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The Flu is Back: What's The Inside Story on Vaccines & Drugs?

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Here we go again with scary flu stories. Open up a newspaper or turn on the evening news, and you are likely see reports of worrisome influenza outbreaks all across the nation. Here are just a few examples of recent headlines:

  • "Flu-Related Death Toll Doubles in Washington State"
  • "Cases of Influenza in Minnesota Now Widespread"
  • "Flu Cases Spread Across the United States"
  • "CDC: 25 States Reporting Widespread Flu"
  • "Flu Season Brings Renewed Pandemic Concerns."
  • "Outbreak Ups Demands for Flu Shots"

Does any of this sound familiar? Last year at this time we were told pretty much the same thing. The following comes from a People's Pharmacy Alert from January 12, 2013:

"First we were told that influenza was hitting early and hitting hard. Network news shows aired scary video clips of sick people in overcrowded emergency rooms. On January 9th the mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency because hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with patients. The city of Boston began offering free flu shots on January 12th hoping to control the epidemic.

"On the same day, January 12, 2013 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency for his state and gave pharmacists the go-ahead to administer shots to children as young as 6 months old. Everyone is being urged to get a flu shot ASAP."

Last year the people who had to make the vaccine guessed right. They anticipated with unusual accuracy what viruses would be circulating during flu season. It is rare that vaccine makers get a 92% match like they did in 2013. But how well did the shot actually work in preventing influenza? Not so well.

After the dust settled on flu season and the CDC did its post-flu analysis, the results were disappointing. According to the experts, the vaccine was roughly 27% effective for those over the age of 65. Remember, this is the high-risk group that seems to be most vulnerable to the complications of influenza.

Perhaps most disheartening of all was the 9% effectiveness of last year's flu shot in protecting older people from H3N2, the most virulent form of influenza last year. Here is a link to the CDC's own post-season vaccine assessment.

We certainly hope that this year's flu shot will be much better at protecting people from catching influenza or developing complications. We have been told that the bad actor in 2014 is H1N1 and that the flu vaccine is a good match. We do fear, however, that public health officials often oversell the effectiveness of influenza vaccines in general.

An interesting special article in JAMA Internal Medicine (June 10, 2013) spilled the beans. It was titled: "Influenza Vaccines: Time for a Rethink." Here is how Peter Doshi, PhD, introduced the article:

"Officials and professional societies treat influenza as a major public health threat for which the annual vaccine offers a safe and effective solution. In this article, I challenge these basic assumptions. I show that there is no good evidence that vaccines reduce serious complications of influenza, the outcomes the policy is meant to address. Moreover, promotional messages conflate 'influenza' (disease caused by influenza viruses) with 'flu' (a syndrome with many causes, of which influenza viruses appear to be a minor contributor). This lack of precision causes physicians and potential vaccine recipients to have unrealistic assumptions about the vaccine's potential benefit, and impedes dissemination of the evidence on nonpharmaceutical interventions against respiratory diseases. In addition, there are potential vaccine-related harms, as unexpected and serious adverse effects of influenza vaccines have occurred. I argue that decisions surrounding influenza vaccines need to include a discussion of these risks and benefits."

Dr. Doshi makes the following points in his perspective:

  1. Vaccines are less effective than most people believe.
  2. Anywhere between 33 to 100 people must be vaccinated to help one person avoid influenza.
  3. Adverse effects cannot be dismissed as inconsequential.
  4. The "flu" as described by most people is only caused by actual influenza virus about 7% of the time.
  5. Most "flu" is caused by other kinds of viruses that are unresponsive to the influenza vaccine.
  6. Many hospitals now require all health professionals to get an influenza vaccine to protect vulnerable older people. There is no high-quality evidence to support the belief that this strategy actually works.
  7. Adverse effects of vaccines have received little coverage in either the scientific or lay press.

