The Independent: Flu Vaccine “Over-hyped”

November 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm (Anti-Vaccination) (, , , , )

Main news article

Here, the Independent have a story about the flu vaccine being over-hyped. It seems to me that the message from scientists is that (a) the vaccine is not as effective as was thought (b) this over-estimation means there has been less focus on the development of better vaccines against influenza and (c) the money spent on the annual flu vaccine campaign could have been better used elsewhere. Oh, and (d) the vaccine is “the best we have” and they support its use. I’m not sure that this message has been put across by the newspaper as well as it might have been.

Accompanying editorial

This article includes the following statements:

The approach appeared to be working fine. Indeed, until now, the official line was that vaccination is highly effective and, if only enough people could be persuaded to have the jab, the annual scourge would be less virulent.

Cracks are appearing in the conventional wisdom, however, with warnings from a number of top scientists that flu vaccines are not the guarantee against infection they are purported to be. More troublingly, official unwillingness to acknowledge the jab’s shortcomings comes with dangerous implications of its own.


Overselling the efficacy of the flu jab risks a similar loss of public confidence.


The dilemma is a tricky one. Public health is not an arena that lends itself to nuance, and suggestions that the jab is not 100 per cent effective might result in fewer people choosing to subject themselves to it. But the risks of overstating the benefits are too great to be dismissed.

The Independent are clearly pushing the line that The Powers That Be have been telling us all that the flu vaccine is guaranteed to stop you catching the disease. Let’s look at what the NHS actually say on their website. Studies have shown that having a flu jab provides effective protection against the flu. However, protection may not always be complete, and the level of protection may vary between individuals. Another page is similarly cautious in tone: No vaccine is 100% effective, however, people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. If you do get flu despite having the jab, it will probably be milder than if you haven’t been vaccinated. Google’s cached versions of those pages confirm that the wording has not changed in recent days.

Perhaps The Powers That Be have been making wild claims elsewhere but the Independent don’t actually point to them doing so, they simply imply that this is the case. For all the talk of conventional wisdom, the official line, and the fear of admitting that the vaccine is not 100% effective (the NHS were clearly not scared to say so – as you can see above), I don’t know where the Independent have got it all from.

Jeremy Laurance opinion piece

Apparently deemed to be so good that the Independent published it twice, with different urls and headlines (and with one having an accompanying picture). In my opinion, Jeremy Laurance’s article is rather odd. I thought the story here was about new information on the limited efficacy of the flu vaccine, the need for provision of accurate information and the views of scientists on our spending priorities. Laurance’s article makes it seem as if the story is about the Government undermining public trust in vaccination. The Independent’s headline and the references to MMR underline this. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that, according to Laurances’ article, one of the scientists quoted “absolves governments of deliberately misleading the public, on the grounds that  the information about the vaccine’s effectiveness has only recently become available”.

Laurance also writes of “the fear that governments may place the interests of the state above those of the individual by exaggerating the benefits and minimising the risks” but doesn’t explain how exaggerating the benefits and minimising the risks would be in the interest of the state.

Reaction to the article on Twitter

This was perhaps the best response I saw: “Interesting article on flu vaccine. Bottom line: sub-par vaccine but better than nothing esp. if you are in risk group.”

Another tweet complained that the Independent had should have focused on the effect of the overestimation of vaccine efficacy on researching better vaccines. “Flu vaccination is overhyped says Indie. Fails to convey that story is on the effect on vax research NOT public health”

Some of the other people tweeting about the article seemed to think it had something to say about bribery, cronyism and capitalism. Some thought that there was no evidence supporting use of the vaccine, that the vaccine is ineffective or simply “doesn’t work”. One linked the article to their daft idea that there are “sensible alternatives” to the vaccine. Some tweeted a link to the article along with a comment that they would not be getting the vaccine this year. Jeremy Laurance’s own summary was that the vaccine was “not very” effective, especially for those who need it most. “Past 4 yrs I have developed a chesty cough 2 wks after getting the flu jab. This year I’m giving it a miss.” “Flu vaccines “don’t work” (how we’re told they do). As we always knew.” “<&lt; #BigPharma and crony capitalism – £120m national vaccination campaign. #cronyism” “Like we said recently flu vaccine over-hyped and underperforms. Try sensible alternatives..” “Been saying this for more than a decade and catching hell for it too – flu vaccine over-hyped and underperforms” “Front page news today about inefficacy of & lack of evidence for ‘over-hyped’ flu vaccine” “How effective is flu vaccine? Not very – especially in those who need it most.” “The flu vaccine does not work!” “Shove your shot – Note to bribe takers and givers aka #cpc & bus men, we’re on to yr medical scam”

