Opinion Column

Flu shots fail again – at great cost – and what if all you hear is wrong?

Bill Tieleman

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Public health officials are urging residents to get the flu vaccine. (Postmedia Network  file photo)

Public health officials are urging residents to get the flu vaccine. (Postmedia Network file photo)

“We have overpromoted and overhyped this vaccine. It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.”

— Michael T. Osterholm, Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, 2012

What if everything you were told about flu shots, their importance and effectiveness, the need for health care workers to get vaccinated and the huge number of deaths the flu causes every year, were all wrong?

Or so twisted, spun, exaggerated, extrapolated and aggrandized as to be highly misleading?

One would like to think there would be a public inquiry, investigations and politicians demanding answers. But despite lots of factual evidence that the flu shot has been oversold and underperformed for years, the propaganda continues.

And it comes not only from the medical establishment but pharmaceutical companies with millions in profits to be made and the governments that pay them millions to inoculate Canadians with a product that is rarely more than halfway effective.

Let’s start with how ineffective the flu shot is — from less than 7% in the 2014-15 flu season to less than 50% effective in all but one year between 2004-05 and 2015-16.

Yet this season $75 million has been spent on 11.6 million doses of flu vaccine, according to the federal government.

A group called “Immunize Canada... a coalition of national non-governmental, professional, health, consumer, government and private sector organizations” — including major flu vaccine manufacturers — claims that: “Between 4,000 and 8,000 Canadians can die of influenza and its complications annually.”

Really? Because the Public Health Agency of Canada reports that in 2011-12 there were just 104 deaths; in 2012-13 deaths were 317; 331 in 2013-14; 591 in 2014-15 and 270 in 2015-16. In no year did flu fatalities approach 4,000 to 8,000.

That’s a deliberate attempt to exaggerate a tragic loss of lives into a misleading argument for flu shots — and for making flu shots for health care workers in B.C. mandatory, unless they wear a mask for their whole shift for months.

And how many flu deaths have been recorded so far this season? Just 20 across Canada, with most over age 65.

It’s time for an independent review of flu shots, not an annual and ever-growing promotion of expensive yet ineffective vaccinations.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com or Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman