Health

Thursday 2 October 2014

Flu vaccine effectiveness exaggerated, scientists claim

The flu vaccine millions of people receive each year in Britain is "over-hyped" and "over-promoted", scientists have claimed.

Its effectiveness at protecting against the illness is said to have been exaggerated, especially regarding the amount of protection it provides to older people.

The belief that current flu jabs are highly effective is also stopping experts from producing better vaccines, a report published by the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota warned.

There was said to be a risk that people would stop trusting immunisation campaigns if Governments were not honest about the vaccine.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre and professor of environmental health sciences, told the Independent: “I have been a strong proponent of vaccination in general and flu vaccine in particular for many years. I still recommend its use as the best we have.

"But we have over-promoted this vaccine. For certain age groups in some years its effectiveness has been severely limited relative to what has been previously reported.”

One expert suggested the Government should be held to account for “wasting taxpayer’s money” on the annual £120m national campaign waged to encourage public uptake of the vaccination.

Every year a World Health Organisation expert group decides which three strains of flu should be contained in the seasonal vaccine against the illness, with the aim of providing the best match to the strains predicted to be in circulation.

The CIDRAP report found that the flu jabs given in the UK provided 59% protection in healthy adults aged between 18 and 64 but that there were no decent studies proving its effectiveness in people aged 65 and over.

Several experts, including the former chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, have warned that this winter's flu season could be severe after serious outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand during the southern hemisphere winter.

By Rosa Silverman Telegraph.co.uk

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