Push vaccination and hygiene, not OTCs: expert

There’s “not a lot” of evidence for most cold remedies or a role for vitamins and supplements in fighting colds and flu, an expert says

Professor Robert Booy, who is Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Sydney and the Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation and Surveillance, also slammed a TV ad aired earlier this year which implied people who had been vaccinated against flu could ignore other preventive measures.

“There are areas in which we’ve got stronger evidence than others, and a lot of things get proffered and promoted during the winter season including cold tablets, which are really only symptomatic: analgesics and measures to dry up secretions,” he says.

“The other measures that are taken – we’re still gathering evidence, we don’t have a lot of evidence for simple pharmaceutical interventions, other than things such as washing your hands regularly.

“We’re not even sure that wearing a mask is that effective. But washing your hands regularly, keeping away from other people is very effective.”

He criticised a recent TV ad which suggested consumers could closely interact with ill people, including on public transport, without concern if they had had the flu vaccine.

“You may have seen some TV ads during April suggesting that once someone is vaccinated against influenza they can waltz through life… that’s ridiculous,” Prof Booy says.

He said that rather than offering complementary medicines, pharmacies could talk about vaccination and hygiene – and remind customers that while winter might be here, it’s actually a good time to be vaccinated.

“The evidence that vitamins, including Vitamin C, will make a difference to your risk or will help you improve more swiftly is very scanty,” he says.

There was some evidence for zinc in prevention of winter respiratory ills, “but that’s about it,” and Echinacea has “a very limited effect”.

People who are vaccinated now will get a “good” level of protection from the flu, Prof Booy said: around 60 to 80%.

“The height of the flu season, as always, is likely to be in July, August, perhaps into September.”

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  1. Tony Pal

    Prof Booy’s point is understood, but try doing locums, where if you don’t turn up, you don’t get paid, and may never get called back again ever. Despite vaccination I have still been knocked down by a cold. (Note: not blaming the vaccine, only wishing to point out that the guaranteed stuff has limitations.) Vitamin C only works if you are close to getting scurvy. Yet I found something, my private remedy, that helps. (It even has disputed credibility to back it up.) If it was a true cold cure, it would work 100% of the time, but it does not. However, when it does work, it is magic. Out of the blue, all the warning symptoms are there. You know exactly how you will feel tomorrow. You go to bed having to choose do I want a pay cheque or not, so I try my 50% cure. Next morning if it works I will take one extra dose to make sure it stays away, if it doesn’t I will take a few more doses in the hope of shortening the event, then stop. If placebo effect is a real thing, then not feeling helpless and depressed when desperate to go to work the next day may also be an immune booster. Whether attitude, placebo or 50% real, I am grateful for my ‘no promises & no guarantees’ complementary medicine cold cure.

    • Ron Batagol

      All fair commments-ket’s face it- to get to his main comment-it’s totally irresponsible for companies producing medications it vaccines to encourage people carrying transmissable respiratory infections to carry on as normal spreading “germs” around the community, or to suggest that a flu shot protects someone from a whole other group of respiratory infections!

  2. Andaroo

    Sure thing Rob, once you let us know where all this “advice”, otherwise more commonly known in most other paid professions as “intellectual property”, will be funded from. Because sadly, its actually not all that financially viable to work for the appreciation of the greater scholarly community. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the principles and the greater good as well, but we have rent to pay too. And while the ~$140k average GP wage might allow for some movement when it comes to satisfying their own sensibilities at the cost of their income, a pharmacist’s average is ~$67k. Now I don’t know about you Rob, but $67k a year doesn’t exactly give you a lot of wiggle room to be a hero. Especially when you’ll be doing it with the almost certain outcome of reducing that figure even further.

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