by Jeremy R. Hammond
Washington Post article
who don't get a flu shot
shows how the
media's reporting on vaccines
is public policy
With the 2018-2019 flu season approaching, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
is pushing out propaganda to increase demand for the pharmaceutical
industry's influenza vaccine products - and
the mainstream media is naturally
parroting the misinformation unthinkingly.
Washington Post's article from
earlier this month titled "Flu
can be a killer, but some refuse to take a shot".
As one can tell from the
title, the message of the article is that people who choose not to
be injected with the influenza vaccine are behaving irrationally.
The author even likens it to people who choose not to wear their
seat belt while driving. There's no reason not to just do it!
The underlying assumption being made here is that vaccination is a
one-size-fits-all solution that is both safe and effective. We are
supposed to believe that this is precisely what science tells us.
But that is unequivocally false.
Neither the CDC nor the media have any interest in properly
informing the public about what science actually tells us about the
Instead, they issue
endless propaganda that only serves to misinform, as this
article so aptly demonstrates.
Misleading the Public about Annual Flu Deaths
The first thing the Post tells us about the influenza virus is that
it is responsible for hundreds of thousands of
hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths each year.
Last season, the Post says, an "estimated 600,000 people" were
"hospitalized because of the flu".
"In a recent report,
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu killed
about 80,000 Americans in the 2017-2018 season, the most in
decades. In other recent years death estimates have ranged from
12,000 to 56,000, according to the CDC."
The Post repeats the
CDC's claims as though they were uncontroversially credible.
The truth is that the
CDC's estimates are highly controversial
precisely because of their highly questionable credibility...
Don't take my word for it. Here's a study (Mortality
due to Influenza in the United States - An Annualized Regression
Approach using Multiple-Cause Mortality Data) published
in the American Journal of Epidemiology stating that there is
"substantial controversy" surrounding the CDC's estimates.
Why is it that
the fact that the CDC's estimates are controversial is
practically never relayed to the public by the mainstream
Is it that
journalists and editors who work for the corporate media are
aware of the great controversy and simply choose to
deliberately deceive their audiences by withholding that
highly relevant information?
Or is it that
they are simply too irresponsible and lazy to do their
homework and instead just take whatever the CDC puts out in
its public relations messaging as gospel and relay it
unthinkingly to their audience?
I don't see any other
possibilities. In the case of this particular author, I think it is
It seems to me that
Robyn Correll is totally convinced of her own propaganda.
Another thing you won't learn from the Washington Post or other
mainstream media is that the CDC engages in a deliberate strategy of
using fear marketing to increase demand for its influenza vaccines.
Once again, you don't need to take my word for this.
At a workshop for the
Institute of Medicine in 2004, the CDC presented a presentation that
outlined a "‘Recipe'
for Fostering Public Interest and High Vaccine Demand",
which called explicitly for using fear marketing
to do just that.
It even bluntly stated
"Health literacy is a
Why? Because people who
do their own research and make their own informed choices rather
than blindly following the CDC's recommendations are less likely to
get the flu shot.
(And if you're thinking I must be too liberally interpreting, the
specific context in which the CDC identified health literacy as an
obstacle to be overcome in the pursuance of its aim of increasing
demand for influenza vaccines was the fact that healthy adults
widely - and rightly - recognize that they are not at high risk of
serious complications from the flu. Read it for yourself and see!)
I won't get into all the
reasons why the CDC's estimates are not credible because I've
already written about it in detail in my article "How
the CDC Uses Fear Marketing to Increase Demand for Flu Vaccines".
So you can read that for
more information. (I also deal specifically with the CDC's claim
about last season's flu-associated deaths in my post "80,000
Flu Deaths Last Season? Why the CDC's Claim Is Not Credible.")
For our purposes here, just understand that while the media relays
the CDC's claims as though solidly grounded in fact, its estimates
are rather highly controversial precisely because they rest on
numerous dubious assumptions.
