A new study shows that flu shots don’t work nearly as well as experts think they do.
Researchers now think they only work for about 60 percent of people. That makes them about 30 percent less effective than previously thought.
Newspapers have picked up on this finding and are saying flu shots aren’t effective enough.
But the real story isn’t that flu shots aren’t effective enough…but that they’re not effective at all.
As we’ve told you before, flu shots are virtually useless. And a deeper review of this new study proves it.
That’s because buried within the study is another finding. And that finding shows that flu shots only help about one person out of every 100 who take them.
So how can one study show two radically different findings – and both are considered accurate?
Dr. Nortin Hadler says it all comes down to manipulating your results to get the headline you want. He’s taught at the University of North Carolina for over 25 years and is member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation. He studied at Yale and got his MD from Harvard.
“The use of medicalese is inexcusable,” says Dr. Hadler. He says it’s a “reprehensible” way of “torturing scientific data and massaging statistical analyses” to protect or promote pharmaceutical drugs.
Flu Shots Too Old to Work
The new flu study comes from the University of Minnesota (UM) and was published in one of the most respected peer-reviewed medical journals – The Lancet.
It was headed up by Dr. Michael Osterholm who leads UM research on infectious diseases.
He and his team looked at over 5,000 studies published over the last 45 years. The team narrowed those studies down to the most accurate 31 trials and focused their research on about 30,000 people.
And after all that work he found that…flu shots are pretty much out of date.
He says they’re “a 1950s vaccine that’s still used today.”
That means these shots are too old to protect people against today’s flu threats. That’s because the kind of bugs that are out there now have evolved since 1967.
“These vaccines are an iPhone 1.0,” says Dr. Osterholm. “We need an iPhone 10.0.”
But Dr. Osterholm isn’t trying to show flu shots in a bad light. If anything, he’s trying to protect them.
For starters, he says we better hold on to our flu shots until something better comes along.
“Until it’s available, you don’t throw the 1.0 away,” he says.
And he virtually apologizes for his own findings…pointing out that 60 percent is nowhere near the 90 percent mark…“but it’s a lot better than zero.”
But other findings – buried within his own study – show they’re virtually useless.
These hidden findings actually show flu shots only help about one percent of people.
Playing the Numbers Game
So how can Dr. Osterholm say his study shows that flu shots prevent about 60 percent of flu cases, when his findings actually show that they only prevent about 1.5 percent?
It all comes down to how you interpret your results.
As Dr. Hadler points out, drug companies can promote their products in a much better light…by using a completely accepted scientific sleight of hand.
Here’s how it works in the case of this study.
Dr. Osterholm pools data for 31,892 people and compares the outbreak of flu in people getting flu shots against those who get a placebo.
Out of the 13,095 people getting a placebo, 357 wind up with the flu. (That’s about 2.73 percent of the group.)
Out of the 18,797 people getting a flu shot, 221 wind up with the flu. (That’s about 1.18 percent of the group.)
Now there are two different scientific ways that those results can be reported.
The first way is to report the Absolute Risk Reduction in people taking a drug compared to placebo.
So a scientist simply subtracts the two percentages to see the absolute reduction between the drug and the placebo.
In this case that’s 2.73 minus 1.18 which equals 1.5. In other words, there was 1.5 percent less cases of flu in those who got the shot compared to those who got a sugar pill.
Here’s another way to look at it. If 100 people get a flu shot…less than two people will get any benefit from it.
The papers won’t report this…because the findings are buried within the study. But if you’re willing to purchase the study for yourself…and review it page by page…you’ll find the results in a table on page 4 of the PDF version.
Now if you think about, an effective rate of one out of 100 is not going to sell many flu shots…especially if you look at the serious risks and side effects that they pose.
It certainly won’t yield the $40 billion dollars that analysts expect flu shots to generate this year.
So how do you ensure flu shots keep making money? Find a more positive way to report those findings.
And scientific reporting allows scientists to do just that. And they call it Relative Risk Reduction.
This allows researchers to manipulate their findings and put pharmaceutical drugs in a much better light.
As Dr. Hadler explains, relative risk “is the percentage that the risk on placebo would be reduced if one were to swallow (a drug).”
What that means in simple language is this:
You could have a study based on 200 men to see how effective statins are at preventing stroke.
Let’s say 100 men take statins and 100 take a placebo for two years. At the end of the two years, six men out of the 200 have suffered a stroke.
Two of those men were taking the statin, the other four took the placebo.
Absolute risk reduction would report that two percent of men taking a statin (two out of 100) suffered stroke, while four percent of men taking a placebo (four out of 100) also suffered stroke. Four percent minus two percent equals an absolute difference of two percent. So…that study should report that statins reduce stroke risk by two percent.
However, relative risk reduction would simply divide the two men who took statins (and suffered stroke) against the four men who took a placebo (and suffered stroke) to get 50 percent less cases of stroke (two divided by four) in men using statins. That researcher could then report that statins reduce stroke risk by 50 percent.
“The absolute reduction is what is meaningful to you,” says Dr. Hadler. “Never let anyone talk to you about relative risk reduction.”
In the flu study, Dr. Osterholm uses relative risk – comparing and dividing placebo by flu shots only in cases of flu.
So instead of looking at absolute numbers in the study…he just crunches relative percentages.
He takes his 1.18 number (the percentage of the flu shot group who got the flu) and compares it against 2.72 (the percentage of the placebo group who got the flu). And calculates a 60 percent drop between the numbers – in favor of flu shots.
That’s then reported as showing that the flu shot is 60 percent more effective than placebo.
So it’s pretty easy to see why drug companies want scientists to report on relative risk instead of absolute risk.
“These considerations are well known to everyone who is involved in clinical research,” says Dr. Hadler. “Reading the scientific journals…absolute values are often hidden in the text but there is a disconcerting tendency to present relative risks in the abstracts.”
Abstracts are the summaries that are published at the top of a study or scientific journal. It’s often the only thing that most journalists and medical reporters look at.
“Most authors and all (drug) marketers are well aware of the powerful role of the abstract,” says Dr. Hadler, and “we are easily scammed by relative risk reduction.”
What You Can Do to Fight Flu
So…if flu shots are only really effective for about one in 100 people, there’s not much point risking the side effects by getting one.
So what should you do?
Dr. Donald Miller is a Harvard graduate and teaches at the University of Washington. He’s also a member of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness and regularly reviews flu information from the CDC.
And he’s not surprised that flu shots aren’t very effective.
Instead, he says your best defense may be in your diet and lifestyle.
He says the best defense against flu is vitamin D.
“Flu virus results from vitamin D deficiency,” he says.
And that means it’s easy and risk-free to fight flu. All you have to do is get loads of vitamin D.
Sunlight is one good way of getting vitamin D…but you can always get it in fish like wild-caught salmon…or in supplement form.
If you’re going to use a supplement, Dr. Miller says you should take 5,000 IUs each day. But we’ve told you before that many top doctors say you can get over 20,000 IUs by sunbathing. It’s best to get your sun in 15-minute bursts to avoid getting burned.
Wishing you good health,
Editorial Director, NHD “Health Watch”