Cochrane is a worldwide research organization that consists of more than 40,000 people from 130 countries. They gather and summarize evidence to aid people in making informed choices about their healthcare. They do not take Big Pharma money when conducting research reviews. Though I don’t agree with all of Cochrane’s articles, I find them much more reliable than what’s printed in peer-reviewed journals, where conflicts of interests among authors and editors is rampant.
Cochrane conducted a review to see if the flu vaccine leads to influenza in people 65 and older. They used data from 67 randomized trials that compared the flu vaccine to placebo or no treatment at all.
The authors wrote, “[More than] 200 viruses cause ILI [influenza-like illness], producing the same symptoms (fever, headache, aches, pains, cough, and runny nose). Without laboratory tests, doctors cannot distinguish between viruses, as they last for days and rarely lead to serious illness. At best, vaccines are only effective against influenza A and B, which represent about 5 percent of all circulating viruses.”
Another Cochrane review found that older adults who received the flu vaccine may experience between 2.4 percent to 6 percent fewer cases of influenza over a single season. In other words, the vaccine was approximately 3.6 percent effective for the elderly. That means that approximately 30 elderly people would need to be vaccinated to avoid one case of influenza.
Another way to look at the same numbers is that 29 out of 30 elderly people — or 97 percent — will get no benefit from the flu vaccine. The authors of this review write, “Data were insufficient to be certain about the effect of vaccines on mortality.”
How can there be no data on the effect of the flu vaccine on mortality in the elderly? That’s what the vaccine was initially designed to help. The authors were being generous when they concluded, “The impact of influenza vaccines in older people is modest . . .”
Modest is not the word I would use. Rather, I would say the flu vaccine is an unmitigated disaster for elderly people because it fails to help the vast majority (97 percent) who receive it. The reason that the flu vaccine and other vaccines do not work well for the elderly is that their immune system is not as responsive as a younger person’s immune system.
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