To give you a quick idea, though, of the contrast between the actual
data and the CDC's alarming estimates, consider that the average
number of deaths each year for which the cause is actually
attributed on death certificates to influenza is not tens of
thousands or even thousands, but
little more than 1,000.
After unquestioningly relaying the CDC's claims as though factual,
the Post expresses puzzlement over why, therefore, fewer than half
of Americans choose to get a flu shot - as though this was simply
inexplicable and representative of completely irrational behavior!
Of course, just knowing the fact that the CDC's claims about annual
flu deaths are highly controversial already goes a long way toward
explaining why people might choose not to get the influenza vaccine.
And there is a whole world of other information out there that the
Post doesn't offer its readers even the slightest glimpse into, but
that would entirely dispel any puzzlement over it.
Anyone who bothers to actually research the medical literature for
themselves to see what science actually tells us can easily
understand how the choice not to get a flu shot can be perfectly
The Washington Post simply has no interest in examining the actual
science, much less informing its readers about it.
For starters, note that the assumption Correll and her Post editors
are making is that vaccination is a one-size-fits-all solution.
Everybody aged six months and up, including pregnant women, should
get the flu shot, according to the CDC's recommendation. Anyone who
doesn't follow this advice is simply making a wrong choice.
That's what we're told. But this is simply ignorant and utterly
What we know from science, rather, is that the risk-benefit analysis
of vaccination must be done for each vaccine and for each
individual. And we also know that there are plenty of legitimate
reasons why people might choose not to get a flu shot.
The underlying assumption behind the Post's headline simply
illustrates the ignorance of the author and the editorial board and
highlights that it is they, not people who choose not to get the
vaccine, who are being irrational and unscientific.
Unscientific Claims about the Best Way to Prevent the Flu
In expressing puzzlement over why people would choose not to get the
flu shot, the Post adds that the vaccine is,
"the most important
way for everyone older than 6 months to protect against serious
cases of the ailment, according to the CDC."
Note that once again, the
word of the CDC is parroted as though credible.
But what is the
scientific basis for this claim? Nobody at the Washington Post
bothers themselves to search for the answer to such questions. They
don't even raise the question.
What the CDC says is rather taken as gospel, and that is that.
But where are the
studies showing that getting an annual flu shot is more
effective for preventing influenza illness than lifestyle
choices to maintain a healthy, functioning immune system?
Where are the
studies showing that vaccination is more effective than
doing things like eating a nutritious diet, mitigating
exposures to environmental toxins, washing hands and
otherwise practicing good hygiene, exercising, and
maintaining sufficiency of vitamin C and vitamin D?
The answer is that
they don't exist...
The reality is that there is absolutely no scientific basis for the
CDC's assertion that the influenza vaccine is the most effective way
to prevent the flu.
But the media parrot it dogmatically anyway as though it was an
What you are witnessing with this kind of propaganda is the
pervasiveness of the vaccine religion.
And those who dare to question public vaccine policy, insofar as the
mainstream discourse about the practice of vaccination goes, are
guilty of heresy.
Hence the total inability of the folks at the Washington Post to
comprehend how anyone could come to any conclusion other than that
they absolutely need to get a flu shot annually.
Address the Real Reasons People Choose Not to Vaccinate
After yet again dogmatically parroting an unevidenced CDC claim as
fact, the Post continues by accurately stating that,
"One of the biggest
reasons people give for not getting the flu vaccine is that they
don't think it's necessary."
That was precisely the
problem the CDC was addressing in its "Recipe" for using fear
marketing to increase influenza vaccine demand and its
identification of health literacy as a "problem" to be overcome.
Of course, rather than explaining to readers the many factors that
must be considered and that can lead individuals make the perfectly
rational decision not to get the vaccine, the Post mindlessly waves
off any doubts about the wisdom of doing so by citing an "expert" to
support its assertion that anyone who thinks they don't need a flu
"doesn't take into
account how deadly flu can be to healthy people".
Which is simply
It's an obvious non sequitur fallacy. It doesn't follow from the
fact that a healthy person chooses not to get the flu shot that
therefore they are unaware that it is possible for the influenza
virus to cause death.
