Notwithstanding the lack of science to support the statement, and no doubt prompted by the need for government agencies to show solidarity on public vaccine policy, the CDC and NIH subsequently published a joint statement claiming that the seasonal flu shot was the best way to protect old people from dying.
Ironically, and tellingly, while commenting on the lack of evidence that the vaccine was preventing deaths among the elderly and the observed increase in mortality, the NIH researchers in their 2005 study had also acknowledged the effectiveness of naturally acquired immunity at reducing mortality (emphasis added):
“The sharp decline in influenza-related deaths among people aged 65 to 74 years in the years immediately after A(H3N2) viruses emerged in the 1968 pandemic was most likely due to the acquisition of natural immunity to these viruses. Because of this strong natural immunization effect, by 1980, relatively few deaths in this age group (about 5000 per year) were left to prevent. We found a similar pattern in influenza-related mortality rates among persons aged 45 to 64 years, an age group with substantially lower vaccine coverage. Together with the flat excess mortality rates after 1980, this suggests that influenza vaccination of persons aged 45 to 74 years provided little or no mortality benefit beyond natural immunization acquired during the first decade of emergence of the A(H3N2) virus.”
The way the NIH’s joint statement with the CDC contrasted with its own research findings is a remarkable illustration of the institutionalized cognitive dissonance that exists when it comes to public vaccine policy.
The CDC’s Mortality Claims Further Debunked
Numerous additional studies have since been published highlighting the lack of credibility of the CDC’s claims about the vaccine’s effectiveness. A systematic review published in The Lancet in October 2005 found a “modest” effect of the vaccine on mortality, but its authors—which included lead author Tom Jefferson, a top researcher for the Cochrane Collaboration—cautioned that this finding must be interpreted in light of the apparent systemic bias of the observational studies. They likewise attributed the perceived effect of the vaccine to a difference in vaccination rates among the cohorts “and the resulting selection bias”.
Randomized controlled trials could minimize any such bias, they observed, but the evidence from such studies was “scant and badly reported.” Hence, placebo-controlled trials were needed to “clarify the effects of influenza vaccines in individuals”. The problem was that such studies were considered impossible “on ethical grounds” due to the fact that mass vaccination was already recommended as a matter of public policy.
In other words, the science wasn’t done before the CDC made its universal vaccination recommendation, and now they refuse to do the science on the grounds that government technocrats have already made up their minds that everyone aged six months and up should get an annual flu shot.
The lead author of the 2005 NIH study, Lone Simonsen, was also coauthor with W. Paul Glezen of a commentary in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2006 that reiterated the problems with the CDC’s claims. Although the vaccination rate for elderly people had increased by as much as 67 percent from 1989 to 1997, there was no evidence that vaccination reduced hospitalizations or deaths. On the contrary, “mortality and hospitalization rates continued to increase rather than decline”. The studies the CDC cited to support its claim of a dramatic reduction in mortality suffered from a selection bias that resulted in “substantial overestimation of vaccine benefits.”
A study in the International Journal of Epidemiology also published in 2006 confirmed the systemic selection bias of the observational studies. Its authors concluded that not only had the results of those studies indicated “preferential receipt of vaccine by relatively healthy seniors”, but that the magnitude of this demonstrated bias “was sufficient to account entirely for the associations observed”. (Emphasis added.)
Influenza vaccine researcher Peter Doshi followed up with a letter to the BMJ published in November 2006 under the headline “Influenza vaccination: policy versus evidence”. As he summed up the situation, “Not only is the evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of influenza vaccination lacking, but there are also reasons to doubt conventional estimates of the mortality burden of influenza.”
Furthermore, “influenza vaccines impose their own particular burden—to the tune of billions of dollars annually.”
Indeed, the very high cost of yearly vaccination for large parts of the population was among the considerations of a 2014 Cochrane meta-analysis that concluded that the results of a systematic review of existing studies “provide no evidence for the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure.”
A randomized controlled trial studying the cost effectiveness of influenza vaccination in healthy adults under aged 65 and published in JAMA in 2000 found that this practice “is unlikely to provide societal economic benefit in most years”—when, according to their data, it generated greater costs than to not vaccinate.
Peter Doshi followed up in 2013 with another BMJ commentary. After all those years, the CDC was still sticking to its claims. And yet, if the CDC’s claims were true, it would mean “that influenza vaccines can save more lives than any other single licensed medicine on the planet. Perhaps there is a reason CDC does not shout this from the rooftop: it’s too good to be true. Since at least 2005, non-CDC researchers have pointed out the seeming impossibility that influenza vaccines could be preventing 50% of all deaths from all causes when influenza is estimated to only cause around 5% of all wintertime deaths.”
Despite scientists pointing out the “healthy user bias” inherent in the observational studies that the CDC relied on to support its bold claims, “CDC does not rebut or in any other way respond to these criticisms.”
“If the observational studies cannot be trusted,” Doshi asked, “what evidence is there that influenza vaccines reduce deaths of older people—the reason the policy was originally created? Virtually none…. This means that influenza vaccines are approved for use in older people despite any clinical trials demonstrating a reduction in serious outcomes.” (Emphasis added.)