Israel's Health Ministry Denies Yedioth Ahronoth Report That Flu Shots Are Useless

The daily newspaper quoted an unnamed doctor as saying that one might as well inject water into one's veins.

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A flu vaccine.
A flu vaccine. Credit: Reuters

The Health Ministry said on Tuesday this winter’s flu shots were effective as always after the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published on its front page that the shots were useless.

The tabloid quoted an unnamed doctor as saying that one might as well inject water into one’s veins, though later the article said the effectiveness of the shots was actually between 40 percent and 60 percent. This season’s inoculations do not include protection against a common strain of the flu.  

The flu-shot season began in late September, and Tuesday’s report at the end of the inoculation season stirred harsh criticism. Some critics said the Health Ministry was misleading the public, and petitioners have called on the ministry to halt the injections until it has adequate proof of their effectiveness.

This has added to Israelis’ growing lack of trust in vaccines in general.
Doctors and public health experts, however, said the headlines were inaccurate and would reduce people’s willingness to be inoculated – at the cost of lives.

The flu shots are formulated differently every year based on estimates of which flu strains will dominate that year. Around February, the World Health Organization decides on the components of the next flu vaccine, usually covering three or four main strains. Under optimal conditions, the shot is effective in up to 90 percent of cases.  

The process starts in February with the monitoring and forecasting of the seasonal flu strains, and the preparation of the vaccines for the following fall. Scientists all over the world sample the viruses in an attempt to identify the genetic changes the viruses underwent.

They then try to forecast how the virus will develop over the coming months and set the composition of the vaccines. The final decision comes in April, and drug companies start producing the vaccines based on these predictions.

Some years the flu strains undergo genetic changes while the shots are being prepared, and the inoculations become less effective  – as may have happened this year.

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