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Vote Up Vote Down

Should You Get the Flu Shot? Your Physical & Financial Health is on the Line

by John S Kiernan on December 20, 2013

Flu ShotLadies and gentlemen, it’s flu season. That’s great news for the good folks at Kleenex, but the rest of us have to deal with runny noses, congestion, and the threat of serious illness as we navigate falling temperatures and the annual germ exchange more commonly known as the holiday shopping season.

Such is why we find ourselves each year wondering whether or not to get the flu shot. It’s an age-old question borne from significant historical need, advances in medical technology and, last but not least, a whole lot of money.

The federal government spends billions of dollars on flu prevention annually in an effort to mitigate the roughly $87 billion hit that influenza takes on the U.S. economy each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The stakes are high on the personal level too, as a flu shot will run you an average of $35 and even insured individuals who get the flu can expect to pay around $130 on treatment. A recent CDC study also found that parents with a flu-stricken child can expect to spend $300 - $4,000 on health care and miss 11 – 73 hours of work, depending on if hospitalization is required.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Consumers must weigh the benefit of possibly preventing serious illness against any potential risks.

And while the flu shot has been marketed as a must-have no-brainer, we clearly aren't convinced. Only 45% of Americans got a flu shot last year, and we can expect similar use of the roughly 145 million doses prepared for this year's flu season, judging from the range of common excuses people have for avoiding the vaccine.

Common Flu Shot Excuses

(Source: RAND Corp., 2011)

So, who is right? Is the flu vaccine effective or just a waste of money?

Ask The Experts: WalletHub Health Survey

WalletHub decided to look into this matter after we came across a Newsmax Health article that made some pretty serious allegations about the impact of the flu vaccine.

“Not only is the vaccine not safe,” the article reads, “it doesn't even work.” The article goes on to quote a neurosurgeon named Dr. Russell Blaylock, author of “The Blaylock Wellness Report.” “The vaccine is completely worthless,” he says, “and the government knows it.”

This obviously piqued our interest, considering the close ties between physical, mental, and financial health as well as the flu’s various ramifications for our wallets. In search of answers, WalletHub surveyed representatives from each state’s department of health as well as infectious disease experts from a top medical school in each state. The following questions were posed:

Questions Posed to Infectious Disease Experts Questions Posed to State Depts. of Health
Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no? Do you recommend that citizens get the flu shot - yes or no?
Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no? Is the governor getting the flu shot this year - yes or no?
How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects? What percentage of the state population typically gets the flu shot?
When would it be wise to get a flu shot? Is there any additional commentary that you would like to provide in relation to the state's stance on flu vaccinations?
When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?
What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Aside from a curious overall reluctance to comment on the issue, a few trends emerged from this exercise.

For starters, we only received two expert votes against the average consumer getting the flu shot, and all of the responding state departments of health advocate the vaccine. This indicates either a herd mentality in support of the status quo or, more likely, that mainstream notions about the flu shot’s benefits are accurate. The experts we consulted recommend the shot for pretty much anyone who is more than six months old and does not have any allergies to the vaccination.

Expert Responses: Should the Average Person Get the Flu Shot?

In addition, while the flu shot's value to seniors is not cut-and-dried, most of the experts we consulted recommend that older individuals get one each year.

“It is indeed true that the current vaccines are not as effective at preventing illness in older adults. But until we have newer ones that can overcome the problems of waning immunity with age, which is a natural phenomenon, then there is no question that the risk/benefit of annual vaccination greatly favors vaccination,” says Dr. Lucy Tompkins, the Lucy Becker Professor in Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “Moreover, there is a new vaccine which induces heightened immunity and is more effective for those over 65 years. We need to know more about the defects in the immune response in aged individuals in order to formulate more effective vaccines.”

It is also important to note that the overarching sentiment among infectious disease experts regarding Dr. Blaylock – the “expert” quoted in the aforementioned Newsmax Health piece – is decidedly unfavorable.

“Dr. Russell Blaylock is notorious for making statements that are extreme (and not always factual) related to the science of an issue,” according to Dr. John D. Cleary, professor emeritus of pharmacy practice at the University of Mississippi. “Specifically, he is often taking an anti-establishment claim without the science to support.”