I doubt very much indeed that there are any healthy adults who
choose not to get the shot who are unaware that the virus can
potentially cause death.
Who doesn't know that?!
After all, the government as well as the corporate media incessantly
remind us all every flu season that influenza infections can be
fatal. You can hardly read an article about the flu shot that
doesn't emphasize this.
So, clearly, ignorance
about this on the part of consumers can hardly explain why so many
people choose not to get the shot.
It's actually a triple fallacy because, in addition to being a non
sequitur, it's a strawman and also simply begs the real question by
ignoring the fact that it is true that healthy adults are at low
risk of deadly complications from the flu.
Public about the Flu Shot's Effectiveness
The Post's bewilderment about why low-risk individuals would choose
not to get a flu shot also rests on the assumption that the
influenza vaccine is actually effective at reducing hospitalizations
and deaths from influenza.
Further into the article,
the Post hails,
"how well the vaccine
protects against not just getting sick but also hospitalization
This is a bit ironic
coming from an author who vaccinated her own two-year-old son at the
start of the last flu season only for him to get a serious flu
infection that he,
in her words,
"struggled to fight
(He took on a "rag
doll"-like appearance, laying limply and staring blankly, and was
treated with antiviral medication.)
So just how well does it protect not just against getting sick, but
against hospitalization and death? It's an important question that
the Post doesn't bother to answer.
Instead, the article just
leaves readers with the false impression that science tells us that
the vaccine is very effective at preventing hospitalizations and
Indeed, this assumption is one of the primary rationales for the
CDC's universal influenza vaccine recommendation.
The other primary rationale for CDC policy is the assumption that
vaccination prevents transmission of the virus.
But what does science actually tell us about these two fundamental
That's a question the mainstream media never bother to ask. Once
again, whatever the CDC says is simply taken as gospel truth. It is
But there is an answer, and it's this:
What science actually
tells us is that studies show "no effect" of influenza
vaccination on hospitalization, and that there is,
"no evidence that
vaccines prevent viral transmission or complications."
That's what a 2010
meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration found after doing
a thorough review of existing influenza vaccine studies.
In fact, the Cochrane researchers found that none of the studies
included in their meta-analysis were even designed to determine
whether the CDC's fundamental assumptions were true.
They all simply took the CDC's assumptions for granted and proceeded
Moreover, the body of studies on the safety and effectiveness of the
influenza vaccine are largely industry funded, and industry funding
has been shown in studies to be associated with findings that are
significantly more favorable to the pharmaceutical industry's bottom
The Cochrane review described the quality of the majority of
influenza vaccine studies as "low".
What science tells us is not that it is crazy for people not to get
the flu shot, but that the scientific evidence,
discourage the utilization of vaccination against influenza in
healthy adults as a routine public health measure."
On the question of viral
transmission, a study from earlier this year found that influenza
vaccination actually increased transmission of the virus, with
vaccinated individuals shedding more than six times as much
aerosolized virus in their breath than unvaccinated individuals.
(For more on this, read
my article "How
the CDC Uses Fear and Deception to Sell More Flu Vaccines".)
A 2012 Cochrane review looking at studies of influenza vaccination
in healthy children found that, given the CDC's recommendation that
children as young as six months receive the vaccine and given the
egregious lack of safety studies in children under age two,
randomized, placebo-controlled safety trials were "urgently
A 2014 Cochrane review looking again at influenza vaccination in
healthy adults, but with a specific focus on the CDC's
recommendation that all pregnant women get a flu shot, found that
the number of randomized, placebo-controlled trials examining the
safety and effectiveness of vaccinating pregnant women was zero.
That review concluded bluntly that the body of studies to date
"no evidence for the
utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults
as a routine public health measure."
Let me repeat that:
according to a thorough review of existing influenza vaccine studies
by a prestigious international scientific organization, there is "no
evidence" to support the CDC's recommendation that all adults
receive an annual flu shot.
Another way to look at that is that there is no evidence that all
the billions of dollars spent on influenza vaccination each year
actually provides a net economic benefit.
