Rethink Health   - March 2010

News through the GoodHealthKeeping lens

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"'Flu Vaccine Ineffective?"

The Cochrane Library of systematic scientific reviews acquired a new title on 17th February. It was the latest review by Dr Tom Jefferson and his team on the subject of influenza prevention, in particular by vaccination of the elderly.

75 studies made the grade for review, including only one new study since their last update in 2009. They consider that vaccine fails to prevent deaths or provide the expected health benefits, but point out that evidence is still insufficient - 40 years after routine 'flu vaccination began - for any firm conclusions. Only one study could be found that counted the number of cases of illness that were prevented by vaccination. All the others looked at indirect outcomes, such as antibody production.

The annual £115million cost of giving flu jabs to 15 million in England, mainly the elderly, "may be a complete waste of money".

Lead researcher Dr Tom Jefferson of the Cochrane Collaboration in Rome, Italy, said "Our estimates are consistently below those usually quoted by economists and in decision making. But until we have all available evidence, it is hard to reach any clear conclusions about the effectiveness of influenza vaccines in older people. We should be looking at other strategies to complement vaccinations. Some of these are very simple things like personal hygiene, and adequate food and water."

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation for the Department of Health said the review provided no new evidence. But that is not the role of a review. This one provides the gold standard appraisal of all research to date,  unbiassed by vested interest or preconceived notions. Professor Salisbury is, unfortunately, burdened with both.

Dr Graeme Laver, co-inventor of the 'flu vaccine who died in 2008, said: 'I have never been very impressed with its efficacy. It is better than nothing and I wouldn't want to advise people not to take it, but you can't rely on it doing any good.'

The full report is Jefferson T, Di Pietrantonj C, Al-Ansary LA, Ferroni E, Thorning S, Thomas RE. Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004876. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004876.pub3. 

My other source was: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1251562/115m-annual-flu-jab-cost-waste-money.html#ixzz0hbA1DwG6

A few days later we heard that Professor Liam Donaldson - Chief Medical Officer to the Department of Health, and Professor Salisbury's senior - has decided to scrap his plan to vaccinate every healthy child under five against swine 'flu. This is only three months after bribing doctors to cooperate (and a month after Dr Wakefield was convicted by the GMC of bribing his children' friends!) 

It should by now be obvious, even to the Press, that public health is atrociously governed in England and Wales. The principal beneficiaries seem to be drug and vaccine manufacturers.

My own doubts began in the 80s, when I suspected that our annual vaccination campaign in Grimoldby might actually have been causing the annual 'flu outbreak. An audit showed the vaccine had no effect one way or the other. Our winter ailments prevention policy was doing far more good.

So there you are. You heard it here first.

Hair Mineral Analysis

Biolab, the internationally respected laboratory service I use, has just rather unexpectedly raised its fee from £33 to £40, little more than a year after the previous rise. They face considerable capital costs from an enlargement of their premises, which has to be funded somehow.

I do not propose to raise mine, but have regretfully added the Biolab rise to my charge. From today the cost of a HMA through me is £55, inclusive of detailed recommendations and reasonable follow-up. Were I not retired and provided for, I could not have held the charge this low.

Through Cytoplan the charge remains £49.50, largely because of the difficulty of removing the old forms from circulation! So if you want a test you may care to ask them for a form. Call 01684 310099.

Longer Days

It's nice to see the sun climbing the sky again. Our acer tree is budding, and leaves have appeared on the new roses. However, don't be fooled.

Winter often has a sting in its tail. More medical catastrophes occur on the threshold of spring than at any other season. The risk of colds does not expire until May at the earliest.

We shall be continuing our daily propolis for many weeks yet. Happily this, and perhaps retirement from commuter crowds, has served us well for years.

In full our precautions against winter ailments are:-