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Flu Vaccine Facts

It is that time of year again when the flu vaccine marketing machine is revving up its engines and my email inbox is loaded with flu vaccine questions. Here are some articles that you can share with your family, friends, and the human resources departments at your respective employers to give people another side to consider before they roll up their sleeve.  This is a note worth saving and sharing. Educate before you vaccinate!

THE FLU AND THE FLU VACCINE (by the National Vaccine Information Center)

Are Flu Vaccines Beneficial? by Kristine Severyn R.Ph., Ph.D (a friend and colleague)

Flu Vaccine Warning for Pregnant Women: Stay Out of My Womb! by Dawn Richardson
(Note: All flu vaccines for the 2000-2001 season still contain mercury)

"Study: Giving Flu Vaccine Doesn't Save Money"
[link no longer active]

"Flu Shots Cut Misery, But Not Costs"
[link no longer active]

Journal Articles of Flu Vaccine Adverse Reactions


What is the flu? Influenza is a respiratory infection that produces fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, and cough that lasts a week or more. The flu can be deadly for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or who are suffering from diabetes, kidney dysfunction and heart disease. Each year about 20,000 Americans, mostly in these high risk groups, reportedly die from flu complications such as pneumonia.

What is the flu vaccine? The flu vaccine is prepared from the fluids of chick embryos inoculated with a specific type(s) of influenza virus. The strains of flu virus in the vaccine are inactivated with formaldehyde and preserved with thimerosal, which is a mercury derivative.

Every year, federal health agency officials try to guess which three flu strains are most likely to be prevalent in the U.S. the following year to determine which strains will be included in next year's flu vaccine. If they guess right, the vaccine is thought to be 70 to 80 percent effective in temporarily preventing the flu of the season in healthy persons less than 65 years old (the efficacy rate drops to 30 to 40% in those over 65 years old but the vaccine is thought to be 50 to 60% effective in preventing hospitalization and pneumonia and 80% effective in preventing death from the flu in the over 65 age group). However, sometimes health officials do not correctly predict which flu strains will be most prevalent and the vaccine's effectiveness is much lower for that year.

Does the flu vaccine protect against all throat, respiratory, gastrointestinal and ear infections? The flu vaccine only protects against the three specific viral strains which are included in any given year's flu vaccine. Throat, respiratory, gastrointestinal and ear infections caused by bacteria or other kinds of viruses are not prevented by getting an annual flu shot.

Why do doctors say I have to get a flu vaccine every year? Like all vaccines, the flu vaccine only gives a temporary immunity to the virus strains or closely related virus strains contained in the vaccine. The only way to get natural and permanent immunity to a strain of flu is to recover naturally from the flu. Natural immunity to a particular strain of flu can be protective if that strain or closely related strains come around again in the future. However, because the vaccine only provides a 70 to 80 percent chance of temporary immunity to selected strains and those strains may or may not be prevalent each year, doctors say you have to get a flu shot every year.

Are there reactions to the flu vaccine? The most common reactions, which begin with 12 hours of vaccination and can last several days are: fever, fatigue, painful joints and headache. The most serious reaction that has been associated with flu vaccine is Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) which occurs most often within two to four weeks of vaccination. GBS is an immune mediated nerve disorder characterized by muscle weakness, unsteady gait, numbness, tingling, pain and sometimes paralysis of one or more limbs or the face. Recovery lasts several months and can include residual disability. Less than 5 percent of GBS cases end in death.

What are contraindications to the flu vaccine? Among high risk factors listed by the CDC and the vaccine manufacturers are anyone who: (1) is sick with a fever; (2) has an impaired immune system; (2) has an egg allergy; (3) has a mercury allergy; (4) has a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome. In years past, pregnancy was also a contraindication to flu vaccine but, today, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends flu vaccine for women more than 14 weeks pregnant.

The package inserts published by the flu vaccine manufacturers state that "Animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with influenza virus vaccine. It is also not known whether influenza virus vaccine can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman... Although animal reproductive studies have not been conducted, the prescribing health care provider should be aware of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices .The ACIP states that if used during pregnancy, administration of influenza virus vaccine after 14 weeks of gestation may be preferable to avoid coincidental association of the vaccine with early pregnancy loss."

Is Flu Vaccine Recommended for Children? The flu vaccine has never been recommended for healthy children. However, in the past few years there have been indications that health officials are soon going to recommend flu vaccine for all children. A nasal flu vaccine is scheduled to be on the market in late 2000 and publicity promoting this vaccine has centered on its potential use in children.

