Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What If Flu Vaccines Can’t Really Protect Us?

By Ed Silverman // October 20th, 2009 // 7:07 am

The ongoing debate over vaccines is, not surprisingly, extended to swine flu now that a pandemic has been declared and, as The Atlantic points out, the US government has mounted its most ambitious vaccination program since the anti-polio campaign in the 1950s. Five companies, you may recall, were commissioned to produce enough vaccine to cover the entire US population.

The mag also reminds us that the CDC has recommended 159 million adults and children receive either a swine flu shot or a dose of MedImmune’s nasal vaccine this year. Shots are offered in doctors’ offices, hospitals, airports, pharmacies, schools, polling places, shopping malls, and big-box stores like Wal-Mart. And the federal government has spent upwards of $3 billion stockpiling millions of doses of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu—which are being used both to prevent swine flu and treat those who fall ill.

But then there are these questions: What if everything we think we know about fighting influenza is wrong? What if flu vaccines do not protect people from dying—particularly the elderly, who account for 90 percent of deaths from seasonal flu? And what if the expensive antiviral drugs that the government has stockpiled over the past few years also have little, if any, power to reduce the number of people who die or are hospitalized?

The government — with support from leaders in the public-health and medical communities — has put its faith in the power of vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread and lethality of swine flu. Yet some top flu researchers are deeply skeptical of both flu vaccines and antivirals. Like the engineers who warned for years about the levees of New Orleans, these experts caution that our defenses may be flawed, and quite possibly useless against a truly lethal flu. And so The Atlantic writes that, unless fundamental questions are asked about the science behind flu vaccines and antiviral drugs, the country could find itself, in a bad epidemic, as helpless as the citizens of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Provocative? Well, read more….


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