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Covid-19 and flu vaccination: is there a link? – Niall McCrae & David Kurten

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Dr Niall McCrae

Bio: Niall McCrae is a senior lecturer in mental health. His research interests are dementia, depression and the impact of social media on younger people’s mental health. He has written three books: ‘The Moon and Madness’ (2011), ‘Echoes from the Corridors’ (with Peter Nolan, 2016) and the forthcoming ‘Moralitis: a Cultural Virus’ (with Robert Oulds, 2020). 

David Kurten AM

Bio: David Kurten is a London Assembly Member. He was elected in 2016 and sits on the Transport, Education, Housing, Fire and Environment committees at London City Hall. Before entering politics he was a Chemistry teacher and taught in schools in the UK, the USA, Botswana, Bermuda and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Covid-19 and flu vaccination: is there a link?

Niall McCrae & David Kurten

Could the flu vaccine be a factor in deaths from the coronavirus pandemic? Mortality varies widely between countries, some having rates less than ten per million, while western Europe and the USA are in the hundreds. And there is at least a correlation with the extent of flu vaccination in the elderly. The medical establishment tends to cast anyone who doubts the merits of vaccination as an extremist, but we present our case tentatively, and leave it to readers to decide whether this is a reasonable line of enquiry.

Influenza is a contagion that strikes every winter, with symptoms of headache, fever, chill, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, blocked nose and cough. Severe cases lead to pneumonia, a common cause of death in the elderly. The first vaccine against influenza was produced by Ernest Williams Goodpasture at Vanderbilt University in 1931, and vaccination became widely available after the Second World War.

Flu vaccination had its first major contest with the Asian flu pandemic of 1957-1958, which killed two million worldwide. Although the vaccine failed to protect, the high mortality was attributed to insufficient coverage: the pharmaceutical industry thus turned defeat into victory. In 1960 routine flu vaccination was recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control. Each pandemic has been exploited by the pro-vaccine lobby, and as sceptic Richard Moskowitz noted, the CDC became a mouthpiece for Big Pharma.

A challenge for flu vaccine producers is the genetic volatility of the virus, which mutates rapidly. A new vaccine is needed every autumn, based on guessing which strains will emerge. These are experimental medicinal products, administered to a multitude. No more than four strains of influenza can be targeted effectively, and according to expert Jon Cohen a universal flu vaccine is no more than an ‘alchemists’ dream’.

In practice, the preventive performance of the flu jab is poor, partly due to a mismatch with the virulent strains. In 2014 the Cochrane Collaboration, an international body for evidence-based medicine, published a review comprising 25 studies with 59566 participants, revealing that flu vaccines reduced the incidence of influenza by a mere 6%. Most trials were not placebo-controlled. Tom Jefferson, one of the authors, described evidence for the efficacy of the flu vaccine as ‘rubbish’.

Nonetheless, with heavy marketing and medical hubris, uptake of the flu jab increased, particularly in the vulnerable elderly population. In 2009, health ministers across the EU agreed to a target of vaccinating 75% of older people against influenza. However, ten years later, no country had achieved this, the average being 44.3%.

Covid-19 is a coronavirus, thus not covered by flu vaccines. However, many of the risk factors for Covid-19 are the same to those stated as reasons for people to take an annual flu jab. Old age is the clearest risk factor in this pandemic, with the average age of those dying with the disease around 80. Other important factors for both flu and Covid-19 are obesity and chronic conditions such as diabetes mellitus and respiratory disease. In addition, for Covid-19 there is marked sex disparity, with men accounting for over 60% of deaths.

Compare flu vaccine frequency in older people with Covid-19 mortality by 8th May (figures from the EUand Worldometer respectively): –

CountryFlu vaccination, age 65+ (%)Covid-19 mortality (per million)
United Kingdom72.6460
*7th May

Among countries omitted in the EU vaccination data is Belgium, which has the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, at 735 per million. While specific data for older people are not readily available on the official Belgian statistics website, national population coverage indicates a relatively high flu vaccination rate in the elderly. A clear difference can be seen between east and west Europe, both in vaccine uptake and Covid-19 deaths, which may be merely coincidental.

Globally the highest uptake of the flu vaccine by seniors in 2018-2019 was in South Korea, at 83%. Third (after the UK) was the USA with 68%, and fourth was New Zealand with 67%. Neither New Zealand nor South Korea fit our hypothesis, each country having a mortality of merely 4 and 5 per million respectively. South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea appear to have managed Covid-19 extremely well, despite their large populations and proximity to the source in China. Their use of tracking and tracing is impressive, and may be facilitated by cultural differences as well as technological advancement.

