Should You Get the Flu Shot Every Year? Don’t Ask the New York Times.

by Feb 7, 2018Health & Vaccines7 comments

The New York Times building in New York City (Torrenegra/CC BY 2.0)

A recent New York Times article on the influenza vaccine provides a useful case study in how the mainstream media manufacture consent for the CDC’s public vaccine policy by systematically misinforming the public about the science.

The way the US mainstream media typically frame the issue of vaccines, you are essentially either a firm advocate of public vaccine policy, or you are “anti-science”. The media applies the derogatory label “anti-vaxxer” to all those who dare question the wisdom of the vaccine recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The result is that there is no serious discussion being had today about vaccines in the mainstream discourse.

And there is a discussion to be had. Journalists have a moral duty to properly inform the public about critically important issues such as this one. Yet the mainstream media have disgracefully failed to do so. Not only do establishment media organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post fail to educate, but they systematically misinform readers about vaccines.

If there is just one thing about the vaccine issue that you need to understand, it is arguably this: What public health officials and the media say science says about vaccines and what science actually tells us about vaccine safety and effectiveness are two completely different things.

A recent New York Times article titled “Why It’s Still Worth Getting a Flu Shot” provides an instructive example. In it, Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and regular Times blogger, argues that science tells us the answer to the question of whether you should get an annual flu shot is unambiguously “Yes”. As Carroll tells it, the science shows that the influenza vaccine is extraordinarily safe, and therefore even in years such as this one when officials admit the vaccine is highly ineffective, it still confers a great benefit to society.[1]

The lesson we are supposed to learn is that we should strictly adhere to the CDC’s recommendation that everyone aged six months and up should get a flu shot every year.

However, in order to lead his readers to this desired conclusion, Carroll greatly deceives them about what science has to say about the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine—including by grossly misrepresenting his own sources from the medical literature. Apart from his sources contradicting his claims, Carroll pretends as though there isn’t a huge and growing body of scientific evidence that, if widely known to the public, would shake the very foundations of the government’s public vaccine policy.

What is happening with the vaccine debate in the mainstream discourse is that the establishment media is dutifully performing its usual function of manufacturing consent for government policy.[2] Contrary to what the New York Times tells the public, what the existing science tells us about the influenza vaccine is that government policy effectively treats the entire US population—including infants, pregnant women, and the elderly—as the subjects of a mass uncontrolled experiment with potentially disastrous outcomes.


This is the first installment of a multi-part exposé on how the government and media systematically deceive the public about the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine, and how public vaccine policy constitutes a threat to both our health and our liberty. This is a 100% reader-funded project.

Click here to learn more about this project and to support this mission with a donation.

How This Year’s Flu Shot Is “Particularly Ineffective”

Carroll begins his Times article by acknowledging that this year’s influenza vaccine “is particularly ineffective”, which naturally “has had many people wondering if they should still get a flu shot.” He then dutifully offers readers the reassurance, “If you read no further in this column, know this: The answer is yes, you should still get a flu shot.”

For context, he explains that the virus is “unstable”, meaning that “it changes a lot each season. This means that the immunity you gained from a shot a year ago doesn’t work so well this time around. Each summer, scientists gather and try to make a best guess on which variants are going to be more common in the coming year. They look at data from countries like Australia (whose flu season comes before ours), then they make the shot to match.”

“This season,” Carroll notes, “the flu vaccine is most protective against an H1N1, an H3N2 and a B/Victoria lineage strain. Some vaccines also protect against a B/Yamagata lineage strain.” (The former are known as “trivalent” while the latter are “quadrivalent” influenza vaccines.)

While Carroll doesn’t disclose what he means, specifically, when he admits that this year’s vaccine is “particularly ineffective”, he does cite a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that gives us the answer.

That paper’s authors looked at the situation this year in Australia in order to make predictions for the United States; and the situation seen in Australia isn’t good. They noted that the dominant strain in Australia has been an Influenza A(H3N2) variant, and even though this year’s vaccine is specifically designed to protect against this strain, it had an estimated effectiveness of “only 10%.”

