STATISTICS are being used by the federal government to justify sweeping and draconian legislation that threatens to harm patients and the public, a new study found.
As a result, researchers are beginning to question the value of the data they collect, says Peter Fenton, a data scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit research organization that has been tracking trends in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“The data itself is worthless, but the value to policymakers is not,” he said.
“The data can and does serve to validate and legitimize government policies.”
Researchers at CSPI analyzed data on influenza deaths, flu-related deaths, vaccine use, vaccine-preventable deaths, and deaths due to COVID-19 to analyze trends in vaccine use and effectiveness.
In doing so, they found that data on deaths is used to support legislation that could make it more difficult for the public to access lifesaving vaccines, while data on flu-specific deaths is being used to justify restrictions on flu vaccination, which could slow the spread of influenza.
“Data that’s available for the purpose of policymaking has been hijacked,” Fenton said.
For example, Fenton noted that many people do not realize that vaccines and antibiotics are not the only medications available to prevent flu and pneumonia.
He cited data showing that people who have taken at least two doses of flu shots can be protected from influenza infection by the flu vaccine, but that people with lower levels of flu vaccination (such as those who take the flu shot at least once a month) have no protection from flu infection.
The data also can be manipulated to support policies that do not reflect the health of the public.
For example, in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing how much flu shots people were likely to receive had changed over time.
However, that data was collected at the time of the pandemic, meaning the data was not updated after the pandemics ended.
“This is a very disturbing situation,” Feson said.
Fenton and his colleagues found that these data-driven decisions have the potential to affect public health decisions and policymaking.
“When we’re using statistics to push through policies, we’re undermining our ability to make informed decisions about public health,” he added.
“In the case of flu vaccines, this may be particularly important because of the fact that vaccines have been shown to be effective against the pandemia of flu in many people.”
Fenton said that the data-heavy approach is particularly dangerous when it comes to data-based policymaking, because it has the potential for the government to make bad decisions about how vaccines are administered and to implement regulations that are based on data that is not based on the health or safety of the people receiving the vaccines.
The CDC data on pandemic flu vaccine effectiveness is particularly relevant, he said, because there were large differences between flu vaccine users and non-users.
For instance, while people who took at least six doses of the flu shots reported that they were at least slightly less likely to get sick, people who did not take any flu shots at all had a higher risk of getting sick.
Similarly, people with no flu shots had a lower risk of developing flu-like symptoms than those who took six doses, and people with four or more doses had a greater risk of experiencing flu-associated illness.
While some experts say that these findings do not indicate that people should not get vaccinated because they are less likely, the CDC data could be used as a basis for future vaccine design.
“It’s a very troubling situation because this data could serve as a base for future regulations,” Fonsent said.
In order to combat the pandemaker pandemic and the spread that it is threatening, the U.S. government is planning to implement mandatory vaccination programs across the country.
The CDC data shows that this will likely cause many people to be vaccinated without getting the flu-prevention medication they need.
However, the data could also be used by public health officials to make decisions that could put people at higher risk for illness or death.
“If you want to put people in a situation where they’re more susceptible to the pandeem or to the spread,” Fonent said, “you can get a sense of the magnitude of the risk that a certain population has.”
“This data could become a tool to put the people who are in a position of vulnerability, who have lower levels [of flu vaccination], at a higher level of risk.”
The study, “Data-driven policymaking and pandemic pandemic vaccination: A critical evaluation of the efficacy of flu vaccine in the United States,” was published on the eve of the U,S.
Presidential Election on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2020.