New Zealand’s low mortality is explained by its geographical isolation and rapid barring of entry to foreigners. Generally, the southern hemisphere has not suffered so much from Covid-19. Iceland was able to achieve similar containment. However, it appears that in continental Europe, as in North America, the virus quickly became endemic. Lockdown was like shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Despite some contrary cases, it is interesting that the countries with highest death rates are Belgium, Spain, Italy, the UK, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and the USA, all having vaccinated at least half of their elderly population against flu. Denmark and Germany, with lower use of the flu vaccine, have considerably lower Covid-19 mortality. These patterns override interventions to curtail Covid-19: Sweden and Ireland have similar mortality but the former remained open for business while the other imposed strict lockdown.

Of course, correlation is not causation, and the disproportionately high Covid-19 death tolls could be explained by other factors. Western European countries and the USA have urban areas of very high population density and multicultural demography, with busy hubs of international transit. Reporting practices vary considerably between countries. However, causation of Covid-19 mortality is likely to be multifactorial, and the flu vaccine should be considered in broader post-mortem investigation of this pandemic.

Recent developments in flu vaccines may be relevant. Last autumn, the UK was the first country in Europe to introduce Flucelvax Tetra, which was touted as 36% more effective. Flu vaccines have always been produced in hens’ eggs, which are a good incubator for the virus. For the UK alone, around 50 million eggs are needed for the annual vaccine supply. The new vaccine is created in vats of cells from dogs’ kidneys. These cells are more similar to ours than those of chickens.

Vaccines have been known to give room for new resistant strains of viruses to develop, through natural selection. As reported in BMC Medicine by Alehouse and Scarpino, whooping cough outbreaks have infected vaccinated as well as unvaccinated people. As warned by critics, mandating of the chickenpox vaccine in the USA appears to have weakened the immunity gained from the naturally-acquired disease; a review by Goldman and King in Vaccine journal showed an increased incidence of shingles. Studies (e.g. Skowronski et al, 2010) indicated that people receiving the flu vaccine in one year were more likely to contract the H1N1 strain in the following year.

Vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) is restricted to the two strains most linked to cervical cancer, which is likely to lead to other strains becoming prominent. In 2018 leading medical scientist Peter Gøtzsche was expelled from the Cochrane Collaboration, which he co-founded in 1993. Allegedly, he brought the organisation into disrepute after he exposed bias in a review of the HPV vaccine, which understated adverse effects.

Gøtzsche was accused of endangering millions of women by deterring vaccine uptake. In a similarly denouncing tone, British health secretary Matt Hancock stated: –

Those who campaign against vaccination are campaigning against science. The science is settled…Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible, deeply irresponsible and have blood on their hands.

These words do not represent a scientific attitude at all. Science is rarely ‘settled’ (a weaponising of language borrowed from climate change alarmists), certainly not in an area as complex as immunology. Just as we should be wary of anti-vaccine fundamentalists, Gøtzsche urged a critical attitude to official guidelines.

There are good reasons why people can become sceptical towards vaccines in general, or at least ask questions about them. The business practice of drug companies involves organised crime where cheating with the clinical trials and in marketing is common and has led to thousands of deaths. It is also clear that we cannot trust our drug regulators, which allow far too many dangerous drugs on to the market and are very slow to take them off again when the evidence for their lethal effects accumulates.

It has been hypothesised that vaccines may also increase susceptibility to other pathology, although this is highly contentious. Andrew Wakefield acted unethically with his research on the MMR vaccine and its putative link to inflammatory bowel disease and autism, but we should not dismiss concerns because one researcher was discredited. With the global focus on Covid-19 and the attempt to understand why some groups and nations are seemingly more susceptible to it, it is valid to ask: could the flu vaccine, while preventing certain strains of influenza, have reduced immunity to Covid-19?

Suppression of publication of research findings that contradict the accepted truth is a phenomenon well-known in climate science literature, and also in medicine, which is heavily influenced by commercial interests. And ‘the science’ is hardly robust when you consider the modelling by Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, which predicted, for example, that Sweden would have over 40 thousand deaths by the beginning of May, if it continued to refrain from a lockdown: the actual figure was fewer than three thousand.

We write not as vaccine experts but as a former chemistry teacher and a mental health lecturer. The true scientific attitude is scepticism, and that is how the orthodoxy and its assumptions are challenged. Co-author NM recently had publication of a commentary on Covid-19 refused because it didn’t concord with WHO guidelines, yet the WHO is hardly a pillar of truth, having failed to warn the world of the severity of Covid-19 in concert with the Chinese Communist Party. We should not allow institutions to thwart the search for truth or censor valid questions, however financially or politically powerful they may be.