The doctor who invented the flu vaccine agrees that a major flu outbreak is likely but says the flu jab is powerless to stop it.
Dr Graeme Laver, who helped to create the flu vaccine more than 40 years ago, said that although the flu jab could offer some protection, it should not be relied on.
“If the seasonal flu is as bad as it was in Australia, you are in for a pretty bad time,“ said Dr Laver. “You could have a really severe epidemic. Thousands will be ill and many will die”.
The Australian scientist said he had never been impressed with the effectiveness of his own vaccine. “It is better than nothing and I wouldn’t want to advise people not to take it,” he said. “But you can’t rely on it doing any good.”
On average the flu kills about 12,000 people in the UK with the elderly and young children being at highest risk. The flu virus mutates into new strains each year which become resistant to normal anti-viral drugs.
Scientists have been warning for some time that a flu pandemic is now overdue, either from a mutation of the normal human flu virus or from the highly infectious H5N1 bird flu strain.
Australia has seen a tripling in the number of flu cases this year with many hundreds dying from associated pneumonia. People have been more vulnerable to infection because of a succession of mild flu outbreaks during previous winters – a similar situation to that of the UK.
Dr Laver said that people should be able to buy flu drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza over the counter rather than only by prescription. He asserted that, “the safe and effective anti-flu drugs could, if used correctly, avoid much of this distress.”
The Food and Drug Administration in the US recently recommended changing the labelling of Tamiflu and Relenza to include warnings about possible psychiatric side effects. Tamiflu should have a warning of the possibility of ‘serious injuries, including death, in adult and paediatric patients‘ brought on by delirium or self-injury, whilst Relenza should warn of ‘hallucinations, delirium and abnormal behaviour’.
Sales of the natural flu remedy Sambucol, which have been strong in the lead up to winter, are expected to grow even further following Dr Laver’s admission. The anti-flu medicine, which contains active ingredients found in the proteins of the black elderberry, has been found to be highly effective against Type A & B and the H5N1 strain of the flu virus.