The People's Pharmacy Bottom Line:

We have not changed our tune from last year:

  • We need better influenza vaccinations. Even in the best of times the current flu shots do not work as well as the hype implies. If public health officials are going to urge everyone to get vaccinated, the shots should protect at least 7 out of 10 people from getting influenza.
  • Until we have such improved vaccines, public health officials should be more honest about effectiveness. If people realized that as many as 99 healthy people need to be vaccinated to protect one person from getting the flu, they might be more circumspect about getting a shot.

Antiviral drugs may be helpful when people come down with influenza. Although there is controversy about the benefits and risks of the oral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir), a study in the journal Pediatrics (online, Nov. 25, 2013) revealed that very sick children who ended up in intensive care units did benefit from antiviral medicine. The researchers concluded:

"These results and our findings suggest that further efforts are needed to educate clinicians to increase antiviral treatment in hospitalized patients with seasonal influenza, including those who are critically ill."

A physician who did not participate in the study, Peggy Weintraub, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) added this comment:

"Antivirals matter and they decrease mortality, and the sooner you give them the more effectively they do that."

To read more about the latest study on antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza (zanamivir), here is a link to the research.

Tell us how you are making out this flu season? Did you get a vaccination? Has it worked so far? Have you experienced any side effects? Have you come down with influenza even after getting vaccinated? Share your story in the comment section below.

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May 2012 I had Shingles and suffer from Tinnitus as a result if it settling into my cranial Nerve root # VII. I am 57 now. I got my Fluzone shot on 1-4-14. Within less than a half hour my Tinnitus began getting much louder & higher pitched and my hearing has suffered, even with a hearing aid/Masker combo.

It has been awful. I have had some aches & discomfort, along with insomnia and a runny/stuffy nose. I took the shot to ward off illness, not to get it! I had flu shot for years and never had a problem before. This is the first one since my Shingles. Will my Tinnitus settle down? Did this shot make it worse?

I am 69 yrs old and a Florida resident. I have NOT gotten a flu shot for many years and have not come down with the flu. I work part time in a large department store and have other jobs volunteering so I'm around many people in various stages of wellness.

I have read plenty of information on the flu shot and have not been convinced they are all that effective. My doctor also does not push them. He felt the Pneumonia vaccination was more important. I did get that shot as well as the shingles shot. I take plenty of vitamin C, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, wash my hands. I rarely get a cold. I have a few friends who also will not get the flu shot for similar reasons. One is my dentist, another is a Chiropractor.

I had gotten a flu shot every year for the past fifteen or twenty and never got the flu much less "influenza."

This year I skipped it.

And here I am. I haven't gotten the flu. At least not yet.

According to this article I see that there is a difference between getting the flu and getting THE FLU.

The shot is designed to only protect from actual INFLUENZA as I understand it. An illness much different(!?!) from the little-'flu's that tend to be going around. Yes?

I have had a flu shot once, due to where I worked, other than that no shots and no flu, I am 70 yrs old.

Got a flu shot this year, after grandchild's pediatrician "required" it. Had not had one in 6-8 years, but have had the flu twice in that timer period. Have also had low vitamin D levels diagnosed, so that could be reason.
We'll see.

I am 73 years old and retired. I got the flu shot back in September as soon as it was available, the regular strength not the high dose version. I have had no reaction or adverse side effects. So far I have I have not gotten sick. I usually get the shot every year and I can't remember the last time I might have even had the flu.

I wonder if there is any benefit to getting two shots, (one early and one late in the season) as they change toe injection as time goes by?

I have never had a flu shot and I have never had the flu. I am in my mid 70s and do my best to stay healthy using only natural remedies.

I have been retired for over 20 years, and the company I worked for gives flu shots to retirees. My wife and I have had the shots every year(in October ), and have never had flu. We neglected to get them in 2012, but we did not come down with flu. We had the shots this past November and so far have not had the flu. I might add that we have never had any side effects from the shot other than a sore shoulder for a few days.

I don't know that our experience proves anything one way or another, but since the shots may help, why not get them.