The current injectable flu vaccine contains mercury as a preservative. In the summer of 1999, the FDA, CDC and EPA directed the vaccine manufacturers to remove mercury as a preservative in childhood vaccines. Mercury is a known neuro-toxin and American babies under six months of age are currently exposed to mercury in childhood vaccines that exceed EPA safety standards.

One consideration with the mass use of flu vaccine in healthy children is the removal of natural antibodies to flu which are obtained from natural infection. The question of whether it is better for healthy children, who rarely suffer complications from flu, to get the flu and develop permanent immunity to that flu strain or it is better for children to get vaccinated every year to try to suppress all flu infection in early childhood is a question that has yet to be adequately answered by medical science.

What should I do? Become educated about the flu and its benefits and risks and the vaccine and its benefits and risks and make an informed decision after consulting multiple sources of information and discussing your questions with one or more health professionals.

Are Flu Vaccines Beneficial

There has been a lot of hype as to whether influenza vaccines really ward off bouts of the flu. According to this expert, the vaccines aren't worth risking the side effects.

By Kristine Severyn, R.Ph., Ph.D.

Every autumn the elderly and other high risk groups are encouraged to receive influenza vaccine (flu shots). Congress authorized Medicare funding for flu shots in 1993, believing that vaccination costs are less than hospitalization costs related to influenza complications. Was Congress misled when it authorized this $80 million per year Medicare flu shot entitlement? Have vaccine recipients been misled?

Although influenza is associated with more disease, hospitalization, and death in "at risk" populations, no adequate controlled studies exist which prove that influenza vaccine reduces the incidence of influenza in these groups.


Influenza virus strains mutate, necessitating a new vaccine each year. Technicians affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collect influenza viruses from pigs and people in foreign lands, e.g., China.

CDC personnel then attempt to predict which viruses will infect people in the United States the following year-the CDC crystal ball. These CDC-selected viruses are distributed to vaccine manufacturers early in the year for influenza vaccine production for administration that autumn.

Predicting which influenza viruses from China, for instance, will infect people in Dayton, Ohio, a year later involves a fair amount of guesswork. Flu shot history is replete with examples of poor matches between influenza viruses in the vaccine and those actually infecting people.

For example in the 1994-1995 flu season, the CDC reported that 43 percent of isolated influenza samples for the predominant virus type A(H3N2) were not similar to that in the vaccine. Likewise, for another type A virus (H1NI), 87 percent of samples were not similar to that in the vaccine. According to a worldwide influenza activity update in the Aug. 8, 1995, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 76 percent of isolated samples of influenza type B were not similar to the influenza in the vaccine.

The CDC crystal ball also erred during the 1992-1993 influenza season when, as reported in the Sep. 1, 1993, edition of MMWR, 84 percent of the isolated influenza samples for the predominant virus (A(H3N2)) were not similar to the virus in the vaccine.


Despite its poor track record in predicting which influenza viruses will infect communities, the CDC admitted Feb. 26, 1999, in its nationally broadcast program, "Preparing for the Next Influenza Pandemic," that influenza vaccine is "approximately 70 percent" effective in preventing influenza in "healthy persons less than 65 years of age" if "there is a good match between vaccine and circulating viruses."

Depending on the study cited vaccine efficacy actually ranges from a low of 0 percent to a high of 96 percent. And, as illustrated above, the CDC often finds it difficult to match vaccines with circulating viruses.

According to the CDC, influenza vaccine efficacy drops to 30 percent to 40 percent among the elderly-this group being the main "target" for flu shots. CDC attributes lack of influenza vaccine efficacy in the elderly to their "decreased immunologic response."

Past studies by NH Arden, et al, of type A(H3N2) influenza vaccine in nursing home patients yielded an average of only 27 percent efficacy with four studies demonstrating vaccine efficacy at 0, 2, 8 and 9 percent. Poor vaccine efficacy can even occur when the vaccine virus is "essentially identical" to that virus which is causing the outbreak. For influenza B vaccine, studies conducted by Arden range from 0 percent to 36 percent effective, averaging 21 percent.


To justify its recommendation that all elderly persons receive flu shots, the CDC asserts in an April 21, 1995, MMWR article that, even though the vaccine does not prevent influenza very well, "the vaccine can be 50 percent to 60 percent effective in preventing hospitalization and pneumonia and 80 percent effective in preventing death."