But the vaccine’s admitted ineffectiveness is only part of the story. As Carroll’s source also noted, there was “mounting concern” in Australia, “with record-high numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza” and “higher-than-average numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.” In fact, despite the Australian government’s expensive mass vaccination campaign, the number of confirmed influenza cases reported this year was “215,280 by mid-October, far exceeding the 59,022 cases reported during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic”. (Emphasis added.)[3]

Now, that’s highly relevant data that surely could help readers make a more informed choice about whether it’s worth getting the flu shot. But rather than relaying it, Carroll understatedly writes that, “In any year, even when you’re vaccinated, you can get the flu. The shot is about reducing your risk, not eliminating it. Still, even when the flu vaccine is ‘less effective,’ it’s a good bet.”[4]

As will be demonstrated to you through the course of this multi-part exposé, that conclusion depends on the assumption that the figure of 215,280 cases of confirmed influenza would be even higher if it wasn’t for Australian government’s mass vaccination campaign. However, this is a dangerous assumption to make, and science gives us good reason to believe that this disastrous outcome did not happen despite mass vaccination, but as a consequence of public vaccine policy.

As economist Milton Friedman famously observed, “Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.”[5] This is an essential point to keep in mind as you proceed into this case study.

Why This Year’s Flu Shot Is Such a Huge Failure

As the New York Times points out, the dominant strain this year in the US is indeed of H3N2 lineage. So why, then, has the vaccine designed to target this strain proven so horribly ineffective at preventing influenza?

As Carroll explains it, “Vaccines don’t work as well against it in general because it tends to mutate more than other strains.” What he is referring to is known as “antigenic drift”. In just a short time, the H3N2 influenza virus has undergone enough antigenic drift to help render the vaccine a mismatch in terms of its ability to confer protection against influenza.

Furthermore, Carroll informs, “It’s also harder to produce a targeted vaccine for H3N2 than for other variants, because of the way we produce the vaccine using eggs.”[6] While Carroll doesn’t elaborate, what he is talking about is how egg embryos are used to replicate the influenza virus during the manufacturing process. This process itself can cause genetic changes in the virus that cause it to be a mismatch with circulating strains.

As authors of the NEJM article explained, “During the egg-based production process, the vaccine virus acquires amino acid changes that facilitate replication in eggs, notably changes in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein that mediates receptor binding. Since the influenza HA is the primary target of neutralizing antibodies, small modifications in this protein can cause antigenic changes in the virus and decrease vaccine effectiveness.” The authors also suggested that this manufacturing process itself, more than “antigenic mismatch between the vaccine strain and circulating viruses”, is responsible for the vaccine being so ineffective.

The researchers also predicted that, since “most of the U.S. influenza-vaccine supply is currently produced in eggs and the composition of the 2017-2018 Northern Hemisphere vaccine is identical to that used in Australia,” the US might experience a similarly “low vaccine effectiveness”.[7]

As the New York Times acknowledges, that’s precisely what’s happened here in the US. Nevertheless, Carroll argues, it’s still worth getting a flu shot because some benefit is better than none, and the risk of harm from the vaccine is “almost nonexistent”.

What the New York Times Says the Science Says

To support the judgment that everyone should still get the flu shot, even in years when it is highly ineffective, Carroll cites a meta-analysis from 2010. In this kind of study, researchers search the literature for relevant studies and review the body of evidence available by combining the results of studies that meet the inclusion criteria.

And the meta-analysis Carroll cites in this case is from a network of researchers with impeccable credentials: the Cochrane Collaboration, a global independent organization specializing in meta-analysis that does not accept any industry funding.

Carroll writes that the authors of the 2010 Cochrane meta-analysis “showed that when a vaccine is considered effective … the number of people needed to be treated for one person to see the benefit … was 37 [sic]. Given the millions who are vulnerable to flu and the thousands of deaths each year, this is a big payoff in public health.”

