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Unproven Remedies: Vaccine or supplements for the cold and flu?

Unproven Remedies: Vaccine or supplements for the cold and flu?

Article by Don Goldberg

Unproven Remedies

This has been a worrisome cold and flu season. There were scary warnings, urging everyone to get their “flu shots.” The very young and the very old were singled out especially as “high risk.”

At the same time, advice on how to prevent and treat the cold and flu was everywhere. You heard about the proper way to muffle your sneeze, and the importance of washing your hands frequently. Hand sanitizer sales soared. Visions of sneeze propelled aerosol clouds of contagious germs in a crowed subway replaced chainsaw wielding monsters at the top of the nightmare list. You were told what foods to eat and, of course, what nutritional and herbal supplements to take.

In the midst of all this advice, we were fortunate to have various governmental agencies standing guard, helping to shield us from unscrupulous marketers who might be promoting cures that do not really work.

The FDA and FTC, for example, took action and/or issued warning letters against various supplement companies who labeled their products in ways that were appropriate only for approved drugs. A claim that a product can treat, cure, prevent or otherwise mitigate a disease is allowed only for drugs, not foods or supplements.

According to one report, they point out that "In addition, it is unlawful under the FTC Act … to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless you possess competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made," regulators warned in the letter . . . "More generally, to make or exaggerate such claims, whether directly or indirectly, through the use of a product name, website name, metatags, consumer testimonials, or other means, without rigorous scientific evidence sufficient to substantiate the claims, violates the FTC Act."

More recently, additional warning letters were sent out. U.S. regulators declared several products were being unlawfully marketed during the flu season. "The marketing and sale of unapproved or uncleared Flu Virus-related products is a potentially significant threat to the public health," FDA and FTC officials stated in a warning letter to . . . "Therefore, FDA is taking urgent measures to protect consumers from products that, without approval or clearance by FDA, claim to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat or cure Flu Virus in people."

Now this is fine. Without such oversight, there would be no end to unfounded and misleading claims for products, from cancer cures to baldness remedies. We certainly do not want to be exposed to cures that have not been proven to work.

Please forgive me, however, when I chuckle over this report on the efficacy of the official, approved drug, this season’s flu vaccine.

According to a U.S. government analysis of this season's flu vaccine, it seems it was effective in only 56 percent of people who got the shot, and it largely failed to protect the elderly against an especially deadly strain circulating during flu season.

"We simply need a better vaccine against influenza, one that works better and lasts longer," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said.

In discussing the details, they went on to say “the protective benefits of the vaccine against influenza B were consistent across age groups. That was not the case with the influenza A (H3N2) component of the vaccine, which protected 46 percent to 58 percent of people aged 6 months to 64 years, but only 9 percent of those 65 and older, a finding that was statistically insignificant.”

The findings suggest that a large group of elderly people, who are consistently the most vulnerable to influenza, were unprotected during this year's flu season.

“What is clear, Bresee said, is the need for the elderly who get sick with flu symptoms to seek treatment with antiviral medications, such as Roche Holding Ag's Tamiflu, which can reduce the severity of their illness.”

CDC noted that vaccine effectiveness has been known to vary based on a number of factors including virus type, age, the particular flu season and variations in an individual's immunity.

"Although it's far from perfect, flu vaccination is by far the best tool we have to protect from flu," Frieden said.

So we have the FDA approved flu vaccine, which, it seems, hardly helps the elderly, and only helps others about half the time. And we have other “remedies,” vitamins, herbs, etc that we cannot make claims for because they have not been proven to work.


Don Goldberg