Unless you’ve been on Mars for the majority of the past twelve months you’d have heard about the H1N1 virus also called swine flu. In reaction to this perceived “killer” virus, authorities across the world ordered mass doses of a vaccine against the virus in an effort to save the people from the terror of influenza. As things turned out there was no danger and several authorities in the northern hemisphere have scaled back their orders substantially.
Actually most recent figures from the USA show that this flu season was especially mild with much less cases than normal. The Australian government was unable to cut back its purchase and hence has a great deal of vaccine in storage. It’s looking to eliminate this by another scare campaign about second waves (which can be tricky when there was no initial wave). Through all this however there hasn’t been some questioning of the fundamental assumption that giving individuals a flu vaccine protects them from influenza and that in turn they and society benefit.
Many nations have annual flu vaccination plans for those over 65. Some of them have been going for several years. It was with some interest then it appeared recently that there isn’t actually any evidence to demonstrate that this does any good! The well-respected Cochrane collaboration released a report, which looked at 75 studies over a 40-year period.
It was that “The available evidence is of poor quality and gives no guidance about the safety, efficacy or efficacy of influenza vaccines in people aged 65 years or older”. In simple terms after 40 years we don’t know if giving individuals over 65 a flu vaccine does any good or any harm. Now to be honest there is not anything whatsoever to suggest that there’s any harm done though the protection of its use hasn’t been proved. Also it may be that nobody has been able to discover the evidence of benefit though it can be there.
However after 40 years and 75 research on a trivial medical procedure you’d expect evidence of advantage to be apparent. The premise that because it involves vaccination it has to be good isn’t a scientific position but one of religion. Interestingly it’s precisely the sort of criticism that is leveled at those opposed to vaccines by health authorities and physicians. Unfortunately “disagreements” over vaccination create heat and no light as positions are entrenched and truth are of little interest.
Some medications are more useful than others. Those, which are revealed to be not helpful, go out of use. Medical procedures also, become superseded. There’s absolutely not any reason that the same logic should not apply to vaccination. Those, which are proven to be useful, should be continued. Those where there isn’t demonstrated to be benefit shouldn’t. Last year serious questions were raised over the papiloma virus vaccine (promoted as the Cervical Cancer vaccine).
How long it lasts in the system is cloudy,and by giving it to 13 year old it might have worn off by the time they need protection. Also there’s the lingering question about whether your system will ordinarily clear the virus anyway. An Australian report revealed that following the coming of the Chicken Pox vaccine there was an increase in the rate of hospitalization of the elderly with Shingles, which is caused by the same virus. This led a call for a different vaccine program. Whilst there was a decrease in cases of chicken pox, in kids this is hardly a enormous achievement as it is basically a minor childhood illness (yes there may be complications but this is uncommon ). The bottom line is that this things.
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Governments spend large amounts of money on vaccine applications. There is in many cases some compulsion about being vaccinated and penalties for not doing this. This doesn’t happen with any other area of medicine. Assessments made on the basis of facts, not preconceived notions, religion in vaccines, or resistance to vaccines is needed. Those, which are proven to have benefits outweighing risks, are worth doing. Those where this isn’t true, aren’t worth continuing. Vaccination is a medical and public health issue. It’s not a sacred cow. Programs will need to be assessed, criticized and altered or stopped if not found to be of advantage. Justification on the premise that vaccination, of itself, is great is no better an argument than vaccination, of itself, is bad.