Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Canadian Pharmacies Using Flu Shots To Sell Non-Evidence Based Supplements?

A few years ago the Province of Ontario granted pharmacists the right to administer flu shots. Personally I think that's a great move as it takes a load of our already overburdened doctors' offices and markedly increases the availability of the shots.

But it's not all sunshine.

Last Friday my family went to our local Rexall Pharma Plus to get ours shots. And while the shots went smoothly, and putting aside the fact my children were all offered chocolate bars for their bravery, it was the coupon that came actually attached to my "vaccination record" that gave me pause.

That's it up above. It's for Jamieson Flu Shield with "Polinacea".

What's Polinacea? It's an extract from the roots of the Echinacea angustifolia plant.

So does it work? To answer that question first check out this disclaimer that was printed on the Flu Shield coupon itself,

Do the words, "emerging", "preliminary", "suggests" and "may" instill you with confidence?

Looking to the medical literature the full text of this "preliminary research" is available online, and it turns out it was so preliminary that it didn't in fact study whether or not Polinacea helped to improve the immune system's response after taking the flu vaccine.

It was published in Alternative Medicine Review in 2012 and it involved two "pilot studies". The first followed 38 individuals divided into those receiving the flu shot and Polinacea, those receiving Polinacea and no flu shot, and those receiving both. They then tracked  influenza-type symptoms in the groups. They also looked at various blood based "immune parameter" biomarkers, but only did so in the group receiving Polinacea but no flu shot. Given they didn't actually compare those "immune parameter" biomarkers in the flu shot only group, no conclusion whatsoever can be drawn from the findings as to immune system response in those who also received the flu shot.

The second pilot study involved 34 children who did not in fact receive a flu shot, and so again, no conclusion as to the benefit of Flu Shield following a flu shot can be drawn.

Reflecting on this I need to ask, should publicly funded health care dollars be spent to help pharmacies sell non-evidence based nonsense to Ontarians?

My vote is no.