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New York University sacks professor for refusing flu shot

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1975 (Published 21 April 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1975

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Re: New York University sacks professor for refusing flu shot. Arrogance from the vaccine establishment.

The arrogance of the US vaccine establishment is breathtaking! Dismissal of the NYU professor is merely the latest example. After decades of seasonal flu shots we still do not have data proving that they do more good than harm in the long run. Periodically we learn that a flu vaccine actually increases the risk of illness from influenza ("negative vaccine effectiveness") and from other respiratory viruses. Periodically we hear about vaccine catastrophes (narcolepsy from Pandemrix, febrile seizures from FluVax). Sometimes the bad news is hidden behind statistical trickery, as it was when a large cohort study showed a 20% increase in autism spectrum disorder among the offspring of women who got flu shots during the first trimester of pregnancy (Zerbo et al, JAMA Pediatr 2017;171(1):e163609. Donzelli et al, JAMA Pediatr online 4/24/17). We should not be misled by the barrage of non-randomized observational studies showing "40-60% flu vaccine effectiveness" in one season. These are biased by the "healthy user effect", and they ignore the negative impact of the vaccines in subsequent seasons.

We must never forget the magnificent protection afforded by smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, polio and measles vaccines. However, this does not justify attempts by the US vaccine establishment to impose rigid mandates for every vaccine on the immunization schedule, regardless of the frequency, severity, or transmissibility of the target diseases. Our knowledge of long-term safety and effectiveness, particularly for newer vaccines, is quite limited. In part this is the result of a systematic tendency for the establishment to highlight good news and ignore bad news.

A recent case in point is the US outbreak of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) that began among schoolchildren in 2014. Clinically it is virtually identical to poliomyelitis and has been associated with non-polio enteroviruses. Individuals who remember "provocation paralysis"/"provocation polio" have suggested that intramuscular injections (vaccinations, antibiotics) could be co-factors for AFM. So far, however, our CDC and the rest of our vaccine establishment have scrupulously avoided investigating this possibility, even though AFM is widely publicized as a "mystery disease."

The motives driving the vaccine establishment are not purely humanitarian. When I hear some of their rhetoric I am reminded of George Orwell's statement about the language of politics and "cuttlefish squirting out ink."

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 April 2017
Allan S. Cunningham
Retired pediatrician
Cooperstown NY 13326, USA