London - The benefits of the annual flu jab have been “over-hyped”, scientists claim.
They say the vaccine is far less effective than is widely believed, with some studies showing it protects less than two-thirds of the population.
The US researchers say ministers in Britain as well as America are “wasting taxpayers’ money” on the jab.
And they claim that because the benefits have been so “over-promoted”, scientists have been deterred from inventing vaccines that would be far more effective.
But the Department of Health has insisted the flu jabs “save lives” and urged the elderly and patients with long-term conditions to come forward for their vaccinations.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota looked at 12,000 studies on the effectiveness and safety of the flu jab, going back to the 1930s.
They say that although government officials claim it protects between 70 and 90 percent of the population, this is actually not the case.
In fact, they say, it protects just 59 percent of adults aged 18 to 65, but is far less effective in the elderly.
Professor Michael Osterholm, who was involved in the study, said: “I have been a strong proponent of vaccination in general, and flu vaccine in particular, for many years. I still recommend its use as the best we have.
“But we have over-promoted this vaccine. For certain age groups in some years its effectiveness has been severely limited relative to what has been previously reported.
“That has had a very dampening effect on the development of new vaccines.”
And Douglas Fleming, of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Influenza Monitoring Unit in Birmingham, said: “No vaccines are perfect. Last year’s flu vaccine was a bad match with the circulating strains. Its effectiveness varies from year to year and with different age groups.
“Among the elderly it is widely recognised that its effectiveness decreases. Better vaccines are needed for this reason particularly. It has been over-hyped by many people.”
The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show that 61 percent of the over-65s have been vaccinated this year, as well as 30 percent of pregnant women and 37.5 percent of those with long-term conditions.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “There is no doubt that the flu programme saves lives.
“Evidence on the effectiveness of the vaccine is reviewed by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation and this year the committee undertook a detailed review of the flu vaccine programme.
“We strongly encourage scientists and the vaccine industry in their efforts to develop new and more effective flu vaccine and do not agree that these efforts are being discouraged.
“Each year thousands of people die after catching flu and we urge everyone that is in an at-risk group to get the vaccine.”
Professor Osterholm added: “We support using flu vaccine in all age groups. Even among the over-65s, although it is of limited benefit, it is still a benefit.” - Daily Mail