A recent study published in the journal Vaccine has shown that vaccine effectiveness can vary widely based upon the age of the patient. The research intended on demonstrating the efficacy of pandemic flu vaccines, but instead revealed something far more telling: vaccines are not useful for those that are generally considered to be some of the most vulnerable people in our population.
Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is well aware of this dichotomy: The agency notes that vaccines work best in healthy adults and children, and writes, “Older people with weaker immune systems often have a lower protective immune response after flu vaccination compared to younger, healthier people. This can result in lower vaccine effectiveness in these people.”
This recent study, which was a multinational collaborative effort that was led by researchers from the University of Nottingham, has shown that adults over the age of 50 were substantially less likely to obtain any benefit from vaccination. Vaccines containing an adjuvant — an additive intended to provoke the immune system — actually displayed the least degree of benefit. The researchers posit that this reduced efficacy may be due the fact that adults are more likely to already have developed antibodies to a similar strain of the flu virus, which they note also corresponds to a lower rate of flu virus infection within the age group.
The finding goes along with previous research that has demonstrated vaccines have very little to offer older populations — despite the widespread belief that vaccines are always effective for everyone.
Sharyl Attkisson reported on a similar phenomenon in 2015. Attkisson writes that as it was described to her, “Public health experts long assumed flu shots were effective in the elderly. But, paradoxically, all the studies done failed to demonstrate a benefit. Instead of considering that they, the experts, could be wrong – instead of believing the scientific data – the public health experts assumed the studies were wrong.”
Attkisson reports that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) set out to conduct a study that would definitely prove the effectiveness of vaccines in the elderly, but again what they found was much to their own dismay. No matter how they tried to frame it, vaccines simply did not appear to confer benefits to older populations. In fact, their research illustrated quite the opposite: widespread flu vaccination seemed to coincide with a marked increase in mortality among older Americans. The researchers stated in their discussion of their findings, “Our findings indicate that the mortality benefits of influenza vaccination may be substantially less than previously thought…”
A meta-analysis of several studies that was published more than a decade ago claimed that flu vaccines prevented up to half of all winter deaths in senior citizens. Unsurprisingly, this finding has been heavily scrutinized. For example, research has shown that only an average of 1,000 seniors succumb to the flu each season to begin with — which is approximately 5 percent of all excess winter deaths in the elderly. So how can the flu shot prevent 50 percent of all winter deaths, when the flu only causes 5 percent of those deaths to begin with? (RELATED: Keep up with the latest vaccine research at Vaccines.news)
As Scientific American explains, much of this so-called “data” on the flu vaccine’s efficacy is now being attributed to what is known as the “healthy user effect.” To put it simply, very sick and frail elderly people usually do not get vaccinated, because the risk is too great. When it comes to the elderly, unvaccinated individuals are often quite sick to begin with. People who chose to get flu shots are usually healthy and are more likely to survive anyway — even before they get vaccinated.
Studies have also shown that vaccines may not be very effective in young children either. A 2012 Cochrane Collaboration review concluded that in children under the age of 2, vaccines were not significantly more effective at preventing the flu than a placebo. Cochrane group analyses also suggested that in children over the age of 2, vaccination relayed a mere 3.6 percent reduction in absolute risk of getting the flu. With all the risks surrounding the flu shot, does it still seem worth it?