Mistakenly describing it as having been published in 2016, Carroll also cites a subsequent 2012 Cochrane meta-analysis of vaccine effectiveness in children aged six or younger that found “an astonishing payoff in medical terms”: just six children had to be vaccinated in order to prevent one case of influenza.

“The negatives of a flu shot”, Carroll claims, citing pages from the CDC’s website, “are almost nonexistent, and significant side effects are very rare. Even in an ineffective year, the benefits greatly outweigh the harms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 9 million to 36 million people become ill with the flu each year in the United States. Somewhere between 140,000 and 710,000 of them require hospitalization, and 12,000 to 56,000 die each year.” (Emphasis added.)

Reinforcing the message, the article concludes that, “to minimize your chances of illness, yes, you should still get the flu shot this year, and any year.”[8]

What the CDC Says the Science Says

Before examining the sources Aaron Carroll cites to support his conclusion that everyone should follow the CDC’s flu vaccine recommendations, it’s important to place things into context by briefly reviewing what those recommendations are and what rationale the CDC uses to justify its policy.

The CDC recommends that “Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season.” (Emphasis added.)[9] This includes pregnant women, with respect to whom the CDC states, “Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. The flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby for several months after birth from flu.”

To reassure the public that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and the developing fetus, the CDC states, “Flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women over many years with a good safety record. There is a lot of evidence that flu vaccines can be given safely during pregnancy; though these data are limited for the first trimester.” Nevertheless, the CDC recommends “that pregnant women get vaccinated during any trimester of their pregnancy. It is very important for pregnant women to get the flu shot.”[10]

Finally, as the authors of the 2010 Cochrane review observed, the CDC’s primary justifications for its influenza vaccine recommendation are that universal vaccination will (1) reduce transmission of the virus and (2) reduce the risk of potentially deadly complications from influenza.

This is very important context to keep in mind as we proceed.

What the Science Really Says

The way the New York Times describes the cited Cochrane reviews, one would think they represented a glowing exoneration of the CDC’s recommendations with respect to the influenza vaccine, as well as of the vaccine’s safety record. It’s enlightening, therefore, to look at what Carroll’s own sources actually have to say about it.

The 2010 Cochrane Review: No Evidence to Support CDC Policy

To start with, with respect to the 2010 Cochrane review, Carroll presents only the data for the absolute best-case scenario, rather than the estimate of the vaccine’s effectiveness in an average year. He also implicitly generalizes that best-case finding for the whole population—including children as young as six months, pregnant women, and the elderly—based on studies looking only at healthy adults. Ironically, the review authors warn against doing this very thing for the obvious reason that it is unscientific.

The purpose of this meta-analysis was to examine what the body of evidence available indicated about the effectiveness, as well as the safety, of the influenza vaccine in healthy adults. As the Cochrane researchers stated, “under ideal conditions”—meaning when the vaccine completely matches the circulating virus—“33 healthy adults need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms.”[11] (Carroll’s figure of “37” is evidently a typo carried over from a secondary source cited in the Times article that summarized the Cochrane review’s findings, possibly indicating that Carroll didn’t read the review itself—which might help explain what you are about to observe.[12])

However, under “average conditions”, when the vaccine only partially matches the circulating strains, the effectiveness decreases dramatically, so that “100 people need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms.” (Emphasis added.)[13]

That is hardly the same “big payoff in public health” that the New York Times would have us believe the flu vaccine confers to society.

Furthermore, recall that the CDC’s primary justifications for its policy are that vaccination reduces transmission as well as the risk of serious complications. Aaron Carroll would evidently have his readers believe that the Cochrane reviews he cites show that science has confirmed these assumptions.

They do not.

On the contrary, what the Cochrane researchers found was that the existing studies showed only “a very limited effect” on working days lost and morbidity, “no effect” on hospitalization, and “no evidence that vaccines prevent viral transmission or complications.” (Emphasis added.)