Dr. Matthias J. Schnell, director of the Jefferson Vaccine Center, says Dr. Blaylock has “no idea what he is talking about.” While the flu vaccine isn’t 100% efficient, according to Schnell, “it’s still better than nothing.” Furthermore, he says that “vaccinating everybody will indirectly protect the older people, where the vaccine is not working as well.”

And as Dr. Emanuel Goldman, professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, notes, "This is the same guy who debunks the cholesterol-heart disease connection, discredits soy foods, etc. That does not inspire confidence in his judgement."

Ultimately, while it appears that getting the flu shot is the right choice for most people, if for no other reason than a lack of better options, questions about its overall effectiveness remain. Dr. Peter Doshi of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is a prominent influenza researcher whose findings Newsmax used to lend credibility to its assertions. While the article makes it seem as if Doshi’s findings indicate rampant dangers associated with the flu vaccine, he says that his research focuses only on whether or not the vaccine delivers exactly what is promised.

“The vaccine is promoted as a life-saving intervention, and all I’m saying is that there are very limited proven benefits and the vaccine is not risk free,” Doshi told WalletHub in a recent interview. “The vaccine is frequently promoted in ways that give consumers the impression that it’s a risk free intervention, but various unanticipated harms have occurred from this vaccine in recent years. That doesn’t mean that they’re common. It doesn’t mean that they’re predictable. But that they have occurred.”

On the other hand, there are people like Dr. James S. Koopman, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, who believes the flu vaccine “very clearly and very strongly works to stop transmission among young people.” According to Koopman, the targeting of the vaccine – and not the vaccine itself – is what is problematic.

“The focus of vaccination should not be old people but young people,” he says. “I have believed that for more than 40 years and I have been extremely frustrated by the bureaucracy that sets vaccination policy over those 40 years. Effects are minimal if the vaccine is solely directed to old people. But evidence of negative effects is weak as well.”

Bottom Line

The flu shot is neither a panacea, nor is it recommended for everyone, but most experts believe in its effectiveness as far as the average person is concerned. In fact, the more people who get the flu shot, the better off we are as a society. As Gary A. Emmett, clinical professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College, notes in regard to the much-discussed research calling the flu shot into question, "It showed that [the flu shot] protected the community, not the individual. And since shots work by the herd effect, it is still very valuable."

If you’re interested in checking out the results of our expert survey in more detail, you can find a breakdown of the responses below.

State Departments of Health

State Name Do You Recommend That Citizens Get the Flu Shot? Is the Governor Getting the Flu Shot This Year?
Alabama YES Each year he usually does.
Alaska YES Yes, he is planning to get a flu shot.
Arizona YES N/A
Arkansas Yes. I would recommend that anyone over 6 months of age be immunized annually for influenza, unless there are medical contraindications such as life-threatening allergic reaction. N/A
California Yes, the California Department of Public Health recommends that all individuals six months of age or older get a flu vaccination. A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in preventing influenza. It’s important to remember that unlike other vaccine preventable diseases, it is necessary to get a flu vaccine every year. The vaccine is widely available now. N/A
Colorado YES Yes, Governor Hickenlooper has received a flu shot.
Delaware YES YES
Florida The Florida Department of Health encourages Floridians to seek an annual flu vaccination for themselves and their family members (aged 6 months and older) for three important reasons. Flu vaccine 1) prevents influenza-related death, 2) prevents severe illness, and 3) helps protect others.
The Department recommends Floridians contact their healthcare provider to determine if they are a candidate to receive a flu vaccination. If yes, the provider will help identify the most appropriate vaccine option for them (shot or spray).
N/A
Hawaii YES Yes, Governor got his flu shot this year on Oct. 15.
Idaho YES Yes. The Governor is scheduled to get a flu shot in December.
Illinois IDPH and CDC recommend everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. The Governor received his flu shot on September 27, 2013
Indiana YES Yes he is. On Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013
Iowa Yes, IDPH joins the CDC is recommending all Iowans 6 months of age and older receive the flu vaccination. YES
Kansas Yes, like the CDC , KDHE recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive the flu vaccine unless the patient’s healthcare provider recommends against it for medical reasons. The state health officer, Dr. Robert Moser, M.D., has received his flu vaccine.
Kentucky YES Yes, has already received one
Louisiana YES N/A
Maine Yes, we follow the federal CDC recommendations that everyone between 6 months through 64 years of age get an annual influenza vaccination. N/A
Maryland YES Yes. He plans to get his shot.
Massachusetts YES YES
Michigan YES N/A
Mississippi YES N/A
Nebraska YES N/A
New Hampshire Yes, the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services recommends that all persons aged > 6 months should be vaccinated against influenza annually, especially those who are at increased risk for severe complications from influenza. This group includes women who are pregnant. We also encourage individuals who live with or care for persons at higher risk for influenza-related complications be vaccinated. Yes, Governor Maggie Hassan has received a flu shot.
New Mexico YES YES
New York YES N/A
North Carolina YES N/A
North Dakota YES N/A
Ohio We definitely recommend that people get flu vaccines, unless their healthcare provider feels that they should not because of their individual situation. As for talking points, the attached are documents from the CDC Yes, Governor John R. Kasich did get his flu shot.
Oklahoma YES N/A
Oregon YES N/A
Pennsylvania YES N/A
Rhode Island Yes, the Rhode Island Department of Health strongly recommends that all Rhode Islanders be vaccinated against the flu. N/A
South Dakota YES Yes, of course.
Tennessee YES YES
Texas YES N/A
Utah Yes. The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) encourages all Utahns 6+ months of age to receive an annual influenza vaccination. N/A
Virginia Yes, the Virginia Department of Health strongly recommends that all citizens, 6 months of age and older get vaccinated. N/A
Washington YES The governor plans to be vaccinated against the flu.
Wisconsin YES N/A
Wyoming Yes, we recommend that almost everyone older than 6 months should get a seasonal flu vaccine each year. Keep in mind there are flu vaccine options that aren’t shots. Yes. He is planning to get a flu shot.
District of Columbia YES Mayor Vincent C. Gray usually gets a flu shot.

