Flu Shot Ineffective

In the April 21st edition of Maclean’s Magazine, there is a hard hitting article entitled “Millions on the Line” in print, and “Canada’s Questionable Tamiflu Stockpile” online (http://www.macleans.ca/society/health/canadas-questionable-tamiflu-stockpile), in which the author makes a compelling case for questioning seriously Canada’s policies regarding the stockpiling and promotion of the vaccine Tamiflu to protect against the influenza virus. I’d like to share just some of the highlights from the article:

Globally, governments have spent $9 billion stockpiling Tamiflu in case of a flu pandemic. Canada alone has spent $77 million on it and its sister antiviral Relenza, and yet according to a study just published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ), Tamiflu has never been proven to reduce hospital admissions or complications of influenza – two of the main reasons the drug is a key part of pandemic strategies all over the world. It then concludes that the vaccine “appears to do little more than Aspirin to reduce symptoms”.

The publishers of the study, the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit research group that produces widely respected summaries of medical evidence, noted back in 2009 that even though early industry-funded clinical trials on the vaccine showed that it did in fact reduce the risk of complications and symptoms in people with flu, the reality is that 8 of the 10 randomized controlled trials of Tamiflu were never actually published, which suggested industry was in effect cherry picking the studies that showed a favorable outcome and discarding the rest (the sad truth is, this happens ALL the time with industry funded research).

The Cochrane group at that time requested for all the unpublished data on the vaccine, which took 4 years to receive, and the recent BMJ study showing the ineffectiveness of the flu shot is the most thorough analysis of the antiviral to date, based on more than 150,000 pages of never-before-published clinical trial information.

Dr. Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, put it this way: “All the indications are that this is an exemplar of what goes on. It shows policy and guideline decisions being based on incomplete evidence, and… time and again, we discover that when you do get hold of the evidence base, the results are different: The drugs look less good.”

As to why governments continue to spend millions of tax payer dollars stockpiling and promoting ineffective flu vaccines to the general public, she says that perhaps it is “rooted in a desire to be seen to be doing something in the event of a pandemic”. Well, I for one certainly have a great many ideas on how they could better spend $77 million to improve the health of Canadians!!!