In fact, they found that none of the studies they included in their review even presented any results “evaluating the ability of this vaccination to interrupt the spread of the disease”. Likewise, none bothered to report “any evidence of effect on complications.”[14]

Take a moment to slowly and carefully consider what that means: none of the studies the researchers looked at in their comprehensive review of the literature even seemed to consider the question of whether the central assumptions underlying the CDC’s policy were actually true.

This is an astonishing illustration of the institutional myopia that exists when it comes to the politically sensitive issue of vaccines.

In fact, as we will return to in depth later in this multi-part exposé, one new study has strongly indicated that the influenza vaccine might increase viral transmission, and a growing body of evidence has shown how annual vaccination can actually increase the risk of becoming ill. But to confine our examination for now just to Aaron Carroll’s own primary sources, as you have witnessed, what the 2010 Cochrane review actually found—contrary to his gross misrepresentation—is that the CDC’s policy is emphatically not firmly grounded in science.

In addition to the lack of interest in questioning the assumptions underlying public policy, the Cochrane researchers also found that proper safety studies were lacking. As they commented, “The harms dataset from randomized studies is small. The trial authors appear to regard harms as less important than effectiveness assessment.” (Emphasis added.)[15]

This is only natural when the studies are conducted or funded by the vaccine industry itself. After all, they have a financial incentive to gain licensure for their products by providing studies to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showing that the vaccine can stimulate an antibody response—the surrogate marker the FDA uses to determine efficacy. With the influenza vaccine, the pharmaceutical companies aren’t required to demonstrate that their products actually prevent influenza complications or reduce mortality, just to show that test subjects react to the vaccine by producing a level of antibodies in the blood—or an antibody titer—that is assumed to be protective. (As we will also come to, this assumption is unscientific.) And, of course, the vaccine manufacturers have a financial incentive to bury any data indicating their product might not be safe. (Note that the FDA relies on the pharmaceutical companies’ own studies for the licensure process.)[16]

In fact, the Cochrane researchers included an explicit “WARNING” message right at the top of their review just below the abstract. We’ll come back to why they found it necessary to include this warning, but, for now, here’s what it stated (emphasis added):

This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration). An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding. (Emphasis added.)

Even apart from the demonstrated bias of the vaccine industry’s own studies, however, the Cochrane researchers found that “the quality of the majority of influenza vaccines studies is low”.[17]

This, too, shouldn’t be too surprising, given the reliance of researchers also on public funding—and the government’s own conflict of interest in this respect (i.e., the need to justify existing policy). We have already observed how institutional myopia results in scientists not asking the right questions and instead incorporating certain sets of assumptions into their study design.

As Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, has observed, “something changed dramatically in the early 1980s to push academia and industry closer together…. The federal government enacted a list of statutes that mandated the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to cooperate with the private sector. Concerns were raised long ago by some academics about this changing the landscape of science…. Indeed, medical journals have become an important but underrecognized obstacle to scientific truth-telling. Journals have devolved into information-laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry.” (Emphasis added.)[18]

The Cochrane researchers did not limit their criticism to the studies under review and the corrupting influence of the pharmaceutical industry money on the science. They also had a few words for the CDC.

Remember how the New York Times wants you to believe that this Cochrane review vindicates CDC policy? In fact, its authors went so far in their criticism of public policy as to accuse the CDC of deliberately misrepresenting the science in order to support its recommendations. Their criticism is worth quoting at length (emphasis added):

The content and results of previous versions of this review have been extensively misquoted especially in public policy documents. Two types of common misquotes are the generalization of evidence from this review to all age and risk groups and the generalization of estimates of effects to all outcomes (especially complications and deaths). The misquotes then assume that the performance of influenza vaccines is uniform across all age groups and from symptom prevention to all outcomes. Both generalisations are not supported by any evidence and seem to originate from the desire to use our review to support decisions already taken. The misquotes appear to be based on both the abstract and Plain language summary (which is what you would expect from a superficial reading of the review by people with a specific agenda). It is for these reasons that in this 2010 update we have tried to minimize the risk of being misquoted by presenting effects on major outcomes … and have inserted a general warning on the quality of evidence in the field of influenza vaccines.

