The Flu: To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?
Each flu season we must decide on whether or not to get a flu shot or vaccine. But with questions on efficacy and safety, how do we know if we are making the right choice?
How is the vaccine given?
The flu vaccine is available as an intramuscular shot as well as a nasal-spray.
Will it protect me from the flu?
There are many strains of flu viruses that can cause illness. To make matters worse, the viruses are continuously evolving to produce newer strains. Vaccination against all strains is impractical and would be very costly. Each year disease experts attempt to predict the strains most likely to be circulating. Based on this information, the flu vaccine is formulated to provide protection against the three most probable strains.
Is the vaccine effective?
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is dependent on whether the predicted strains of flu match the strains which are actually circulating. Since there is always a chance of variability, the vaccine does not guarantee 100% protection. Individuals with a healthy immune system also respond better to vaccination and have a better chance of protection.
What does the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) say?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. The CDC also states that vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for serious flu-related complications or those who live with or care for people at high risk for serious flu-related complications. The following fit these criteria:
- Pregnant women
- Children under 5 years of age
- People age 50 and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
- Health care workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk
- Household contacts of children less than 6 months of age
The CDC warns that certain individuals should consult a doctor before getting vaccinated. These include:
- People who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or prior flu vaccine
- People with a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome
- People who currently have fever
What are the safety concerns?
There is a common misconception that the flu vaccine can cause the flu. The flu shot contains inactivated (dead) virus while the nasal-spray is composed of weakened virus. Neither is capable of causing the flu, but symptoms like fever, aches, and nausea may be present.
Serious adverse reactions to the vaccine are rare but can occur. Since the vaccine is grown in eggs, persons with severe egg allergies are at greater risk for complications. Guillain–Barré Syndrome is a rare paralytic illness that has been linked to the vaccine. The CDC reports that one study suggested one person in one million vaccinated is at risk of developing Guillain–Barré Syndrome associated with the flu vaccine.
There is ongoing debate as to the safety of the additives in the flu vaccine. The additives of interest are formaldehyde, gelatin, and polyethylene glycol ether. Some doses of the vaccine also contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Gelatin is derived from the connective tissues of cows and pigs and can cause allergic reactions. Polyethylene glycol ether is harmful to cells and can impair proper immune system functioning. Thimerosal is thought to have neurotoxic potential. The source of the debate is to whether these substances are toxic at the levels found in flu vaccines.
Where should I go from here?
The flu is a serious illness resulting in over 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths each year. That being said, the vaccine is not without some risk. Each individual needs to weigh the risk versus benefit for getting the flu vaccine or not.
If you opt to get vaccinated, go as early as possible. Our immune system takes about two weeks to produce antibodies against the flu after vaccination. Vaccination programs start as early as September and can continue through January and beyond depending on the duration of each flu season.
If you decide against vaccination, you can still help protect yourself from the flu. Some guidelines to avoid getting sick:
- Wash hands regularly – especially if you come in contact with other people
- Wash bed linens weekly
- Keep your toothbrush clean – rinse daily with peroxide
- Avoid sick people
- Avoid hospitals and doctors’ offices unless necessary
- Clean all food (produce) that may have been touched (or sneezed on) by another person
- Use a good probiotic once or twice daily (empty stomach, clean water)
- Drink PLENTY of water
- Get enough rest and sleep
- Take at least 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily
- Get sunshine and/or take 4,000 units of vitamin D3 every day
- Exercise for 30 minutes per day
- Eat plenty of protein, but minimal red meat
- Avoid all processed carbohydrates (especially any carb that is WHITE)
- Eat well and avoid all “fast food”
- Don’t drink any sweetened drinks (no sodas)
- Don’t use artificial sweeteners
- Stay calm – stress weakens the immune system and makes everything worse
- Don’t bite your nails
- Don’t stick anything in your ears smaller than your elbow
- Don’t rub your eyes