To Flu Shot Or Not... That is the Question

Every fall I field many questions about the flu shot and I’m most commonly asked “should I get one?” Vaccinations are a very controversial topic and people feel strongly both for and against vaccinations.   Rather than make a decision from fear or pressure, I think it’s important to ask the right questions, look at all the data, evaluate your medical and health history and then make an informed decision that YOU are comfortable with.

Why Get the Flu Vaccine?  

I had the flu about three years ago and let’s face it — it stinks and nobody wants to get it.  You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, you’re likely going to miss work for at least a week and it may take several weeks to recover.  The flu hits young children and the elderly the hardest and can cause complications like pneumonia, hospitalization and, occasionally, death.  Historically, flu outbreaks have caused millions upon millions of deaths.  Because it is not something to take lightly the government tries to protect the public from potentially harmful influenza infection.

Is the Flu Vaccine Effective?

That depends on who you ask.  If you look at the CDC’s webpage on the flu vaccine effectiveness everything sounds straight forward. According to the CDC the flu vaccine is between 30 – 70% effective at preventing the flu depending on the population you’re evaluating.  How well the flu vaccine performs depends how well the three strains chosen each year match the flu strains that people are infected with.  The vaccine is not effective against upper respiratory viral infections so it will not protect you from the common cold or other flu-like viruses.

The problem is there is very little research that demonstrates the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.  According to Tom Jefferson, author of Influenza Vaccination: Policy versus Evidence published in the British Medical Journal, most of the studies are very small, not well constructed, depend too much on cohorts and non-randomised studies that introduce bias making the results unreliable.  He goes on to say, “In children under 2 years inactivated vaccines had the same field of efficacy as placebo, and in healthy people under 65 vaccination did not affect hospital stay, time off work, or death from influenza and its complications.”  With the current studies that we have on the flu vaccine and the fact that strains change from year to year, the simple answer is no one really knows if it is or is not effective—there is not enough data yet.

Is the Flu Vaccine Safe?

For the same reasons we don’t know if the flu vaccine is effective, we can’t say whether or not it is safe.  This is especially true in babies, small children and pregnant women.  There is not enough evidence to provide an answer either way.  If you read the package inserts for the fluarix flu vaccine it says, “safety and effectiveness has not been established in pregnant mothers.”  The package insert goes on to say that there has been a small study on pregnant rats which did not cause harm to the rat or her rat baby, however, there are no human studies that demonstrate safety or effectiveness.

Individual dose flu vaccines usually do not contain thimerisol (mercury), but most multi-dose flu vaccines do.  Thimerisol is still highly controversial as to whether it is linked to mitochodrial disease and additional complications.  In addition, most of the flu vaccines contain α-tocopheryl hydrogen succinate, polysorbate 80 and residual amounts of hydrocortisone, gentamicin sulfate, ovalbumin (egg), formaldehyde, and sodium deoxycholate.

The 2011-2012 flu vaccine contains three influenza strains including H1N1 or swine flu.  The swine flu vaccine is associated with an increased risk for Guillain-Barré Syndrome.  According to the Mayo Clinic Website “Guillain-Barre (ghee-YA-buh-RAY) syndrome is a disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.”(1)

Is the Flu Vaccine right for me?6 Natural Ways to Knock Out Germs

Only you can answer that question, but promise me you will make an informed decision that’s best for you!  I’ve included a list of links on the flu shot so you can look at the available data yourself.

Flu Proof Naturally

I believe the best way to support a healthy immune system is to stick with the basics of staying healthy: adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercising, minimizing stress, washing hands and of course taking herbs (but you knew I was going to stay that).  For more on how to knock out germs see our post Flu Proof Your Kid: 5 Ways to Do It Naturally.

Links for More Information on the Flu Vaccine:

CDC: Effectiveness of Flu Vaccine

CDC: 2011-12 Vaccine Selection

CDC: Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Recommends Universal Annual Immunization

British Medical Journal: Influenza Vaccination: Policy versus Evidence 

Studies Fail to Demonstrate Safety or Effectiveness of Influenza Vaccine in Children and Adults

The Flu Vaccine and You: what parents need to know about the new recommendations

Flu Vaccine: Stay Out of My Womb!

What’s in the Flu Vaccine: Online Flu Vaccine Package Inserts

References:

(1) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/guillain-barre-syndrome/DS00413

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