How the CDC Uses Fear to Increase Demand for Flu Vaccines


by Arjun Walia, Collective Evolution:

  • The Facts:The CDC continues to use fear of hospitalization & death to increase demand for flu vaccines. Their “Recipe” calls for encouraging medical experts and public health authorities to “state concern and alarm.”
  • Reflect On:Is the flu shot necessary? It’s becoming hard to trust health professionals regarding this, especially given the fact their knowledge on vaccines isn’t up to par. Independent research might be more effective. It’s OK to question vaccines.

The CDC claims that its recommendation that everyone aged six months and up should get an annual flu shot is firmly grounded in science. The mainstream media reinforce this characterization by misinforming the public about what the science says.

New York Times article from earlier this year, for example, in order to persuade readers to follow the CDC’s recommendation, cited scientific literature reviews of the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration to support its characterization of the influenza vaccine as both effective and safe. The Times claimed that the science showed that the vaccine represented “a big payoff in public health” and that harms from the vaccine were “almost nonexistent”.

What the Cochrane researchers actually concluded, however, was that their findings “seem to discourage the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure” (emphasis added). Furthermore, given the known serious harms associated with specific flu vaccines and the CDC’s recommendation that infants as young as six months get a flu shot despite an alarming lack of safety studies for children under two, “large-scale studies assessing important outcomes, and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required.”

The CDC also recommends the vaccine for pregnant women despite the total absence of randomized controlled trials assessing the safety of this practice for both expectant mother and unborn child. (This is all the more concerning given that multi-dose vials of the inactivated influenza vaccine contain mercury, a known neurotoxin that can cross both the placental and blood-brain barriers and accumulate in the brain.)

The Cochrane researchers also found “no evidence” to support the CDC’s assumptions that the vaccine reduces transmission of the virus or the risk of potentially deadly complications—the two primary justifications claimed by the CDC to support its recommendation.

The CDC nevertheless pushes the influenza vaccine by claiming that it prevents large numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from flu. To reinforce its message that everyone should get an annual flu shot, the CDC claims that hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and tens of thousands die each year from influenza. These numbers are generally relayed by the mainstream media as though representative of known cases of flu. The aforementioned New York Times article, for example, stated matter-of-factly that, of the 9 million to 36 million people whom the CDC estimates get the flu each year, “Somewhere between 140,000 and 710,000 of them require hospitalization, and 12,000 to 56,000 die each year.”

…the average number of deaths each year for which the cause is actually attributed on death certificates to the influenza virus is little more than 1000.

On September 27, the CDC issued the claim at a press conference that 80,000 people died from the flu during the 2017 – 2018 flu season, and the media parroted this number as though fact.

What is not being communicated to the public is that the CDC’s numbers do not represent known cases of influenza. They do not come directly from surveillance data, but are rather controversial estimates based on controversial mathematical models that may greatly overestimate the numbers.

To put the matter into perspective, the average number of deaths each year for which the cause is actually attributed on death certificates to the influenza virus is little more than 1,000.

The consequence of the media parroting the CDC’s numbers as though uncontroversial is that the public is routinely misinformed about the impact of influenza on society and the ostensible benefits of the vaccine. Evidently, that’s just the way the CDC wants it, since the agency has also outlined a public relations strategy of using fear marketing to increase demand for flu shots.

In other words, the CDC considers it to be a problem that people are increasingly doing their own research and becoming more adept at educating themselves about health-related issues.

The CDC’s “Problem” of “Growing Health Literacy”

Before looking at some of the problems with the CDC’s estimates, it’s useful to examine the mindset at the agency with respect to how CDC officials view their role in society. An instructive snapshot of this mindset was provided in a presentation by the CDC’s director of media relations on June 17, 2004, at a workshop for the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

In its presentation, the CDC outlined a “‘Recipe’ for Fostering Public Interest and High Vaccine Demand”. It called for encouraging medical experts and public health authorities to “state concern and alarm” about “and predict dire outcomes” from the flu season. To inspire the necessary fear, the CDC encouraged describing each season as “very severe”, “more severe than last or past years”, and “deadly”.

One problem for the CDC is the accurate view among healthy adults that they are not at high risk of serious complications from the flu. As the presentation noted, “achieving consensus by ‘fiat’ is difficult”—meaning that just because the CDC makes the recommendation doesn’t mean that people will actually follow it. Therefore it was necessary to cause “concern, anxiety, and worry” among young, healthy adults who regard the flu as an inconvenience rather than something to be terribly afraid of.

The larger conundrum for the CDC is the proliferation of information available to the public on the internet. As the CDC bluntly stated it, “Health literacy is a growing problem”.

In other words, the CDC considers it to be a problem that people are increasingly doing their own research and becoming more adept at educating themselves about health-related issues. And, as we have already seen, the CDC has very good reason to be concerned about people doing their own research into what the science actually tells us about vaccines.

One prominent way the CDC inspires the necessary fear, of course, is with its estimates of the numbers of people who are hospitalized or die each year from the flu.

…many if not most people diagnosed with ‘the flu’ may not have actually been infected with the influenza virus at all, given the large number of other viruses that cause the same symptoms and the general lack of lab confirmation.

The Problems with the CDC’s Estimates of Annual Flu Deaths

Among the relevant facts that are routinely not relayed to the public by the media when the CDC’s numbers are cited is that only about 7% to 15% of what are called “influenza-like illnesses” are actually caused by influenza viruses. In fact, there are over 200 known viruses that cause influenza-like illnesses, and to determine whether an illness was actually caused by the influenza virus requires laboratory testing—which isn’t usually done.

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