Flu Vaccine Value: Protection or Profit?

Yahoo Contributor Network

The flu season is off to an ominous start, coming on early and strong, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated Monday. CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., told the Associated Press more than a third of the country -- 112 million Americans -- have already opted for flu vaccine. The strains seen thus far are similar to those predicted by health officials and used to create the vaccine, Friedman said. The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months of age get a flu vaccine.

Theory Underlying Flu Vaccines

Flu vaccines are custom manufactured each year using the three flu strains research suggests will be the most commonly seen that year, CDC says. A person getting the vaccine is supposed to develop antibodies within about two weeks, protecting him from the flu.

Seasonal Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

Scientists are guessing which flu strains will prevail in a given year. They've been wrong at times, and when that happens, the vaccines may not protect against prevailing strains. In 2004, for example, public health officials faced a disconnect between flu vaccine and circulating strains. CDC nevertheless suggested the vaccine might offer some protection. Again in 2008, scientists guessed wrong. The flu vaccine did not protect against 60 percent of circulating flu strains, the AP noted.

When scientists are successful at identifying a seasons flu strains, vaccine effectiveness is surprisingly low -- 52 percent in 2011, according to the CDC. But some groups question even those numbers. The Natural Society points to research published in the Lancet showing flu vaccines are "virtually ineffective," protecting only 1.5 people out of every 100 vaccinated.

Mass Vaccination Necessity Questioned

While the CDC touts the value of flu vaccines, not all experts agree. Joseph Mercola, D.O., and Barbara Loe Fisher, Co-Founder and President of the National Vaccine Information Center, are opponents of mass flu vaccination. Fisher points out the numbers of estimated flu hospitalizations and deaths used to justify mass vaccination are grossly exaggerated by combining deaths and respiratory illnesses not definitively linked to flu. Fisher looked at Vital Statistics data and concluded flu deaths peaked in 1941 at 21,047 and dropped since.

Fisher said vital statistics records indicate 727 flu deaths in 2002, the year the CDC decided to recommend flu shots for babies 6 to 23 months old. There were 849 flu deaths the following year when the recommendation expanded to include pregnant women and children up to age 5. Flu deaths were 1,722 in 2008 when the CDC said all children up to age 18 should get flu shots. And in 2010, when there were 494 flu deaths nationwide, CDC recommended every adult in America get a flu shot.

Big Money Behind Flu Vaccines

GBI Research notes there's a $2.9 billion market riding on seasonal flu vaccines. It's expected to grow to $3.8 billion in the next five years. The United States is a dominant market segment, accounting for $1.6 billion and expected to grow to $2.2 billion by 2018.

Fisher contends pharmaceutical company lobbyists participated in CDC deliberations leading to mass vaccination recommendations, including a New Jersey mandate for daycare and school children to get flu vaccines.

Carol Bengle Gilbert writes about consumer issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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