The [influenza] vaccine may be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza seems to be overstated. Mandatory vaccination polices have been enacted, often in healthcare facilities, forcing some people to take the vaccine under threat of losing their jobs. The main assertion of the CDC that fuels the push for flu vaccinations each year is that influenza comes with a risk of serious complications which can cause death, especially in senior citizens and those suffering from chronic illnesses.
When read carefully, the CDC acknowledges that studies finding any perceived reduction in death rates may be due to the “healthy-user effect”—the tendency for healthier people to be vaccinated more than less-healthy people. The only randomized trial of influenza vaccine in older people found no decrease in deaths. This means that influenza vaccines are approved for use in older people despite any clinical trials demonstrating a reduction in serious outcomes.
Even when the vaccine is closely matched to the type of influenza that’s prevalent, which doesn’t happen every year, randomized, controlled trials of healthy adults found that vaccinating between 33 and 100 people resulted in one less case of influenza. In addition, no evidence exists to show that this reduction in the risk of influenza for a specific population—here in the United States, among healthy adults, for example—extrapolates into any reduced risk of serious complications from influenza, such as hospitalizations or deaths, among seniors.
For most people, and possibly most doctors, officials need only claim that vaccines save lives, and it is assumed there must be solid research behind it.
— Peter Doshi, PhD, associate editor at The BMJ
Doshi P. Influenza: marketing vaccine by marketing disease. The BMJ May 16, 2013.