Infectious Disease Experts

School Expert Are You Getting the Flu Shot This Year? Should the Average Person Get the Flu Shot?
UAB School of Medicine Robert F. Pass, M.D. YES YES
Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine Neil J. Sargentini, Ph.D. YES YES
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Nathaniel Smith, M.D., M.P.H YES YES
Stanford University School of Medicine Lucy Tompkins, M.D. YES YES
Stanford University School of Medicine Dean Winslow, M.D. Yes - got it YES
University of Colorado School of Medicine Randall E. Reves, M.D. YES YES
Yale School of Medicine Sukanya Narasimhan, Ph.D. YES YES
Jefferson Medical College Matthias J. Schnell, Ph.D. YES YES
Jefferson Medical College Emmett, Gary A., M.D., FAAP YES YES
University of Florida College of Pharmacy Charles Peloquin, Pharm.D. YES YES
University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine Raul C. Rudoy, M.D. YES YES
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine H Steven Seifert, Ph.D. YES NO
IUPUI Department of Medicine Herbert E. Cushing, M.D. YES YES
University of Kentucky College of Medicine Beth A. Garvy, Ph.D. YES YES
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Richard E. Chaisson, M.D. YES YES
University of Michigan School of Public Health Arnold S. Monto, M.D. Yes, already got it. YES
University of Michigan School of Public Health James S. Koopman, M.D., M.P.H. YES YES
The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy John D. Cleary, Pharm.D. YES YES
The University of Mississippi Medical Center Leandro A. Mena, M.D. YES YES
The Nebraska Medical Center Trevor VanSchooneveld, M.D. YES YES
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth Azizul Haque, Ph.D. Yes, I am getting the flu shot because I fall into high-risk group of older age The way flu vaccination is organized in the USA seems flawed. I do not recommend mass flu vaccination especially for the healthy adults.
However, the populations at risk like senior persons and people who are suffering from chronic illnesses should be encouraged to get the flu shot. The children who are around 3 years of age can be considered for flu immunization (younger children like 6 months old ones may not be able to stimulate strong immunity against the influenza virus when vaccinated, however, further investigation is needed to answer this question).
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth David A. Leib Ph.D. YES YES
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School Emanuel Goldman, Ph.D. Yes, already received. Also, required by my employer. Yes. I think it's of value. My two children received flu mist (rather than a shot).
Columbia University Department of Medicine Michael Parry, M.D. YES YES
University of Pittsburgh Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics JoAnne L. Flynn, Ph.D. Yes, of course. Absolutely, and I always recommend this to people
Brown University Division of Biology & Medicine Paul M. Knopf YES YES
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine William Schaffner, M.D. Yes, I have received it. YES
UT Southwestern Medical Center Nicolai Van Oers, Ph.D. YES YES
University of Washington School of Medicine Paul Stuart Pottinger, M.D., D.T.M.&H. Of course. I am already vaccinated this year. Of course, every American should be vaccinated every year in keeping with ACIP guidelines.
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Richard Reich, M.D. YES YES
University of Washington School of Medicine Robert D. Harrington, M.D. YES YES