As RN have previously been required to have flu vaccine. After studying info this year I decided not to have the vaccination.

As a retired healthcare worker, I was required to take the flu shots. My Dr. advised me not to take it one year, and I was allowed to refuse it. (He felt it was a bad strain).

I got the flu twice, even with the shot, but both times I received Tamiflu within 48 hrs. of onset, and it never got worse/ I was well in 3 days. (I know it was the flu because my husband was home sick with it and refused the Tamiflu. I caught it from him, not from the work place.)

So now that I am retired, I don't take the flu vaccine, but if I should catch it, I will go for the Tamiflu again.

I'm not a firm believer in the flu shot. It's a crap shoot.

I'm 60 years old and have never had the flu. I'm also a diabetic and recovering from Hodgkin's Desease and a bone marrow transplant...two years in remission.

My general physician strongly recommended the vaccination for the past three protect me as well as my daughter's baby living under the same roof with me. I've had no adverse affects from the vaccination and I've yet to contract the flu. I'll continue the prescribed path of prevention regardless of the dismal final tallies.

Better safe then sorry...even if it slightly increases my chances to avoid a few strains of the flu. By the way, what are our chances of winning the's a crap shoot but you play to win!

I had my flu shot relatively late this year and did not notice any complications. So far although travelling in high flu areas like Louisiana the past two weeks, and by air through Atlanta with thousands of air travelers from all over, I haven't been affected. As one in the higher risk group (age 70) I hope to see more people vaccinated.

I was a little confused by your comment that "Until we have such improved vaccines, public health officials should be more honest about effectiveness. If people realized that as many as 99 healthy people need to be vaccinated to protect one person from getting the flu, they might be more circumspect about getting a shot."

It seems to me that if you need 99 vaccinations to prevent one case, we should be encouraging people to get vaccinated, not discouraging them. I am particularly concerned that people in occupations involving contact with thousands of others, such as transportation personnel (bus drivers, airline employees, hotel employees, etc) might be discouraged from taking preventive measures.

I have gotten the flu shot every year for a while now, but this year decided not to based on the Cochran Review's analysis of the effectiveness of them and the fact that I'd had a lot of needles this year (I hate needles) and had a hard time facing one more.

Dr. Doshi's points echo that other study. But I've been reading a lot on gut bacteria and its role in the immune response and reading Dr. Fuhrman's /Super Immunity/.

So my new approach is to consciously do these things that boost the immune system and let my body fight things off. So far so good, and I was recently around two sick people, one of them for days on end.

I got a flu shot and had the worst flu/influenza of my life! I had a fever of 102, diarrhea, coughing (to where it woke the people in the next motel room--yes, I was on my first vacation in a decade!), and I STILL have sinus congestion, ears hurt and eyes run...I wont get the shot again

I'm 74 years old. I've had the flu twice in my lifetime back before they had a vaccine. I started getting the vaccine yearly as soon as it became available and haven't had the flu since. If it took two thousand people getting the vaccine to protect me or any other senior, I'd say go for it. If you've had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine I can understand not getting it. But for the rest of us, even if the vaccine is only partially effective, having as many people as possible get the vaccine will save lives.

For at least ten years running, both my wife and I experienced in February moderately severe respiratory illness of about three weeks duration that we took to be "the flu". Then in 2005 we learned about vitamin D--that it declines in winter, with the low usually in February, and that adequate supplementation can make up for the winter lack of sunshine. Since then February has been for us just another month healthwise. In fact, since learning about vitamin D, we hardly have any kind of minor illness any more.

This is known as prevention, and it beats heck out of using antivirals after the fact.

While in the military many years ago I had to get the flu shot every year. I got sick as a dog and haven't had a flu shot since.

If I am around sick people I take extra C and some GSE, grapefruit seed extract, as a preventative. I didn't get my vitamin D level up until a few years ago (it took a huge amount) but I still didn't get sick.

