The most common question I get this time of year is “should I get the flu vaccine?”
To answer this question we really need to first look at the efficacy of the vaccine.
The influenza A and B viruses for which people are being vaccinated against the account for less than 15% of all flu-like illnesses that will strike each season. The CDC counters that even though this might be the case there is a cross-reactivity that can be protective for these ‘other flu-like illnesses’. A recent article in Harper’s Magazine by Peter Doshi states, “even the best shots have no effect on at least half the illnesses thought to be the flu.”
Another well-respected report know as the Cochrane Review, look at 15 studies involving people age 65 and older. The conclusion was “inactivated influenza vaccines were ineffective against influenza-like illnesses, influenza, or pneumonia…”
In his article “Viral Marketing,” Peter Doshi critiques the agency’s use of fear and exaggerated claims of flu-associated deaths to make Americans “into a captive market for vaccines of questionable worth.” When Americans began to panic during the vaccine shortage in 2004, the CDC encouraged people to wash their hands regularly to cut down on the transmission of this “annoying illness.” Instead of maintaining its drumbeat that emphasizes flu’s life-threatening potential, the CDC reassured the public that most people “recover just fine.”