — 1,137
  • 1993 — 1,044
  • 1995 — 606
  • 1996 — 745
  • 1997 — 720
  • 1998 — 1,724
  • 1999 — 1,665
  • 2000 — 1,765
  • 2001 — 257
  • 2002 — 727
  • 2003 — 1,792
  • 2004 — 1,100
  • 2005 — 1,812
  • 2006 — 849

Source: CDC: National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics Report. Deaths: Final Data for 2006. April 17, 2009. Vol 57 No 11. Table 1.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about complementary and alternative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 5, Oct/Nov 2010.


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