Many people debate every year whether or not to get the flu shot. And for some, news reports that proclaim the flu vaccine not only prevents the flu but also prevents heart disease, make getting a flu shot seem like a no-brainer. These research findings, which were released by the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, concluded that a flu shot can reduce the risk of a major cardiac event by 50% and cardiac death by 40%.
While these findings may appear positive on the surface, I wouldn’t use heart protection as your reason to get a flu shot. This study was an extremely small meta-analysis of 3,227 patients from previously published clinical trials. Plus, the studies they examined dated back to the 1960s. Until a larger more comprehensive study is conducted using current vaccine technology, I wouldn’t put much stock in these findings.
Plus, there are other serious issues with the flu shot. From my observations over the years, people who get flu shots experience colds and flu as much as people who pass on them. I’ve never been impressed.
Flu shot effectiveness is a pretty dubious proposition, no matter what your doctor says. I read a British Medical Journal review of multiple studies relating to flu shot efficacy that concluded that shots have “little or no effect.” The article said most of the medical studies on the subject are poorly designed and contain many confusing factors and biases that make it difficult to determine the true effectiveness. The difference between the predictions and the reality of the actual effects of flu shots on hospital admissions, death rates, and time off work was “striking,” in the opinion of the author.
This negative report also brought to mind a review I read in 2005 by a group of researchers at the National Institutes of Health. They looked over flu shot results going back decades, and they couldn’t find any connection between increasing vaccination coverage after 1980 and declining mortality rates in any age group. To them, the benefits have been “substantially” overestimated.
Would I recommend flu shots for anyone at all? I do recommend a flu vaccine for severely compromised patients, like those in nursing homes. I also highly recommend the vaccine for those with a chronic respiratory illness, such as emphysema or bronchitis, as those patients have the most to gain and the least to lose.
As far as a vaccine for COVID-19 goes, research continues to look for a safe, therapeutic solution. Time will tell. Hopefully, like the polio vaccine developed several decades ago, the medical and scientific communities will develop a safe and therapeutic remedy that will have an overwhelming reward-to-risk ratio.