A flu shot for everyone

Crossing the Universe

Gardens are starting to bloom, the school year is drawing to a close, summer vacations are right around the corner, and it’s time to start making plans for flu vaccines.

If you’re thinking, “One of these things does not belong,” then you’re probably not in the business of selling the public on the idea of getting a flu shot.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hosted a national flu vaccine summit for a group the Associated Press (AP) referred to as “vaccine providers, distributors and manufacturers.” Note that the summit wasn’t for doctors and researchers, but apparently for those who are in the vaccine business. Pity those folks. They have a hard time moving their product. But the CDC has a plan to boost sales.

One of the primary topics at the vaccine summit was universal immunization (UI). That’s a formal way of saying “a flu shot for everyone.” CDC officials currently recommend that people in certain high-risk groups get immunized. But in a few years that recommendation is expected to be expanded to include everyone, whether they’re in a high-risk group or not.

But why beat around the bush? Let’s go all-in on this one and give this plan some teeth: It’s time for MANDATORY universal immunization of every man, woman and child in the U.S.

I’ll give you three reasons why this is a wonderful idea.

Tough sell

Reason Number One: Flu shots don’t manufacture themselves.

In a business where a drug company can net millions of dollars before breakfast, production of flu vaccines is a chump change operation. The dilemma: Vaccine makers have to produce a brand new product every year. Then at the end of each flu season they have to destroy whatever vaccines have not been used.

CDC executives do what they can to help sell the vaccine by mounting a yearly campaign to give everyone the heebie jeebies about the flu. Strategically placed announcements in the mainstream media emphasize four selling points: 1) There’s a limited supply of vaccines, so get yours while you can, 2) This year’s flu season may be one of the worst on record, 3) Someday we’ll get hit with The Big One; a pandemic that could kill millions, and 4) About 36,000 people die of flu related complications each year (according to the CDC), and most of those deaths are among elderly people.

Problem is, even with these motivating announcements most people just don’t bother to get a flu shot. But mandatory universal immunization would take care of that in a jiffy.

Estimated benefit

Reason Number Two: Mandatory universal immunization would save lives among the elderly.

Well, okay, there’s no actual evidence that would happen. In fact

In a February 2005 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases compared flu-related mortality among older people to rates of immunization. Their finding: During the past quarter century, immunization rates for the elderly have climbed substantially while the elderly flu-related mortality rate has stayed the same.

The authors of the research wrote: “We conclude that observational studies substantially overestimate vaccination benefit.”

Back to reality

Reason Number Three: Of course, mandatory universal immunization is a ludicrous idea.

As far as we know, the CDC has no plans to add “mandatory” to its UI recommendation. But that’s probably what it would take to sell enough vaccines to make vaccine manufacture a lucrative venture. If the CDC does eventually recommend UI that will be like saying: “We suggest vaccinations for those who probably won’t get the flu.”

That lame sales pitch will not be enough to convince healthy people to get in line for a flu shot. For one thing, consumers seem to be catching on to the fact that the flu vaccine may not be as necessary as the CDC would have us believe. Last fall, vaccine supplies were suddenly cut in half because one of the manufacturers was found to have a contaminated facility. Nevertheless, in spite of severe shortages there was no widespread flu epidemic to cope with.

And consumers may be coming around to a realization of what HSI members have known for some time now: A strong immune system can effectively prevent influenza. No vaccine is necessary.

In the e-Alert “Kall the Kops!” (1/4/05), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., shared some tips on how to support and strengthen the immune system. And it just so happens that spring is a perfect time to start improving your immune defense. If you get started now, by next autumn your system will be more prepared to help keep the flu at bay.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

Sources:

“Annual Flu Shots to be Recommended for Everyone in the U.S.” Healthcare News, 5/15/05, news-medical.net

“In Future, Flu Shots May be Recommended for Everyone” The Associated Press, 5/13/05, ap.org

“More of Us Should Get Flu Shot” CBS News, 9/23/04, cbsnews.com

“Impact of Influenza Vaccination on Seasonal Mortality in the US Elderly Population” Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 165, No. 3, 2/14/05, archinte.ama-assn.org