A closer look at flu shots

I read with interest your article “Why the flu is worse than a cold” [Nov. 26]. Please allow me to point out that the key assertions — the flu shot reduces death in the elderly, prevents the illness about “50 to 80 percent of the time” and “side effects are uncommon and usually mild” — are contradicted by a recent article, “Influenza: marketing vaccines by marketing disease.”

From that article, which appeared in the journal BMJ: “What evidence is there that influenza vaccines reduce deaths among the elderly . . .? Virtually none. . . . Influenza vaccines are approved for use in older people despite any clinical trials demonstrating a reduction in serious outcomes.” While “many randomized controlled trials of influenza vaccines have been conducted . . . a systematic review found that . . . vaccinating between 33 and 100 people resulted in one less case of influenza.”

It also reported that “Australia suspended its influenza vaccination program in under five year olds after . . . [one in every 110 vaccinated] children had febrile convulsions after vaccination. Another serious reaction . . . occurred in Sweden and Finland, where H1N1 influenza vaccines were associated with a spike in cases of narcolepsy among adolescents.”

The author of the article, Peter Doshi, summarized the flu vaccine situation as follows: “Closer examination of influenza vaccine policies shows that although the proponents employ the rhetoric of science, the studies underlying the policy are often of low quality, and do not substantiate [CDC] officials’ claims.”

Josh Mazer, Annapolis

The too-thin teenager

“Why was this high school student losing weight and feeling so sick?” [Medical Mysteries, Nov. 19] shed attention on a very interesting case and a very brave individual, Cate Chapin. She and her family went through a great deal of suffering, and they are to be admired for their strength and perseverance.

One of the reasons I specialized in ophthalmology is because the eyes are often reflective of many health problems, thus leading to proper diagnoses. Although I am delighted to have played a critical part in getting Cate’s medical mystery a proper diagnosis, it was Dave Forster who identified Cate as having TINU, tubulointerstitial nephritis and uveitis syndrome.

Melanie Buttross, MD, McLean