Has the need for the influenza vaccine been "overhyped", and does belief in its safety and benefit rest on shaky scientific ground? Yes, says a recent article in the British Medical Journal, which points out that the enormous growth of this market has not been because of patient demand, but rather an intense public health campaign promoting it as a virtually risk free way to save lives and illness from influenza. These assertions may not be true, and yet annual flu vaccine doses in the United States grew from 32 million in 1990 to over 135 million today. Flu shots are administered in clinics, pharmacies and even drive through centers. But not everyone wants to have one, but the pressure to vaccinate is high and the risks are minimized if acknowledged at all. Serious and life threatening injuries can occur from an flu shot. The risk of Guillain Barre Syndrome after vaccination is estimated at 1 to 2 cases per million people. Is the market driven by patient benefit or by the benefit to manufacturers with the government support?
Influenza vaccines were first noted to be associated with Guillain Barre Syndrome during the 1976 swine flu epidemic, when it was found that the risk of getting paralysis from GBS was increased 4 to 8 times for people who took the vaccine. This increased risk lasted for 6 weeks following the vaccination. GBS is an autoimmune disorder in which the nervous system is damaged with resultant tingling, muscle weakness and paralysis. By stimulating the immune system with vaccines to fight future infections, some people end up with an imune system that attacks them by mistake. More modern vaccines have undergone attempts to make them safer. A recent study confirms that GBS still occurs following influenza vaccines with 2 people over the age of 50 developing GBS for every one million people vaccinated.