The vaccines aren't very effective and they cause more side effects than government agencies admit, says Peter Doshi, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Demand for the annual flu shot is driven entirely by government health warnings that emphasise that seasonal flu is a serious disease with complications, and that the vaccine is a risk-free life-saver. To support the last claim, the US government has cited studies that suggest the vaccine reduces the risk of death from flu by 48 per cent.
"If true, these statistics indicate that influenza vaccines can save more lives than any other single licensed medicine on the planet", says Doshi. The studies are implausible, and do not take into account the 'healthy-user effect' where healthier people are more likely to have the vaccine.
"For most people, and possibly most doctors, officials need only claim that vaccines saves lives, and it is assumed there must be solid research behind it," he says.
Influenza is just one more case of disease-mongering, he says, or the medicalising of ordinary life in order to expand the market for pharmaceuticals.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2013; 346: f3037).