Detailed Expert Responses

Robert F. PassRobert F. Pass - UAB School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

The flu shot's effectiveness can vary from year to year. It is around 70% effective for preventing significant illness due to influenza. Most influenza illness and hospitalizations occur in young children, and a large proportion of these can be prevented if children >6 months receive the flu shot and if immunization rates in adults who have contact with children are high.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

As soon as they are available each fall.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

There are different types of flu shot. There are specific circumstances in which a child should not receive the live attenuated influenza vaccine; that vaccine is approved only for children 2-4 years of age. There are also circumstances in which the standard trivalent inactivated flu vaccine should not be given to someone; these contraindications are listed in the prescribing information for the vaccine (package insert). The most common contraindication to receipt of the inactivated flu vaccine is severe egg allergy.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

I would hesitate to comment on a quote that could have been taken out of context. I have never heard of Dr. Blaylock or NewsMax Health. The validity of such claims should be based on scientific evidence and not on the opinion of an individual. Whether or not flu vaccine prevents pneumonia, hospitalization and death in elderly nursing home recipients, it plays a vital role in reducing influenza disease frequency in the population. The benefit of influenza vaccination for society will be greatest if we achieve universal vaccination of children and as many adults as possible.


Neil SargentiniNeil J. Sargentini - Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Effectiveness is good.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

A month preceding the annual flu season. October-November in the midwest US.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Flu clinics freely provide guideleines on when to avoid a flu shot, e.g., people with allergy to egg products.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

I would disagree with Dr. Blaylock's claim that flu vaccine doesn't even work. It is efficacious at preventing influenza disease. This alone is a benefit. It is well-known that influenza predisposes individuals to other respiratory disease such as bacterial pneumonia, so I am suspicious of Dr. Blaylock's entire statement.


Nathaniel SmithNathaniel Smith - University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Influenza vaccination is the most effective way to reduce the risk of influenza in individuals and in communities. Each year in the US, influenza causes more infections, illness and deaths than any other vaccine preventable disease.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

In the fall, when influenza vaccine becomes available.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

The only mistake would be to wait too long to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated after you have already been infected would not be helpful.


Lucy TompkinsLucy Tompkins - Stanford University School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

I am a strong advocate for annual influenza vaccination. The data which Dr. Doshi uses is misinterpreted.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

In the fall when vaccine is available.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Only if you have a serious allergy to eggs or if you have had Guillain Barre syndrome.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

It is indeed true that the current vaccines are not as effective at preventing illness in older adults. But until we have newer ones that can overcome the problems of waning immunity with age, which is a natural phenomenon, then there is no question that the risk/benefit of annual vaccination greatly favors vaccination.

Moreover, there is a new vaccine which induces heightened immunity and is more effective for those over 65 years. We need to know more about the defects in the immune response in aged individuals in order to formulate more effective vaccines.


Dean WinslowDean Winslow - Stanford University

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

The flu vaccine is safe and effective, although efficacy varies some year to year depending on the match between strains chosen for inclusion in the vaccine and those which actually circulate widely during the flu season.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Late summer/early fall -- as soon as the vaccine is available.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Almost never.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

It is nonsense. The vaccine is safe and effective.


Randall RevesRandall E. Reves - University of Colorado School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Fairly effective.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Yes.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Very rarely.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Misleading.


yale school of medicineSukanya Narasimhan - Yale School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

As long as one is healthy with no other indications, the flu shot is useful to keep virus reservoirs low.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

At the beginning of the season.