I haven't had a flu or cold since March 1985 when I got tested for allergies. I also haven't had a sinus headache since.

anyone who has never, ever had the flu has to be genetically fortunate

I am 76. never get a flu shot. I have not had a cold in thirty years, either; another viral illness. Pneumonia is the concerning illness for elders who do not get the shot. I have gotten a pneumonia vac for that reason. I have no chronic illnesses, take no medication, so based on my personal health, I choose to avoid the flu shot.
Thanks for listening.

I did get the flu shot, about a month and a half later I got the worst flu I have ever had. The body pain was unbearable, no matter how I sat or laid down, there was absolutely no relief. The pain lasted for two days, I gradually got my strength back after a week. I am left with a cough that will probably take a month before it is gone away.

During my first 40 years I had the "real" at least twice. I thought I would die, I was so ill. I have had a flu shot every year since then, never had a reaction and never had the flu.

So at age 80 I will continue getting my flu shot as I would never want to be that sick again. It's comforting that if I do get sick, Tamiflu is available to lessen the symptoms. I wholeheartedly agree with the posts by Michael C and JM.

What research is done after each flu season to understand the "side effects" of receiving a flu shot and how to prevent these side effects? If the "Powers That Be" really want everyone to get vaccinated, surely they could explain the causes of such side effects! How could they NOT know by now the "Why?" of "How?" of these side effects?

I've taken flu shots for approximately the last 7-8 years: I've had both no side effects and also side effects such as: racing heart/high pulse; symptoms of having the flu (fever, muscle aches, congestion, weakness, etc.) I have heart arrhythmia to begin with so this has scared me into delaying getting this year's (2014) flu shot. It's like a crap shoot, although I'm guessing that it's weak "quality control" by the manufacturers that help create side effects. How well do these manufacturers do their quality control???? In what country do these flu shots get made?

Here's what grosses me out about the flu and cold viruses: The virus that's inside of you giving you either a cold or the flu was once inside somebody else's body... YUCK! Nothing more gross than that thought!

I got a flu shot a couple of times, several years ago. Had very severe reactions to them, and will never take one again.

My mom always reacted to flu shots, too. She never recovered from the reactions to the last flu shot the doctor insisted she have. She died soon after.

There are people who can't tolerate flu vaccines, and shouldn't get them. Too risky for some of us.

I'm also a retired health care worker who always got a flu shot for the 30+ years I worked in a hospital setting. I never had the flu and never had side effects from the shots but I'm skipping it this year. If I had travel plans involving airports and planes I probably would have gotten one.

BTW, I always believed the reason my hospitals strongly urged flu shots was to manage the consequence of lost time due to people calling in ill and not actually protecting others. OK, that's cynical, but my feeling was that visitors brought in as much or more illness as staff did.

Appreciate this article. I'm an RN, have worked in hospitals since I graduated in 1979. I've never had a flu shot and have never had the flu.

I find it very disturbing that nurses have been fired for refusing the flu shot, even if they agree to wear a mask during flu season.

I also find it galling that since I don't have an egg allergy, I have to check the box for "religious objection" on the declination form. No box for "intellectual objection".

I'm an atheist so the whole thing is even more ridiculous!

I've had only 1 flu shot in my younger years. I'm asthmatic since age 22. The experts said that you couldn't catch the flu from the shot. I may not have caught the flu but got sick enough from pneumonia that I was hospitalized. I will never have another shot and would rather deal with the flu if I catch it than taking the vaccinations.

One of my docs will not get the shots either even if it keep him out of hospital operating rooms in the winter. He, like many other surgeons, have partnered in a surgical center. I try to stay away from anyone coughing or sneezing and am proactive in keeping my immune system working at its best.

My mother suffered an apparent reaction to the flu shot. Within days after her vaccination in 1993, she thought she was developing shingles on her left side (she had received the flu vaccine in her left arm).