The specific example they presented of how their findings were being deceptively manipulated by public health officials was a 2009 CDC policy document outlining its rationale for universal influenza vaccination.

The unavoidable corollary drawn by the reviewers was that “The CDC authors clearly do not weight interpretation by quality of the evidence, but quote anything that supports their theory.” (Emphasis added.)

Of course, the irony is that The New York Times was simply following the CDC’s example.

Whereas Aaron Carroll states that this Cochrane meta-analysis showed “a big payoff in public health”, in fact, the review authors concluded that their results—given the vaccine’s limited effectiveness, the egregious lack of proper safety studies, and the high cost of annual mass vaccination campaigns—“seem to discourage the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure.” (Emphasis added.)[19]

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The 2012 Cochrane Review: Safety Studies Urgently Required

The second Cochrane review that Aaron Carrol cites to support his conclusion that we should all obey the CDC and get an annual flu shot looked specifically at studies examining the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in healthy children under sixteen years of age.

As Carroll notes, this review did find that evidence from randomized controlled trials “shows that six children under the age of six need to be vaccinated with live attenuated vaccine to prevent one case of influenza”.

However, that finding came with a few rather important caveats that Carroll and his editors at the New York Times evidently decided we aren’t supposed to know.

For children older than six, the review authors found that twenty-eight needed to be vaccinated to prevent one case of influenza. However, for children aged two or younger, the perceived benefit was “not significantly more efficacious than placebo.” In other words, there was no good evidence that the vaccine is effective at preventing the flu in children under aged three.

Moreover, the researchers once again stressed that their findings should be interpreted in light of the “evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies” tending to show favorable results.

Even more disturbing, while the CDC claims that the vaccine is safe for infants as young as six months, there was “no usable data” on the safety of the vaccine for children under two.

Let that sink in for a moment.

In other words, according to Carroll’s own source, the flu vaccine has not been properly studied for safety in children aged six months to two years, despite the CDC telling doctors to routinely vaccinate children in this age group.

In fact, while the Cochrane researchers had intended to examine the question of safety as well as effectiveness, the absence of good quality data meant that they could not even carry out safety comparisons. They hence emphasized “the need for standardization of methods and presentation of vaccine safety data in future studies.”

Additionally, specific influenza vaccines are known to be “associated with serious harms such as narcolepsy and febrile convulsions.” Especially in light of such known harms, “It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months of age…. If immunization in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes, and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required.” (Emphasis added.)[20]

That is certainly not the message the New York Times conveys to the public in its reporting of what science tells us about the safety of vaccinating our children!

Arguably, however, the most concerning thing about the CDC’s policy is its recommendation that pregnant women get an annual flu shot, even during their first trimester.

The 2014 Cochrane Review: No Proper Safety Studies for Pregnant Women

Although Aaron Carroll does not mention it in his New York Times article, the Cochrane Collaboration in 2014 published an updated review of studies looking at healthy adults specifically in light of the CDC’s recommendation for pregnant women.

What the researchers found was that the number of randomized controlled trials assessing the effects of vaccinating pregnant women was zero. The only evidence available came from “observational studies with modest methodological quality.”

Furthermore, the evidence suggested that the vaccine’s effectiveness in pregnant women was “uncertain or at least very limited”, and the effectiveness of this policy in preventing influenza in newborns was “not statistically significant.”

Speaking with respect to vaccination of adults in general, the reviewers once again noted that the “overall quality” of existing studies “was poor”, and there were highly problematic “discrepancies between the data presented, their conclusions and the author’s recommendations.” They once again cautioned that their findings should be interpreted in light of the corrupting influence of industry money on the science.

In concluding, the Cochrane researchers—far from finding that the influenza vaccine offered “a big payoff in public health”—found that “The results of this review provide no evidence for the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure.” (Emphasis added.)[21]

In light of what you’ve just learned, now reconsider the careful wording of the CDC’s reassurance to the public that it is safe for pregnant women to get an annual flu shot: “Flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women over many years with a good safety record.”