Matthias SchnellMatthias J. Schnell - Jefferson Medical College

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

As soon as they get available, which is around October 2013 (sometimes later, sometimes earlier).

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Dr. Blaylock obviously has no idea what he is talking about. The flu vaccine is safe. What is true is that the flu vaccine is not 100% efficient, but it's still better than nothing and as more people get it, more are protected. Vaccinating everybody will indirectly protect the older people, where the vaccine is not working as well.


Gary EmmettGary A. Emmett- Jefferson Medical College

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

It showed that it protected the community, not the individual. And since shots work by the herd effect, it is still very valuable.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

He is misinterpreting the data.


Charles PeloquinCharles Peloquin - University of Florida College of Pharmacy

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Good.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

As soon as available in the fall.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

If you currently have a cold or other active infection that is occupying your immune system.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Dr. Blaylock is neither an infectious disease expert nor a vaccine expert. I'm making nothing of the comments.


Raul RudoyRaul C. Rudoy - University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Adverse effects are minor compared to the Sx of the disease. Vaccine effectiveness varies depending upon the type of vaccine, age and general health.
Healthy adults 24-65 years old achieve 80-85% protection.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

As soon as the vaccine is available.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

When the patient has clearly defined contraindications such as Hx of Guillian Barre or anaphylaxis after a previous vaccine shot.


Steven SeifertH Steven Seifert - Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

No.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Generally effective.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Fall.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

After Janurary.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

He is a gadfly who seeks attention as a naysayer.


Herbert CushingHerbert E. Cushing - IUPUI Department of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Flu shot effectiveness varies from year to year depending on the circulating strains, but in general flu shots diminish the burden of influenza disease in the general population.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

As soon as they become available for the season.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

If one is allergic to a component of the vaccine. I also do not recommend influenza vaccination with a live attenuated virus for imunocompromised patients.


Beth GarvyBeth A. Garvy - University of Kentucky College of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

There are plenty of studies that indicate the vaccine is effective in years that the the vaccine and the circulating viruses are a match. It isn’t perfect, at best 60-80% effective, and databases such as the Cochrane database has been used to both support and decry the use of the vaccines.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

High-risk individuals, including those less than 5 and greater than 65 years of age.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

If there are contraindications, such as allergy to egg products.


Richard ChaissonRichard E. Chaisson - Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Effectiveness varies by year, strains and individuals. Toxicity has been well-studied.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

It would be a bad idea to get a flu shot if you are acutely ill or allergic to it.

 


Arnold MontoArnold S. Monto - University of Michigan School of Public Health

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes, already got it.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?
  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

In autumn.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

If you are alergic to eggs.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

This is nonsense and dangerous. Very unscientific propaganda.


Jim KoopmanJames S. Koopman - University of Michigan School of Public Health

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

That research reveals apalling ignorance of direct and indirect effects. It is true that in old people like myself the level of vaccine protection is minimal. Work in our department by Arnold Monto and his team reveals that, in fact, it is possible that an annual immunization may not be the best strategy for old folks, as it may have a temporary negative effect.

But flu is a devastating illness on a population level, and its spread can be very clearly diminished through vaccination. This issue, however, is that it is young people, not old people, who do most of the spreading. Vaccinating the young people could save many millions of lives in old people.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Before the flu season.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Despite the negative evidence from our department, I believe the weight of evidence for young people or old is that it is never a bad idea to get a flu shot unless you have a demonstrable negative effect from them.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Negative effects in such studies are not a basis on which to condemn flu vaccination in general. I do believe, however, that the focus of vaccination should not be old people but young people. I have believed that for more than 40 years, and I have been extremely frustrated by the bureaucracy that has set vaccination policy over those 40 years. Effects are minimal if the vaccine is solely directed to old people. But evidence of negative effects is weak as well.


John ClearyJohn D. Cleary - The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

First, Dr. Russell Blaylock is notorious for making statements that are extreme (and not always factual) related to the science of an issue. Specifically, he is often taking an anti-establishment claim without the science to support.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

With any immunization, it is best to get the vaccine prior to exposure to the infectious disease.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

It is never a mistake to get the vaccine. It is important to get the correct vaccine (live vs inactivated, source, etc.).

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Vaccines have historically been very effective and have saved thousands of lives IN the patients whose infection was prevented. Those lives were associated with deaths related to secondary bacterial infections.


