Center for Medical Consumers

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Should you get a flu shot?

Posted by medconsumers on October 19, 2012

Should you get a flu shot?  Public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as well as most primary care physicians would answer this question with an emphatic yes.  But if you’re the kind of person who wants good solid evidence showing safety and effectiveness to back your medical decisions, then the answer is no.

Over the years, I have interviewed Tom Jefferson, MD, on this topic because he is arguably the world’s most knowledgeable expert on seasonal flu vaccine studies.  Over the last two decades, he has co-authored numerous reviews on this topic for Cochrane Collaboration, an independent international organization that evaluates research — in this case, 50 years’worth of studies.  He has been assessing the best available evidence for answers to such crucial questions as:   Are seasonal influenza vaccines safe?  Do they reduce the rate of death, sick days, pneumonia, hospitalizations in elderly people, people with chronic obstructive lung disease, babies, healthy adults, etc?

These questions were on my mind when I interviewed Dr. Jefferson in 2006, after he had issued a damning report entitled, “The prevention of seasonal influenza—policy versus evidence.”    He found nothing that would inspire confidence in seasonal influenza vaccines.  “Given the huge resources involved in yearly vaccination campaigns, a re-evaluation should be urgently undertaken.”

Was that re-evaluation ever conducted?  Has anything changed in the six years following your devastating critique, I asked Dr. Jefferson recently by email.  “No,” was his quick response.

With this last post, I leave you with several relevant links from our archives:

The 2006 interview with Dr. Jefferson, which lays out the difficulties in proving that flu vaccines actually work.

Remember the swine flu, aka H1N1 influenza?  The pandemic that wasn’t.

Flu risk overrated The death count following the swine flu “pandemic.”

For more on the work of Tom Jefferson, type his name in the search box on our home page. Type the word Tamiflu in the search box for information about this drug, which is widely prescribed to prevent and treat influenza.

Read this November 2012 New York Times article , which comfirms the lack of good research supporting seasonal flu vaccine.

About Children and flu vaccines:  The above refers to the effectiveness of flu vaccines in adultsNew research indicates a modest effectiveness of flu vaccines in children over age two years.

Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers©

8 Responses to “Should you get a flu shot?”

  1. Vera S. Cohen said

    Dear Maryann,

    I join the many who have read and forwarded your excellent articles over the years. I wish you good health and continued satisfaction and fun in your life.
    stay well,
    Vera S. Cohen

  2. Jean Crichton said

    I will also miss your articles and echo the appreciative remarks above. I was distressed when I read that you are signing off, but you have done so much for everyone in your 36 years of work on this and you deserve a change and maybe a respite. Though I’m glad to see you are still actively contributing to the Cochrane Collaboration, which looks to be another fine medical-information site. I will never forget the relief I felt in 1990 when I found your library in the Village as I was researching treatment for my breast cancer. Ever since, I’ve looked forward to your newsletters, on paper or email. Thanks for all you have done and are continuing to do to get good information before the public.

  3. Shelly Warwick said

    I’m sadden to see the end of your excellent analytical articles, as I was sadden when your physical library closed. I’ve your information very useful, and even used some of your articles in teaching evidence based medicine to aspiring physicians and pharmacists.

  4. Margaret Farnsworth said

    Thanks for your long years of service. The NO to getting a flu shot is just another of the excellent information you have passed on to your readers. You are the best and most reliable source I’v had along with my MD homeopath doctor for almost you whole long years of service. May the good guys continue to educate the regular medical profession that there are other ways to live well and survive other than to prescribe drugs with endless side effects.

    Margaret Farnsworth

  5. Jean Goldman said


    • No

      • Cate Shea said

        The elderly are not helped by the flu vaccine. I willnnever forget when my dear mother was in a nursing home, and refused her flu shot. A few weeks later, I got a call. She was in the hospital, with “the flu.” (Not sure that anyone actually cultured to find an influenza virus) I came in to see her, the entire floor in that wing of the hospital was all “flu” patients. I said to the nurse, perhaps I ought to have urged my mom to take the shot. I was feeling a tad guilty. The nurse replied by saying that almost eveyone on the floor had taken the flu vaccine (and still they were ill enough with a flu-like illness to be hopitalized.) After that I did my research. Oh, BTW, that hospital now forces its employees all to submit to the flu vaccine.

  6. Maryann, we will miss you so very much and I want to thank you for all the years you have put into this. I wish I would have found you sooner but I did not until you went digital. I’m glad to read that the archives will still be up. Very best wishes with future plans, whatever they may be.

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