This optimistic scenario is clouded by results of the congressionally mandated $69 million 1988-1992 Medicare Influenza Vaccine Demon stration Project. This study, intended to promote Medicare-funded flu shots, yielded, according to a 1993 MMWR report, a disappointing 31 percent to 45 percent effectiveness "in preventing hospitalization for any pneumonia" during three influenza seasons.

Results for the 1989-1990 season were described as "mixed at best," with "Medicare payments . . . significantly higher for those who had been vaccinated," noted Kidder and Schmitz in the 1993 report Options for the Control of Influenza II.

Government agencies "calculated" an economic benefit of flu shots to Medicare by manipulating numbers in a computerized simulation until desirable results were obtained. The CDC reported in 1993 that its theoretical assumptions did not include all vaccine-related costs. In 1994 and 1995, The New England Journal of Medicine published medical studies with similar economic claims for flu shots that had been funded by a vaccine manufacturer.

Several studies and government projections from the Department of Human and Health Services confirm that, with or without a flu shot, pneumonia and influenza hospitalization rates for the elderly are less than 1 percent during the influenza season. This means that, regardless of vaccination status, more than 99 percent of people weather a bout of flu without requiring hospitalization. Even the past director of CDC's National Immunization Program, Dr. Walter Orenstein, reported at a 1981 influenza conference that the "at risk" population for influenza complications is small."

Considering that more than 90 percent of pneumonia and influenza deaths occur in persons 65 years of age or older, but that about 65 percent of all deaths (from any cause) occur in this age group anyway, it is nearly impossible to prove if flu shots significantly increase life expectancy in the elderly. Indeed one study of elderly Medicare patients in Ohio and Pennsylvania, published in Options for the Control of Influenza II, showed "no demonstrated effect of influenza vaccine in preventing death or limiting the length of hospital stay."

Health authorities in other countries do not share the U.S. public health community's enthusiasm for influenza vaccine. At one CDC-sponsored influenza symposium a British researcher stated: "The [influenza vaccine] recommendations are strong in certain countries, but weak in others, since not all authorities are convinced of the benefit of immunization."

He deplored the "unsatisfactory situation" of poor influenza vaccine efficacy which "compares unfavorably with other influenza vaccines." Even CDC officials confessed that "influenza vaccines are still among the least effective immunizing agents available, and this seems to be particularly true for elderly recipients."

Congress and the American taxpayer have been defrauded about the alleged advantages of flu shots.

Instead of being an effective prevention, evidence indicates that flu shots may be useless. Although endorsed and funded by federal and state governments the shots seem only to benefit the companies that make them, public health bureaucrats who promote them, and medical personnel who administer them. 

Please distribute and post so every pregnant woman in America can read this!

(Critical Update 10/25/00 - All three of the flu vaccines for the 2000-2001 season still contain mercury. The CDC has since updated the link referred by my article below - it is no longer valid, but their new answer to the question who is most vulnerable to methyl mercury  is much more revealing: "Two groups are most vulnerable to methyl mercury: the fetus and pregnant women. Premature babies are more vulnerable because they tend to be very small and their brain is not as developed as a full term baby")

October 8, 1999

Flu Vaccine: Stay Out of My Womb!

Commentary by Dawn Richardson

Pregnant women everywhere know the feeling of making it to the milestone of their second trimester.  For most, queasiness starts to subside, energy returns in spurts, and of course there is that indescribable feeling of becoming aware of your developing baby's movements.

You've altered your diet, exercised, stayed away from over the counter medications, your true hair color is revealing itself, and that wonderful bottle of wine with the Surgeon General's warning will continue stay buried in the back of the refrigerator awaiting the skinnier days ahead.

You ask yourself, "Is there anything more that I can do for me and my baby during the remainder of my pregnancy?" Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the federal government's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) there is - get the flu vaccine before this year's flu season hits.  According to the CDC and ACIP, it was  estimated that an average of 1 to 2 hospitalizations among pregnant women could be prevented for every 1,000 pregnant women immunized. (Prevention and Control of Influenza: Recommendations of ACIP. MMWR - May 1, 1998; 47)

My initial pregnant maternally protective hormonal response to this was utter disbelief.   How could a biological pharmaceutical product be recommended for routine use for all healthy second and third trimester pregnant women?  As I looked into this further, I became outraged and inspired to share the truth with pregnant women so they could make up their own minds.  Here is what I found.