Think about what that statement actually means. All the CDC is saying here is that the safety of vaccinating pregnant women was never scientifically established prior to the CDC recommending it as a matter of public health policy, and that nothing has jumped out at the CDC in post-marketing surveillance or observational studies as being obviously problematic to their assumption that this practice is safe.

In effect, all pregnant women who get a flu shot and their developing fetuses are the subjects of the mass uncontrolled experiment that the CDC is conducting by virtue of its public policy recommendations.

Of course, one of the fundamental differences between a clinical trial and what the government is doing is that, in the latter case, the vaccine recipients have not given their informed consent to be experimented upon.

We’ve witnessed how the New York Times misrepresents the science. But it isn’t necessary to dig deeply into the medical literature to learn about the woeful lack of safety studies for vaccinating pregnant women. The manufacturers highlight this fact right on the package inserts that are included in the box with their products. (The FDA also makes them publicly available on its website.)

For example, the insert for GlaxoSmithKline’s inactivated influenza vaccine, Fluarix, discloses that “Safety and effectiveness of FLUARIX have not been established in pregnant women or nursing mothers.” While limited studies have been done on reproductive and developmental toxicity in rats, there are “no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women.” Furthermore, “caution should be exercised” when vaccinating breastfeeding mothers since “It is not known whether FLUARIX is excreted in human milk.” Medical practitioners are advised to inform patients “that safety and efficacy have not been established in pregnant women.”[22]

Of course, no matter how readily available, one tends not to learn such information by reading articles about vaccines in establishment mouthpieces like the New York Times.

The 2018 Cochrane Updates: Still No Evidence, Safety Studies Still Badly Needed

For the sake of thoroughness, it’s worth noting that just since the writing of this exposé began, the Cochrane Collaboration has issued a series of updates to its meta-analyses for the influenza vaccine. Not much has changed with respect to their central findings.

While Aaron Carroll does not cite any of the Cochrane reviews on influenza vaccination in the elderly, the updated version, published on February 1, 2018, similarly notes the lack of evidence to support CDC policy. The authors highlighted the fact that “The primary goal of influenza vaccination in the elderly is to reduce the risk of death among people who are most vulnerable.” And yet they identified only eight randomized controlled trials meeting their inclusion criteria, only four of which assessed harms. Only one study provided data for mortality and pneumonia, and it was “underpowered to detect differences in these outcomes.” Furthermore, “No data on hospitalisations were reported.”

Additionally, the data was insufficient to assess the effectiveness of vaccination “across different seasons”. (This is highly relevant for reasons that will be made apparent later in this multi-part exposé.)

In conclusion, “The available evidence relating to complications is of poor quality, insufficient, or old and provides no clear guidance for public health regarding the safety, efficacy, or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older.”[23]

To sum it up plainly: There is no good scientific evidence to support the primary rationale given by the CDC for recommending annual vaccination in the elderly.

The updated review for vaccination in children similarly notes that, while one of the main reasons for CDC policy is to reduce school days or parental work days lost, there was not enough data to determine the effect of vaccination on school absenteeism, and there was no data on parental work time lost.

Another primary rationale is that vaccination will reduce flu complications, but, once again, the lack of standardization in study design and reporting “impeded meta-analysis of harms outcomes”, and there was no data on hospitalization or the most serious flu complications. Evidence of serious harms was “sparse”, which should not be surprising given the lack of proper safety studies, but one pandemic vaccine “was associated with a sudden loss of muscle tone triggered by the experience of an intense emotion (cataplexy) and a sleep disorder (narcolepsy) in children.”

Few studies looked at children under age two, and only “a single small study” provided “very limited evidence” to determine the vaccine’s effects in this age group against a placebo. “The general methodological quality of the included studies was poor.”

Moreover, since available studies looked only at single influenza seasons, the effects of annually repeated vaccination of children annually was “uncertain”.[24] (Again, this is highly significant, as we’ll come to!)

