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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Children are given flu vaccine to protect adults

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CHILDREN are being used as human shields against influenza, the UK Health Security Agency has admitted. The government organisation, responsible for public health protection, says that the live attenuated flu mist is administered primarily to protect babies and the elderly, as children and teenagers are at very low risk of dying of influenza. They derive little benefit from the shot which, like all medical interventions, comes with risks. A UKHSA spokesman said: ‘Vaccinating [children] also protects others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies and older people.’

When the flu spray was first introduced for two- to 16-year-olds in 2014, the NHS said that the vaccine was expected to prevent 2,000 deaths in the population. There had or has never been anything close to 2,000 deaths from influenza in the population in the last 22 years. (Figures are not available pre-2001.) In 2013 there were 161 deaths, 118 in 2014, and in 2015, the year after the mist was introduced, there were 284, a 140 per cent increase.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for the 20 years between 2001 and 2021 show that deaths from influenza in children aged nought to 19 years have reached double figures only three times across all age groups in 20 years. For context, an average of 150 children die each year from asthma attacks.

The years include 2009, 2011 and 2019. In 2009, there was a Swine flu (H1N1) epidemic and 13 children, aged five-to-nine died. In 2011 and 2019, ten and 12 children aged one to four years died of influenza. The ONS does not say whether any of the children suffered with co-morbidities.

In terms of public health these numbers are small, and any benefit would have to be weighed carefully against any risk. Rare side effects are not mentioned in the public information leaflet that should be shared with parents; it simply says they are ‘uncommon’.

However they can be life threatening and include febrile convulsions, chronic fatigue syndrome, anaphylaxis, and in rare cases Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disorder where the immune system damages nerve cells causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. GBS can cause long-term nerve damage or death. It affects around 1,300 people in the UK. Caroline Morrice, CEO of GAIN, a charity supporting GBS sufferers, says that patients are more at risk of developing GBS after contracting influenza or Covid but said there was a spike in cases in March and April 2021 following AstraZeneca Covid vaccination. She added: ‘As a charity we are not aware of any recent cases of GBS caused by flu vaccination as none have been reported.’ Those administering vaccinations cannot say who will be affected, so patients and parents play Russian roulette.

Serious illness from influenza is rare in children. Even in the most vulnerable children, in the one-to-four-years age group, the numbers have only reached double figures twice, the highest being 12. Dr Ros Jones, a former paediatrician, agrees. She said: ‘The evidence for schoolchildren suffering harm from flu is almost non-existent. In my 35-year career I know of one two-year-old who died after developing myocarditis post flu infection.’

Number of deaths due to influenza by five-year age group, deaths registered in England and Wales: 2001 to 2021 registrations

According to Cochrane, the independent organisation which assesses the claims and validity of scientific papers, there are more than 200 viruses that can cause influenza and influenza-like illnesses (ILI). Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches and pains, cough and runny nose. Doctors cannot distinguish between influenza and ILI without laboratory tests because both last for only a few days and rarely cause serious illness or death.

The influenza virus mutates annually, and types of viruses contained in the vaccines are usually those that are expected to circulate in the following influenza season, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Pandemic vaccine contains only the virus strain that is responsible for the pandemic, for example Swine Flu (H1N1) which circulated in 2009 and 2010, and Covid, which is a flu-like illness.

Cochrane’s stabilised review of 20 years’ worth of papers (stabilised meaning there is no new evidence to contradict findings), discovered that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine is oversold to all age groups.

At the time, Dr Tom Jefferson, lead author of the Cochrane review and Associate Tutor at Oxford University, said the trials showed a reporting bias on the harms of the live attenuated influenza vaccine. ‘Influenza vaccines are about marketing and not science,’ he said. ‘We have few trials, and masses of very poor-quality observational evidence. We have presented evidence of considerable reporting bias, which governments continue to ignore. The science is missing and so making an informed decision is very difficult.’

After analysing 25 studies conducted over a single influenza season in North America, South America and Europe between 1969 and 2009it found the vaccine reduced the chance of getting laboratory-confirmed influenza from 23 cases out of 1,000 to nine cases out of 1,000 in healthy adults.

For healthy children, they found little evidence that the vaccine was beneficial. Compared with placebo or nothing, live attenuated vaccines reduced the number of children with confirmed influenza from 18 per cent to 4 per cent, and ILI from 17 per cent to 12 per cent. Seven children need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of influenza and 20 children need to be vaccinated to prevent one child experiencing ILI. Cochrane found insufficient information to assess whether the vaccine reduced school absence and parents needing to take time off work. There was no data on hospitalisation, and harms were not consistently reported.

They did report that one brand of monovalent pandemic vaccine was associated with sudden loss of muscle tone triggered by the experience of an intense emotion (cataplexy) and the sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The elderly did not fare much better. Cochrane identified eight randomised-controlled trials with over 5,000 participants. The studies were conducted in community and residential care settings in Europe and the US between 1965 and 2000.

The reduction for older adults was from 6 per cent to 2.4 per cent meaning that 30 people would need to be vaccinated to prevent one person experiencing influenza. They analysed pneumonia deaths too and discovered that there were three deaths in 522 vaccinated participants and only one death in 177 unvaccinated participants, which shows very little protection against pneumonia.

A 2016 study showed that Strep A bacteria, which can cause a wide variety of skin, soft tissue and respiratory tract infections, from mild to life-threatening, was ‘substantially higher in vaccine (flu nasal spray) recipients’, with a 2023 study showing that the vaccine also led to an increase in Strep A infections. Strep A killed at least 30 children in 2022 in the UK alone.

2015 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that repeat injections to prevent influenza could blunt its effectiveness. Vaccine effectiveness was 43 per cent for those who had not received the 2013/14 vaccine but minus 15 per cent for participants who had received both seasons’ vaccines.

Oxford University Press published a study that suggested those who received the trivalent influenza vaccines had a higher risk of acute respiratory infection compared with placebo patients. Will that increase now that it has been replaced by the tetravalent?

Negative evidence is ignored by the UKHSA and the NHS who predictably describe the vaccine as safe and effective and fail to mention any serious side effects.

The UKHSA insist that children who catch flu can easily pass it on but neglect to address the fact they can also shed a live virus for up to 48 hours after receiving the vaccine. The Tetra Fluenz four-in-one flu mist, manufactured by AstraZeneca, that British children receive, is a live vaccine and shedding can occur. This means that there is a chance that vaccinated children can infect anyone who comes into contact with them, although there is no information on how common this is.

The Safer To Wait campaign group believe that supporting children’s natural immunity during autumn and winter months is the best and safest protection against illness. They suggest vitamin D can also help.

The UKHSA spokesman added that influenza can cause unpleasant side effects such as ‘bronchitis and pneumonia’. But according to the above, repeated vaccination also makes you vulnerable to respiratory infection, and presumably, that would include Covid.

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Sally Beck
Sally Beck
Sally Beck is a freelance journalist with 30 years of experience in writing for national newspapers and magazines. She has reported on vaccines since the controversy began with the MMR in 1998.

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