Leandro MenaLeandro A. Mena - The University of Mississippi Medical Center

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Beneficial.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Before flu season starts. In October, but otherwise as soon as possible.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

When contraindicated because of allergies or any other medical condition.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

That comment is biased and neglects significant scientific evidence that supports the influenza immunization as good public health practice.


Trevor VanSchooneveldTrevor VanSchooneveld - The Nebraska Medical Center

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

The flu vaccine is the most effective method for preventing influenza.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

When you can safely receive it.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

When you have a severe allergy to the vaccine or have had a previous reaction to the vaccine.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

As mentioned above, the flu vaccine is the most effective method we have for preventing influenza. No vaccine is 100% effective and unfortunately in those who are elderly it may be even less effective. New vaccine technologies have been and are being developed to improve the effectiveness, but again we don’t have anything that is more effective. We would love to have something that prevents influenza 100% of the time, but must work with the tools we have.

Dr. Blaylock’s comments regarding toxicity and mercury lack scientific support and border on fear-mongering. The amount of mercury in a flu vaccine is less than that of a can of tuna. The mercury is also in a different form which is rapidly excreted from the body as opposed to the form present in the environment. I would challenge those who speak against the influenza vaccine to provide advice on safer and more effective methods for influenza prevention.


Azizul Haque - Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes, I am getting the flu shot because I fall into high-risk group of older age.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

The way flu vaccination is organized in the U.S. seems flawed. I do not recommend mass flu vaccination especially for the healthy adults. However, the populations at risk, like senior persons and people who are suffering from chronic illnesses, should be encouraged to get the flu shot. The children who are around 3 years of age can be considered for flu immunization (younger children like 6 months old ones may not be able to stimulate strong immunity against the influenza virus when vaccinated; however, further investigation is needed to answer this question).

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects

This is not a new debate, such concerns had been directed to vaccines to many other infections over the years. The question is whether the benefits outweigh the risk. The effectiveness of the vaccine against the seasonal influenza virus may vary year-to-year because the vaccine strain may not always match against all the strains circulating in the season, and viral strains can evolve and change within the course of a single season. Obviously, constant surveillance of the type of seasonal strains and efforts to make more effective influenza vaccines need to be undertaken. Scientifically, there is a scope for making better and safer flu vaccines.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

At the beginning of autumn.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

When people have severe and acute health issues or when they are known to be allergic to egg products, they should avoid getting flu shot.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

While vaccines don't offer 100% protection against the flu, one of the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated. It is well accepted that flu vaccines cannot cause influenza infection or illness because the viruses used to make them are "inactivated" and are not infectious. Each vaccine formulation has to undergo robust clinical trials to evaluate efficacy and safety.

Dr. Russell Blaylock expressed concern regarding neurotoxicity that might be induced by Thimerosal (TH), an ethylmercury complex of thiosalicylic acid used as a preservative in the inactivated influenza vaccines. A recent pharmacokinetic study supports the acknowledged safety of thimerosal when used as a preservative at current levels in inactivated influenza multidose infant vaccines. Further, in vitro studies showed neurotoxicity effect of TH could only occur when it is present in very high concentration, which is not the case with the currently used influenza vaccines.


David LeibDavid A. Leib - Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

It is effective. Not perfect, but effective.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Every year.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

If you are allergic to eggs or have a bona fide immune disorder.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

It’s complete rubbish. This man has no expertise in virology, immunology or medicine.


Emanuel GoldmanEmanuel Goldman - Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes, already received. Also, required by my employer.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes. I think it's of value. My two children received flu mist (rather than a shot).

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

A careful reading of Doshi's criticisms does not support rejection of the vaccine at this time. One can always find flaws in any approach. Flu can be deadly, and risk-benefit analysis clearly supports administering the vaccine.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Beginning of flu season, i.e., the fall.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Anyone with a weakened immune system maybe should not get the vaccine, but I would defer to an expert's opinion on that.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Exaggeration. This is the same guy who debunks the cholesterol-heart disease connection, discredits soy foods, etc. That does not inspire confidence in his judgement.


Michael ParryMichael Parry - Columbia University Department of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Very beneficial with very few side effects.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

September or October.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Never.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

You really don’t want me to respond to this. This is doing a disservice to every vulnerable patient.


