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On the Efficacy of Flu Vaccine 430

Posted by kdawson
from the because-we-just-know-it-works-that's-why dept.
The Atlantic is running a major article questioning the received wisdom about flu vaccines and antivirals, for both seasonal flu and H1-N1. "When Lisa Jackson, a physician and senior investigator with the Group Health Research Center, in Seattle, began wondering aloud to colleagues if maybe something was amiss with the estimate of 50 percent mortality reduction for people who get flu vaccine, the response she got sounded more like doctrine than science. 'People told me, "No good can come of [asking] this,"' she says... Nonetheless, in 2004, Jackson and three colleagues set out to determine whether the mortality difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated might be caused by a phenomenon known as the 'healthy user effect.' Jackson's findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the 'frail elderly' didn't or couldn't. In fact, the healthy-user effect explained the entire benefit that other researchers were attributing to flu vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine itself might not reduce mortality at all." Read below for more excerpts from the article.

The annals of medicine are littered with treatments and tests that became medical doctrine on the slimmest of evidence, and were then declared sacrosanct and beyond scientific investigation. ...

This is the curious state of debate about the government's two main weapons in the fight against pandemic flu. At first, government officials declare that both vaccines and drugs are effective. When faced with contrary evidence, the adherents acknowledge that the science is not as crisp as they might wish. Then, in response to calls for placebo-controlled trials, which would provide clear results one way or the other, the proponents say such studies would deprive patients of vaccines and drugs that have already been deemed effective. ...

In the absence of better evidence, vaccines and antivirals must be viewed as only partial and uncertain defenses against the flu. And they may be mere talismans. By being afraid to do the proper studies now, we may be condemning ourselves to using treatments based on illusion and faith rather than sound science.
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On the Efficacy of Flu Vaccine

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