“Does the Vaccine Matter?” 

This is the headline of a recent article from the Atlantic.  The article is well written and has many good points about the controversy surrounding the swine flu vaccine.  I won’t try to summarize the whole thing because I think everyone should read it in its entirety.  However I do want to highlight a point or two here.

The article calls into question the assertions about the effectiveness if the seasonal flu vaccine.  There are estimates of 50 percent mortality reduction based on “cohort studies,” which compare death rates in large groups, or cohorts, of people who choose to be vaccinated, against death rates in groups who don’t.  The issue here is that people who choose to be vaccinated may differ in many ways from those who don’t and this can have a huge influence on the chance of death during the flu season.  For example, many elderly people that don’t get the flu shot are bed ridden due to some other health issues and don’t go out to the doctor or pharmacy to get the shot.  Income, lifestyle, education and geography can all come into play and many cohort studies are found to be biased as such.

Lisa Jackson, a physician and senior investigator with the Group Health Research Center, in Seattle, set out to factor out the cohort bias and look closely at the effectiveness if the flu vaccine.  What she found was 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. Jackson’s papers “are beautiful,” says Lone Simonsen, who is a professor of global health at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and an internationally recognized expert in influenza and vaccine epidemiology. “They are classic studies in epidemiology, they are so carefully done.”

The general gold standard in medicine research is the double blind study.  This format is supposed to limit the ever important bias from results.  However there has never been a double blind research study performed on the flu vaccine, and when the results of the cohort studies are put under scrutiny they fall apart. 

This is the science leading our national plan to combat a flu pandemic.  Nowhere do we hear mention of eating more fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine, exercising, reducing our total stress, spending time with loved ones, and getting our spine adjusted so our bodies own inborn healing potential can function at 100%.  Why not integrate some practices that have been proven to improve our own defenses against disease rather than rely on some outside chemical that may not even work and definitely has the potential for harmful side-effects.