JoAnne-FlynnJoAnne L. Flynn - University of Pittsburgh Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes, of course.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Absolutely, and I always recommend this to people.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

The data over the past decades have shown the value of a flu shot in not only protecting against this years seasonal flu, but providing some cross protection against influenza in other years.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

September or October, but it is never too late.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

It is never a mistake to get a flu shot — the injected vaccine is inactive and does not cause disease.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

I think he is drawing conclusions from studies that have an alternative agenda. Overall, there are many, many studies showing degrees of protection — and even if it was low (the 1/3 they suggest) that is better than nothing. However, the elderly are difficult to vaccinate effectively — so all other people must be vaccinated to prevent transmission of the infection, including and most importantly children. This will protect the elderly by reducing the amount of virus circulating, and there is an additional protective advantage for vaccination in the elderly.


Paul KnopfPaul M. Knopf - Brown University Division of Biology & Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.


William SchaffnerWilliam Schaffner - Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes, I have received it.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

The influenza vaccine is a good, but not perfect vaccine. It will prevent many influenza illnesses completely. Among those who do not receive complete protection, it will often make the illness milder, preventing the complications of influenza: pneumonia, hospitalization and death. Influenza can strike even robust, healthy people and make them gravely ill.

Research, year after year, indicates that the influenza vaccine is extremely safe. Other than some local side effects (sore arm, tenderness), serious adverse reactions are very rare.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Now is the time to get influenza vaccine.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Contraindications to a flu shot are rare. Persons with concerns should check with their doctors.


Nicolai Van OersNicolai Van Oers - UT Southwestern Medical Center

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Effective, except perhaps for the elderly, more because their immune responses are less effective.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

OCT/NOV.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

No mistake.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Still valuable for preventing widespread dissemination.


Paul Stuart PottingerPaul Stuart Pottinger - University of Washington School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Of course i am already vaccinated this year.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Of course, every American should be vaccinated every year in keeping with ACIP guidelines.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Every American should be vaccinated every year, as soon as possible in the flu season.

  • When would it be a mistake to get a flu shot?

Never, except in the almost-incalculably-small incidence of anaphylaxis to eggs—even then, patients can select an egg-free formulation.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

I do not know this physician, but he sounds like someone who is neither an infectious disease physician nor a public health physician. I suspect he has had the good fortune of not losing a family member or friend or patient to influenza — good for him, that is lucky indeed. For those of us who have watched people die of flu, and have held the hands of their surviving family members, this is of course pure bullshit and totally counterproductive to the furtherance of a civilized, healthy society.

This kind of quote is symbolic of the general ill that runs rampant in modern American society: namely, the focus on the self rather than the public good. Flu vaccination may protect both the recipient as well as the stranger on a bus who got vaccinated but did not have good immunological take due to underlying illness. Flu shots save lives, both those who get the shot and others who cannot respond.


Richard ReichRichard Reich - University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

Incorrect analysis of the scientific literature. The flu shot is in general (~ 70%) effective in prophylaxis, and leads to less severe illness even if it doesn’t prevent influenza. Blaylock and Doshi grossly overestimate side-effects from the vaccine.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

He is wrong, and worse, will cause people to die because of his scare tactics.


Robert HarringtonRobert D. Harrington - University of Washington School of Medicine

  • Are you getting the flu shot this year -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • Do you recommend that the average person get the flu shot -- yes or no?

Yes.

  • How would you characterize the flu shot's general effectiveness, particularly in light of the research indicating unproven benefits and even the potential for adverse effects?

While the protective efficaty of the flu vaccine is not as high as desired - it still prevents against severe disease if you contract the flu and does provide some protection against getting the virus.
The concern over adverse effects is mostly hysteria, rather than fact.

  • When would it be wise to get a flu shot?

Novemeber.

  • What do you make of Dr. Russell Blaylock's assertion that the flu shot is "worthless"?

Dr. Blaylock is picking studies that he likes - many studies demonstrate the benefits of the flu vaccine in the general population with a variety of good outcomes: less work days lost, less school days lost, shorter disease, milder disease and in skilled nursing facilities...less death!

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John Kiernan is Senior Writer & Editor at Evolution Finance. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in Journalism, a minor in Sport Commerce & Culture,…
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