Finally, the newly updated review for healthy adults reiterates researchers’ previous findings that the vaccine has at best “modest” benefits, with possibly “a small effect in preventing the symptoms of influenza”. The estimated benefit in healthy adults is “a 1% lower risk of experiencing influenza over a single influenza season”. The safety profile of inactivated influenza vaccines remains “uncertain, which is a reflection of the size of the evidence base.”

The bias inherent in industry-funded studies, along with the otherwise historically “poor methodological quality” of the observational studies, remain a concern.

Furthermore, the updated review makes the important observation that, while studies determined the vaccine’s “efficacy” by looking at antibody titers assumed to be protective, “antibody responses are not sufficient predictors of field protection” (emphasis added). In other words, just because an individual develops a high antibody titer in response to the vaccine does not mean that they will actually gain immunity against influenza viruses. (And “the field protection afforded” by the flu vaccine, the authors note, “is modest or negligible”.)

The Cochrane researchers also once again stressed that “an adequately powered, publicly funded, high-quality, placebo-controlled trial run over several seasons should be undertaken.”[25]

That is not something the CDC has seemed particularly interested in seeing happen, and the lack of proper safety studies is certainly important context to keep in mind whenever you hear from the mainstream media that the risk of harm from vaccines is “almost nonexistent”. They can’t know that when they don’t bother studying it.

Summary of Part I

As you have just witnessed, the New York Times urges readers to dutifully follow the CDC’s recommendation to get an annual flu shot, even in years when the vaccine is admittedly highly ineffective, on the grounds that some benefit is better than none, while the risk of harm from the vaccine is “almost nonexistent”.

To support his argument, Carroll cites meta-analyses from the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration as though their findings unambiguously vindicated CDC policy. In fact, however, the Cochrane researchers not only found that CDC policy is unsupported by the available evidence, but issued a scathing indictment of the CDC for deliberately misrepresenting the science. Additionally, Carroll’s own sources highlighted the alarming lack of proper safety studies, particularly for children under the age of two and pregnant women, and emphasized the urgent need for randomized, placebo-controlled studies that also consider the effects of repeat annual vaccination.

In sum, when the New York Times cites Cochrane Collaboration meta-analyses to support the dogmatic mantra that science has proven the influenza vaccine to be safe and effective for everyone aged six and up, including pregnant women, they are doing precisely what the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration criticized the CDC itself for doing: cherry-picking information in order to suit a predetermined conclusion rather than taking an honest look at the science.

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Read Other Articles in This Series

This has been the first part of multi-part exposé on how the government and media lie to the public about the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine. To read other installments:

Click here to read part two.

Click here to read part three.

Click here to read part four.

A fifth and final installment is forthcoming.

[Correction Appended, April 12, 2018: As originally published, this article stated: “For children older than six, the review authors found that twenty-eight needed to be vaccinated to prevent one case of influenza. However, in fact, that result was ‘not significantly more efficacious than placebo.’ In other words, there was no good evidence that the vaccine is effective at preventing the flu in children older than six.” That is incorrect. It was in children under two that the reviewers found no evidence of efficacy. The error has been corrected.]

I would like to gratefully acknowledge my community of readers for the financial contributions that made it possible for me to deliver this information to you. In addition to a number of other anonymous donors, I would like to thank the following individuals: David P. Lang, “John Marathon”, Brian Murdock, Janet Newman, Eleanor Ommani, “AR”, Bretigne Shaffer, and Dr. Anke Zimmermann.


[1] Aaron E. Carroll, “Why It’s Still Worth Getting a Flu Shot”, New York Times, January 11, 2018,

[2] For further commentary on how the media perform this function, see: Jeremy R. Hammond, “The Role of the US Media in the Palestine Conflict”,, September 20, 2016, For additional case studies, see, e.g., Jeremy R. Hammond, “The Lies that Led to the Iraq War and the Persistent Myth of ‘Intelligence Failure’”, Foreign Policy Journal, September 8, 2012, Jeremy R. Hammond, “Turning Back From the Point of No Return”, Foreign Policy Journal, August 26, 2010,  My work in general largely focuses on the role of the media in manufacturing consent for government policy.