A few days after that, she went to the ER with paralysis on her left side. For the next decade, she endured something similar to (but never conclusively diagnosed as) relapsing-remitting MS.

Sadly, I was not able to find any doctors particularly interested in her case. She was treated with the MS medications available at the time. She endured progressive paralysis and also neuralgia that sometimes struck her with the force of a lightning bolt.

At her death, she was blind and completely paralyzed. Prior to her passing, one of her doctors commented that he had never seen such atrophy of brain tissue.

My mother's main physical therapist during her illness said that she would NEVER take a flu shot, having witnessed my mom's decline. I certainly will never take the flu shot, since there is a possibility that I inherited some tendency to react similarly to some component of the vaccination.

To my surprise, a neighbor recently asked me for details about what had happened to my mom. Her daughter, a nurse, suffered a similar reaction (paralysis) after the flu shot. While in rehab, her daughter encountered at least one other patient who also had this reaction.

Donnie, I'm so sorry for the loss of your mom. At the same time, it's nice to not be alone with a story of dramatic reactions to the flu vaccine. My mom had never had any issues with taking the flu shot, until the one that caused such severe problems. Whether it happens just once, or repeatedly, it is frustrating when your efforts to take care of yourself backfire in such a horrible way!

Sorry to hear of some bad reactions to stuff....I take 50,000 IU of Vitamin D twice a wk. (by drs orders) and havent noticed a *darn* thing. When I worked as a Spec Ed Habilitation Spec., most of my clients were Hep B positive, and, I had to get that vaccine and haven't felt I have had as much resistance to anything since.

I received a flu/pneumonia vaccine in 1999 and within a week, was deathly ill. High fever, aches and pains all over my body, chest congestion, severe cough, sore throat which escalated into pneumonia. I was in the hospital for 3 days, receiving IV drip of antibiotics.

I have never gotten a flu vaccine since. I am now 77 years old and have had the flu twice since 1999, after we moved into a retirement RV community in 2004. I will NEVER get a flu vaccine again. I will take my chances.

I am a former smoker. I eat a healthy diet, don't drink alcohol, take supplements, and try to get as much rest as I can.

I hardly ever get sick, usually a case of the sniffles or mild cough during the winter. This year I got a flu shot on a Thursday in early December. Started feeling bad late Friday afternoon. My temperature rose to 103 degrees, chills, diarrhea, head & lung congestion.

I was pretty much back to normal 48 hours later, but I got reacquainted with the notion of my personal mortality. Could be just coincidental sequence, I suppose.

66 years old. Had the tri-valent flu vaccine from my MD in September. Got the flu yesterday (temp of 101, body aches, loss of appetite). I'm much better today, so, who knows, it might have been a much worse case without the vaccination?

I don't get the "flu" shot and I haven't been ill since the early 1980s. I am now 73 yeas old, work with the public every day, almost, eat vegetables and lots of jalapenos and hot sauce. I eat this all year long but really crave the spicy foods in the winter. I do take vitamins and I know after 40 years of taking these vitamins that they help tremendously!

I've had flu shots for the past 8+ years usually early November, and never had the flu or any side effects except this year, had a nasty cough, congestion, fever etc for the past 5-6 weeks, is it possible that the flu shot is to blame? Live in Atlanta and am 74 years old.

I am 71 years old. I have gotten the Flu Shot every year since 2008 until listening to the program on The People's Pharmacy last year where the Dr. said it only was 1% effective. So, I didn't get it this year. I now have the flu. The Dr. prescribed Tamiflu. I will, no doubt, be getting the Flu Shot from now on. :)

I get the flu shot each October. I have medically induced weakened immune system. I think people who listen to their bodies and research can make the decision to skip it or get it. I was diagnosed today, July 9th, that I have Flu strain A. As I said, I got the flu shot in October 2013. I'm going to ask the Dr if I need to get the annual shot BiAnnually. I'm trying Tamiflu. Read both sides and experiences on this site--let you know if its good or bad.

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