Yet another way to see it is that what science actually tells us
about the CDC's influenza vaccine policy is that it's wrong!
Now compare that finding with the Washington Post's underlying
message that anyone who doesn't choose to get the vaccine is
behaving irrationally and is ignorant of the science.
If there's one thing you need to understand, it is this:
What the government
and media say science says about vaccines and what science
actually tells us are two completely different things.
Just this year, the
Cochrane group updated its reviews of what science tells us about
the influenza vaccine, emphasizing that despite the passage of years
since its earlier meta-analyses and their repeated urging for more
high quality studies to be done, nothing has really changed and
their earlier conclusions still stand.
So, how can it be that there is such a great disparity between what
the media reports and the actual science?
A big part of the answer is the fact that, by deceiving the public
about the science, the media is simply following the CDC's example.
This was also highlighted by the Cochrane researchers in their 2010
meta-analysis, which went so far in its criticism of public vaccine
policy as to accuse the CDC of deliberately misrepresenting the
science in order to support their universal influenza vaccination
I cover those reviews in much greater detail in my article "Should
You Get the Flu Shot Every Year? Don't Ask the New York Times."
I encourage you to dive
into it to get a better idea of just how utterly dishonest the
mainstream media are.
But for our purposes here, the key takeaway is that what the
Washington Post wants you to believe science says about the flu
shot is based not in fact but delusion.
So, is it crazy for people to choose not to get a flu shot?
No, it is not. It is a perfectly rational choice that an individual
can make based firmly on scientific grounds.
And the information I've just provided that the Post withholds from
you is just barely scratching the surface of all the factors that
one could take into consideration that would lead one to rationally
conclude that getting a flu shot isn't such a good idea.
There simply is no serious discussion about the critically important
issue of vaccines within the mainstream discourse.
Serious discussion about the subject of vaccines in the mainstream
media does not exist.
Lying about Vaccine Safety
After expressing bewilderment that anyone could think that they
don't need a flu shot, the Post adds,
people don't get vaccinated is because they are more concerned
about the vaccine than they are of the flu itself."
To support its assumption
that the risk-benefit analysis must always and for everyone fall on
the side of vaccination, the Post lazily states,
supports the safety and
necessity of vaccinations."
But as we have already
seen, the claim that science supports the Post's assertion that it
is a "necessity" for everyone to get an annual flu shot is utterly
Moreover, the source the Post links to here to support its utterly
false statement does nothing to help its case.
On the contrary, the link leads the reader to another Post article
that likewise just outright lies to its readers about what science
has to say about vaccine safety.
To start with, it's worth pointing out that the linked article
didn't even discuss the influenza vaccine.
It did mention it in passing, but only in the context of it being
among the vaccines on the CDC's routine childhood vaccine schedule.
In fact, the whole purpose of that article was to persuade parents
that vaccinating their children according to the CDC's schedule is
And to this end, the
author, Lena H. Sun, falsely asserted that,
"The effectiveness of
the vaccine schedule is tested extensively to ensure that the
vaccines in the combination don't interfere with one another and
can be easily handled by the infant and the child's immune
No new immunization
is added to the schedule until it has been evaluated both alone
and when given with the other current immunizations."
That is a bald-faced
The truth is that no vaccine on the CDC's schedule has been studied
for safety when given in combination with every other vaccine on the
It's the Post's burden of proof to provide us with evidence for the
existence of such studies. Instructively, the Post provides us with
It can't because there are no such studies.
Once again, you don't need to take my word for that.
The Institute of
in a 2013 report on the safety of the CDC's childhood schedule
has not been designed to test the entire immunization schedule".
Contrary to the Post's
bald-faced lie, as the IOM acknowledged,
"studies designed to
examine the long-term effects of the cumulative number of
vaccines or other aspects of the immunization schedule have not
So there you have it.
confronted the Post and Lena H. Sun about
their recklessly irresponsible lie.
I submitted letters
requesting the Post to correct the piece. I spoke on the phone with
Sun herself to confront her about it. I directed her attention to
the IOM report, as well as other studies from the medical literature
observing that no such studies have been done.
