New research on the flu vaccine is confirming something I've been saying for years – the vaccine's effectiveness, particularly among the elderly, has been greatly exaggerated.
The Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle recently analyzed previous studies on the flu vaccine and found that researchers were mostly looking at healthy patients who were active and able to get to their doctors' offices each year for a shot.
They weren't using – or basing their analysis on – a representative sample of America's elderly population. And if you're only analyzing relatively healthy people, the results are going to be skewed positive.
This research puts a little more fertilizer on the seeds of doubt planted four years ago by a Dutch study that has been the only one with a large number of patients getting placebos. That one found that the vaccine prevented flu about 57 percent of the time for folks between the ages of 60-69, but that the rate plummeted to 23 percent for those over 70. For four decades, public health authorities have strongly advised the vaccine for people over 65. Fortunately, some researchers are starting to wonder why, despite a big increase in the number of elderly getting the flu vaccine in recent decades, there hasn't been a corresponding decline of the death rate in this age group.
Here's the truth: the vaccine is not a cure-all. It's based on a best guess of what this year's flu strain will be – and there's no guarantee vaccine makers will guess correctly. Docs need to give their patients an honest assessment of what the flu vaccine can – and can not – do, and also show them how to build their immune systems with vitamins, exercise and better food choices.