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Amid a severe flu season, an inaccurate story on Facebook said that the flu shot is laced with cancer-causing ingredients but provided no credible evidence.
"Doctor blows whistle on flu shot: ‘it’s designed to spread cancer,’" said a Feb. 28 headline on Meddaily, an alternative medicine website.
Facebook users flagged the post as being potentially fabricated, as part of the social network’s efforts to combat online hoaxes. We interviewed scientists who disputed the claim that the flu shot is linked to cancer.
The story largely focuses on comments by Dr. John Bergman. We were unsuccessful in reaching Bergman. We messaged him on Facebook and received an automated message back that he no longer answers private messages.
We searched for any credible newspaper articles that quoted a Dr. John Bergman about flu shots and found nothing.
Meddaily wrote that Bergman "has revealed the influenza vaccinations being used to combat the latest H3N2 strain, are virtually ineffective and being forced onto the public through fear tactics to spread cancer."
Meddaily also links to a video that has circulated for years by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who argues that the flu vaccine is ineffective. Mercola has been criticized by scientists and federal agencies for many years.
The Meddaily article offers no credible evidence that the flu shot causes cancer.
We sent the Meddaily article to three well-respected scientists who agreed the claims about the flu shot having "cancer-causing ingredients" or being "designed to spread cancer" were wrong.
"What does this even mean?" said Aaron Carroll, a pediatrics professor at Indiana University. "Wouldn’t you need evidence that it’s ‘designed to spread cancer’ to make such a claim? I mean, you’d have to think the absolute worst about humanity, including pediatricians, to believe that."
William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said that about 120 million to 150 million doses of the flu vaccine are given in the United States alone, in addition to millions of doses in other countries.
"Would the World Health Organization be promoting a cancer-promoting product? No," he said.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a Feb. 26 statement that the flu this year has "resulted in a record number of hospitalizations." The federal government continues to research why the effectiveness is lower this year, however, a preliminary finding suggests the cell-based influenza vaccine might be somewhat more effective than the egg-based vaccine.
The overall estimated effectiveness of the 2017–18 seasonal influenza vaccine for preventing medically attended, laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection was 36 percent, as of mid February.
The CDC continues to recommend the flu shot because it can prevent some infections with currently circulating flu viruses.
"Even with current vaccine effectiveness estimates, vaccination will still prevent influenza illness, including thousands of hospitalizations and deaths. Persons aged ≥6 months who have not yet been vaccinated this season should be vaccinated," the CDC wrote in February.
Meddaily stated that the flu shot is "designed to spread cancer." Experts say this claim is nothing more than a ridiculous conspiracy theory. We rate this headline Pants on Fire.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on FDA’s ongoing efforts to help improve effectiveness of influenza vaccines," Feb. 26, 2018
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Thimerosal in Vaccines Questions and Answers, Accessed March 7, 2018
Centers for Disease Control, 2017-2018 Flu Season, Accessed March 7, 2018
Centers for Disease Control, Interim Estimates of 2017–18 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2018, Feb. 16, 2018
Centers for Disease Control, Thimerosal in Flu Vaccine, Accessed March 7, 2018
Federal Trade Commission, FTC Providing Full Refunds to Mercola Brand Tanning System Purchasers, Feb. 7, 2017
Science Based Medicine, "9 Reasons to Completely Ignore Joseph Mercola," Oct. 16, 2009
Dr. John Bergman, Everything You’ll Need to Know about Vaccines, Accessed March 7, 2018
Chicago Tribune, "FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool," April 26, 2011
Snopes, "Should You Avoid Getting a Flu Shot?" Jan. 13, 2018
Snopes, "Did the Flu Shot Cause This Year’s Flu Epidemic?" Feb. 14, 2018
AP, "Flu shot doesn't cause influenza epidemic," Feb. 27, 2018
Interview, Aaron E. Carroll, Professor of Pediatrics and Director, Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research Indiana University School of Medicine, March 7, 2018
Interview, Marie McCormick, Professor of Maternal and Child Health, Harvard School of Public Health, March 7, 2018
Interview, William Schaffner, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, March 7, 2018
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