She acknowledged having
received my emails and having looked at the IOM report.
But rather than admitting
she was wrong and correcting her error, she meaninglessly and
mindlessly accused me of having taken the relevant quotes from the
IOM report "out of context" - and when I pressed her to explain how
so, she hung up on me.
The Post refused to print a correction, and to this day, that Post
article remains online and continues to recklessly and blatantly lie
to parents about the safety of the CDC's childhood schedule.
And that is the article the more recent Post piece is citing to
support its claim that the influenza vaccine is safe and necessary
for everyone, including healthy adults, infants as young as six
months, and pregnant women!
It's just another Big Lie.
Inform the Public about the Risks of Getting a Flu Shot
What the Washington Post is doing in this recent article is
not journalism. It is public policy advocacy...
And the Post is, of course, not alone. The entire mainstream media
establishment engages in this kind of propaganda routinely and
Far from properly informing the public so that individuals will have
the knowledge they'll need to make an informed choice whether or not
to vaccinate, the Post is simply starting from the conclusion that
everyone should strictly adhere to the CDC's recommendations and
filling in the rest.
This can be done either by mindlessly regurgitating government and
industry propaganda or by simply making up whatever "facts" are
necessary to lead readers to the predetermined conclusion.
There is no research. There is not even any questioning! There is
We've already seen this in the above examples.
Continuing, the Post
attempts to characterize people who choose not to get the flu shot
as being grossly misinformed by adding:
"And for those
worried that flu shots will give them the flu, they don't,
according to the CDC. They're made of inactivated, or dead,
virus and proteins - not live virus - making it impossible to
get the flu from the shot."
There are two important
facts here, though, that the Post should but does not disclose.
One is that the
inactivated influenza vaccines, which are injected, are not
the only kind of influenza vaccine. There is also a live
virus influenza vaccine.
This is the live attenuated influenza vaccine, which is a
spray administered intranasally. And by the logic of the
Post's own argument, since it's a live virus vaccine,
therefore it is theoretically possible that it could cause
The CDC, of course, claims it doesn't, but the point is that
the Post doesn't bother to clarify the difference between
the flu "shot", which always refers to inactivated vaccines
that are injected, and the live virus vaccines.
(And if you want an example of a live attenuated vaccine
that is known to cause the very disease it is intended to
prevent, this is precisely why the oral polio vaccine is no
longer used in the US. In fact, every case of paralytic
polio in the US after 1979 was caused by the vaccine.)
important fact the Post doesn't tell its readers is that
studies have shown that getting an annual flu shot can
increase your risk of getting the flu.
There are numerous studies finding this, and they explain
the possible mechanisms explaining why associations have
been found between annual vaccination and increased risk of
In short, it has to do
with the opportunity cost of vaccination and the superiority of
naturally acquired immunity.
But there is no need for me to go into the details about this here
because for our present purpose the key takeaway is that, while the
findings of these studies may be considered controversial, their
existence is not!
Once again, it comes down to a question of whether Robyn Correll
is simply unaware of this body of research because she simply hasn't
done her homework or is aware of it and simply chooses to pretend
that it does not exist.
I'm convinced in her case it's the former, but either way, the
effect of it is that you, dear reader, are simply not supposed to
know about these studies. All you are supposed to know is that the
CDC says getting a flu shot can't cause you to get the flu.
Nothing else to see here.
Move right along. No more questions.
Just go line up and get
your damned shots!
The mainstream media do not educate the public about the critically
important issue of vaccines.
Instead, they perform
their usual statist function of manufacturing
consent for government policies by issuing propaganda
intended not to inform, but to deceive people into believing
falsehoods so that they will obediently comply with the state's
However, the CDC really does have a problem of growing health
literacy among the public.
People really are doing
their own research, thinking for themselves, and drawing their own
conclusions - no thanks to the Washington Post and the rest of the
incompetent and recklessly irresponsible mainstream media.
It's well past time the mainstream media started practicing