We all know those moms who watched Jenny McCarthy break down on Oprah and describe her son receive a vaccination which she ultimately believed was the beginning of his autism diagnosis.  These mothers, transfixed by McCarthy’s celebrity story, went on to demand modified immunization schedules and opted out of some vaccinations altogether.  Now there is someone to support vaccination skepticism who has more training than a weepy ex-playmate.

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, concludes in his Influenza Research and Surveillance study that the flu vaccination is not as effective as those in the public health sector may have lead you to believe.

“We have overpromoted and overhyped this vaccine,” said Dr. Osterholm. “It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.”

Dr. Osterholm knows he is committing what will be construed as a crime against the public health industry but attempts to explain his change of opinion.

“I’m an insider,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Until we started this project, I was one of the people out there heavily promoting influenza vaccine use. It was only with this study that I looked and said, ‘What are we doing?’

Specifically, Dr. Osterholm and his team discovered “a recurring error in influenza vaccine studies that led to an exaggeration of the vaccine’s effectiveness.”

And he isn’t the only one undermining the flu vaccine.  In 2010 an international network of experts called the The Cochrane Collaboration concluded that these “vaccines appear to have no effect on hospital admissions, transmission or rates of complications.”

During cold and flu season, public health officials urge everyone over 6 months of age to get their flu shot, but the Cochrane Collaboration found the effect on children to be bleak at best.

The review authors found that in children aged from two years, nasal spray vaccines made from weakened influenza viruses were better at preventing illness caused by the influenza virus than injected vaccines made from the killed virus. Neither type was particularly good at preventing ‘flu-like illness’ caused by other types of viruses. In children under the age of two, the efficacy of inactivated vaccine was similar to placebo.

No one wants to have their child get sick with the flu.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the yearly death toll from of influenza since 1976 fluctuates between 3,000 and 49,000.  Everyone agrees the flu and flu-related illnesses put our children at risk. However there are other measures all parents should take to help prevent the spread of these germs. Even if you opt to get the flu shot, know that your job isn’t done when you leave the doctor’s office.

(photo: aslysun / Shutterstock)