[3] Catharine I. Paules et al, “Chasing Seasonal Influenza—The Need for a Universal Influenza Vaccine”, New England Journal of Medicine, Janary 4, 2018,

[4] Carroll

[5] Steve Denning, “Milton Friedman And The Fallacy Of Good Intentions”, Forbes, August 1, 2013,

[6] Carroll

[7] Paules, et al

[8] Carroll.

[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Get Vaccinated”,, updated October 26, 2017 and accessed January 29, 2018,

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Pregnant Women & Influenza (Flu)”,, updated November 29, 2017 and accessed February 5, 2018,

[11] Tom Jefferson et al, “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, July 7, 2010,

[12] Michael R. Kolber, “Effectiveness of the trivalent influenza vaccine”, Canadian Family Physician, January 2014,

[13] Jefferson et al, Cochrane, 2010

[14] Jefferson et al, Cochrane, 2010

[15] Jefferson et al, Cochrane, 2010

[16] Jeremy R. Hammond, “5 Horrifying Facts about the FDA Vaccine Approval Process” (Worldview Publications 2017). This report is available to subscribers of the author’s email newsletter at

[17] Jefferson et al, Cochrane, 2010

[18] Richard Horton, “The Dawn of McScience”, The New York Review of Books, March 11, 2004,

[19] Jefferson et al, Cochrane, 2010

[20] Tom Jefferson et al, “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, August 15, 2012,

[21] Vittorio Demicheli et al, “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, March 13, 2014,

[22] GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Fluarix Package Insert, accessed from on January 29, 2018, For other vaccine product inserts, see

[23] Vittorio Demicheli et al, “Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, February 1, 2018,

[24] Tom Jefferson et al, “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, February 1, 2018,

[25] Vittorio Demicheli, “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, February 1, 2018,

[26] This is not to allege some kind of “conspiracy theory”, as the systemically incompetent and intellectually bankrupt establishment media are fond of charging “anti-vaxxers” with inventing. Rather, we are speaking about institutionalized bias and the filtered means by which information is disseminated to the public in the mass media. See again the additional commentary on the role of the media in manufacturing consent for government policy in endnote 2.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

My writings empower readers with the knowledge they need to see through state propaganda intended to manufacture their consent for criminal government policies.

By recognizing when we are being lied to and why, we can fight effectively for liberty, peace, and justice, in order to create a better world for ourselves, our children, and future generations of humanity.

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  1. jimmy

    Quite an amazing article. Well done. Did you ever try contacting Caroll and what was his response.

  2. Mike Ulicki

    The issue is that Mr. Hammond, quite ironically, criticizes the NYT’s misrepresentation of the Cochrane reviews by himself mischaracterizing the Cochrane Reviews. Additionally, he provides no background on the nature of Cochrane or its methodology for excluding research as “biased” (which crowds out scores of scientifically valid peer reviewed research). The bottom line is that they rarely reach a “conclusion” on anything. A “moderate certainty” that the flu vaccine reduces infection rates by over 50%, with no evidence found of “an association between influenza vaccination and serious adverse events” is pretty strong evidence. The reduction in the studies on children was even greater.

    Cochrane has purged some of its board members who openly expressed a pre-disposition against any industrial source (including one who referred to the entire industry as “organized crime” — so much for unbiased review), but these reviews pre-date those changes.

    • Jeremy R. Hammond

      The issue is that Mr. Hammond, quite ironically, criticizes the NYT’s misrepresentation of the Cochrane reviews by himself mischaracterizing the Cochrane Reviews.

      Mike, I have demonstrated incontrovertibly and in extensive documented detail how the NYT misrepresents the Cochrane reviews, while you are leveling that charge at me without so much as even attempting to produce an argument to support the accusation.

      This, of course, simply demonstrates your own dishonesty and hypocrisy. If you were honest, you would start by acknowledging the fact that the NYT misrepresented the reviews and join me in condemning that kind of dishonesty instead of tacitly trying to defend it.


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