There are four drug manufacturers for this year's flu vaccine.  The product package inserts published by the manufacturers state the disclaimer that "Animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with influenza virus vaccine.  It is also not known whether influenza virus vaccine can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman...Although animal reproductive studies have not been conducted, the prescribing health-care provider should be aware of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices...The ACIP states that, if used during pregnancy, administration of influenza virus vaccine after 14 weeks of gestation may be preferable to avoid coincidental association of the vaccine with early pregnancy loss..."

Additional reading and phone calls to the manufacturers confirmed that all four flu vaccines contain thimerosal, a mercury derivative preservative banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in over-the-counter (OTC) drug preparations because of questions over safety. (Federal Register: April 22, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 77)][Page 19799-19802].

On July 7, 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the United States Public Health Service (PHS) issued a joint statement that because of the "neuro-developmental effects posed by exposure to thimerosal", "thimerosal-containing vaccines should be removed as soon as possible." The PHS and AAP recognized that because of thimerosal in vaccines, some children would be exposed to "a cumulative level of mercury over the first six months of life that exceeds one of the federal  guidelines on methyl mercury."   Hospitals around the country responded this summer by halting the administration of the thimerosal containing vaccine for hepatitis B at birth, deferring vaccination until the baby is older and more developed. What about my beloved little baby that isn't even developed enough to live outside the womb yet?

A quick internet search showed that even the CDC, in a revealing self-contradiction at another location, posted: "Q. Who is most vulnerable to mercury? A. Two groups are most vulnerable to methyl mercury: the fetus and children ages 14 and younger." (   More searching on the National Library of Medicine site almost effortlessly produced hundreds of articles and studies in medical and scientific journals clearly documenting the damaging effects of prenatal exposure to mercury.  The results of one recent study published in the August 1, 1999 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology stated that "the greatest susceptibility to methylmercury neurotoxicity occurs during late gestation, while early postnatal vulnerability is less" which is the precise point in time that ACIP and the CDC is recommending we get the shot.

I then decided to call the CDC's Influenza Division myself, as a pregnant mother baffled by this scientifically unfounded and potentially unsafe recommendation.  Maybe I was missing something that an "expert" could reveal for me.  I was told that there was no scientific proof that the flu vaccine caused fetal harm. Well of course not, the manufacturers are right up front when they state that this hasn't been studied - isn't that convenient.  I was also told that the CDC had no intention to change the recommendation for pregnant women because of thimerosal.  The doctor blamed the recent concerns on "politics" rather than science.  What a shame.

Even though the CDC does claim that a single study of a small number of pregnant women have demonstrated no adverse fetal effects associated with influenza vaccine; they continue and say, "however, more data are needed." Maybe this scientifically unsubstantiated recommendation is how the CDC plans on getting that data.  So much for the Nazi war criminal trials at Nuremberg outlawing human experimentation without informed consent.

While I would absolutely hate to be one of the 1 in 1000 pregnant women needing to go to the hospital for the flu this winter, at this point, I feel far more threatened by the public health bureaucrats recklessly willing to experiment on me and my unborn child with a flu vaccine not proven safe for my baby.
"Study: Giving Flu Vaccine Doesn't Save Money"
Tuesday October 3 3:16 PM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

for full article

...``Vaccination of healthy adults may not provide overall economic benefit, even in a well-paid population,'' Dr. Carolyn Buxton Bridges of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) (CDC) told reporters.

...During the 1997-1998 flu season, the first of the study, the vaccine did not match well with the flu virus that was going around and no benefit was found to vaccination.

...``But because influenza rates were low and the (resulting) costs were low, the average cost of vaccine ... in the vaccine group was $11.32 greater than the average cost of illness alone in the placebo group,'' Bridges said. ``Vaccination of this population did not result in a net cost saving from a societal perspective.''  The vaccine was estimated to have cost $10, while employee time was estimated, based on the average hourly wage at Ford, to be worth $29.39 per hour. The average cost of getting a shot was estimated to be $24.70.

Wednesday October 4 1:12 PM ET
Flu Shots Cut Misery, But Not Costs

By Amy Norton

for full article

"NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Employers who offer workers flu vaccines in the hopes of cutting sick days may not be saving money after all, new research suggests.

Experts agree that people at risk of flu complications, such as the elderly and the chronically ill, should get vaccinated every year. For healthy younger adults, vaccination is more about avoiding a few days of misery than preventing a serious health threat. And in terms of dollars, researchers have found, it is not a cost-effective choice..."

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