If you think they’re bad, you should read the comments below the line on the Independent’s news article…


  1. dingo199 said,

    I agree the public tends to think that having flu vaccine must protect them from flu, even though this is not often the case. I suspect that sometimes officials are complicit in fostering this idea because it suits their own agenda. But I doubt that they are deliberately dishonest or have knowingly misled people about the science and the evidence.

    I tell my own patients that it is around 75% effective – in other words it will prevent flu in 3 cases out of four. Turns out this might be a slight overestimate. One recent systematic review published in the Lancet indicated that the true efficacy in RCTs for adults against PCR-proven influenza infection based upon controlled trials and observational studies was 59% for seasons when vaccine matched virus type well and 44% for seasons when it didn’t match well. Efficacy in the over 65 yr olds was not evaluable for these trials’ inclusion criteria. In kids aged 6m to 7 years, LAIV showed 83% efficacy.

    Click to access flu.pdf

    My opinion is that a vaccine that prevented half of all flu cases in adults and over 80% of flu cases in kids is very worth while having, particularly when targeted at the risk groups of the most vulnerable. One has to consider the morbidity and mortality seen with flu and the indirect costs and associated resource use.

  2. flu shot | Penrith Family Chiropractic said,

    […] Scientists urge ministers: tell truth on ‘over-hyped’ flu vaccineMore On Flu VaccinesThe Independent: Flu Vaccine “Over-hyped” […]

  3. MrsP said,

    Interesting to see what BUPA says about the flu virus. No mention there that the virus is not totally effective and the first two questions in the FAQS section are how much does it cost and how do I pay.

    Good on the NHS for truthful info, as is the CDC.

    I wonder if some of reported cases of failure are people who have a flu like illness and not flu itself and how so called over hyping prevents research into more effective vaccines. Having current effective drugs doesn’t seem to stop research into drugs for other diseases.

  4. The benefits of the annual flu jab have been ‘over-hyped’, scientists claim. They say the vaccine is far less effective than is widely believed, with some studies showing it protects less than two-thirds of the population. « Family Survival Prot said,

    […] The Independent: Flu Vaccine “Over-hyped” ( […]

  5. Obvious said,

    Well they got it from the 96 season Cochraine review on the flu jab that found the claims for flu jab efficacy were implausible at best. Top NHS claim is that the flu jab halves winter deaths. Cochraine looked at this claim and discovered that only 10% of winter deaths are caused by flu-like illnesses and that isn’t even confirmed flu. Cochraine concluded that to claim that the flu jab halved winter death it would have to have an impact on road traffic accidents.

    The other 10 cliams, ie old peoples homes etc all fell down on basic review so I think we can take it, especially in the light of the last pretend pandemic that the whole flu jab debate is about woo.

  6. Obvious said,

    In fact there are adverts for ‘flu camp’ in papers, they are going to repeat the total waste of time RCT trials that were done with the common cold unit which basically was unable to even prove the contagion theory of flu.Quite amazing really than anyone is even looking at new flu vaccines, the evidence so far shows it’s all woo.

  7. Obvious said,

    This is a remarkably bad article and totally lacking in science. If the research shows that the flu jab is a useless talisman commenting on this by saying it is anti vaccine is believer nonsense.

    Judging by lack of comment on this you are talking to that small group of people known as septics, the worst kind of religious scientist believer types who have priest like those found in the church of Nightingale.

    One day you will wake up from your fudge and ask for forgiveness and it will probably be forthcoming.

  8. septicshafter said,

    !”No mention there that the virus is not totally effective” mrs P

    Interesting idea!

  9. septicshafter said,

    gosh whole weeks of posting, dusted aside in a septic revolution. Keep it up Chris the lord is watching.

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