Last week several well-respected, prestigious organizations released a joint statement urging health care providers to advise their pregnant and postpartum patients to take the 2010 seasonal flu vaccine. These organizations employ brilliant researchers, educators, clinicians, and public health experts. Their unified voice is hard to ignore.
Because of my job and my online activities, I have access to individuals at many of these organizations. In my search for evidence-based research behind flu vaccine recommendations, this statement gave me new hope that somebody at one of these organizations would point me in the right direction. I sent out an inquiry and was provided with the full text of a prospective, controlled, blinded, randomized study in the New England Journal of Medicine involving more than 300 pregnant women. Results showed a 63% reduction in laboratory-proven influenza (flu) illness in infants up to 6 months old, a 29% reduction in respiratory illness with fever in infants, and a 36% reduction in respiratory illness with fever in mothers. Sounds like a good deal.
Here’s the rub: among the list of study supporters was the National Vaccine Program Office, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Aventis Pasteur, Merck, Glaxo-Smith Kline, and Sanofi-Aventis. The National Vaccine Program Office was established to reduce the potential financial liability of vaccine makers due to vaccine injury claims. The rest of that list is pharmaceutical companies, aka potential vaccine makers. Did you know that in 2007, the vaccine industry was experiencing double-digit growth in sales? I don’t mean to suggest that these organizations are intentionally trying to dupe the American public. However, their organizational goals–preventing financial liability and making profits–seem like a giant conflict of interest to me. Even though this study comes from NEJM, I need more to convince me of the benefits of receiving a flu vaccine during pregnancy. This can’t possibly stand up to studies involving more than 40,000 mothers and infants that were not able to demonstrate flu vaccine effectiveness.
I’ve never been passionate about the flu vaccine before trying to make a reasonable decision about it for me and my unborn baby. I started this journey in search of evidence supporting the effectiveness of flu vaccination. But I’ve turned up empty-handed and stumbled onto a pile of disturbing information. To state it more accurately, I’m highly disturbed that the recommendations for flu vaccination are so strong despite the evidence being so iffy. I believe in the science of vaccination. I’m thankful for the eradication of diseases like smallpox. But seasonal flu is not smallpox, and it takes years of research and development to translate scientific theory into a a safe, effective product.
In conclusion, based on my research, I believe it is a rational decision to take or not take the flu vaccine during pregnancy. Flu infection carries known risks to mother and baby. Everyone should take steps towards prevention, including hand washing, good nutrition, rest, exercise, and if you so choose, the flu vaccine. I am shocked and outraged that women are not presented with the facts, or lack thereof, and given the opportunity to decide for themselves.
P.S.–I remain open to supporting research, personal experience, and logic to help further develop my knowledge on this issue. Fair, balanced, strong research is still on my most-wanted list.