Answering the Yearly Questions
Fall kicks off the beginning of “flu season”. I’ve had many patients ask me my opinion on the flu shot and whether or not they should get it. As with any medical procedure, I always encourage my patients to make informed decisions—as too many people blindly accept medical procedures and medications without researching them.
After researching the evidence, my personal opinion is that the risks of the flu shot outweigh the benefits.
The thing I find most frustrating about the fear mongering that comes with the flu each year is the term, “Flu Season.” The influenza virus is present ALL YEAR ROUND.
But—if it’s present all year round, why aren’t we always getting sick? This is because the reason we get sick has more to do with our internal environment than our external one. Usually our immune system is tough enough to take care of pathogens before they have a chance to make a nice home for themselves in our bodies. If our immune system isn’t able to fight off the pathogens, our bodies will develop symptoms (fever, runny nose, cough, etc.) to get rid of them. (Note that these symptoms are our body’s normal response to get rid of an infection rather than something for us to fight off with cough syrups and fever reducers). If we are run down with diseased/unhealthy tissue for the infections to take hold in, then we get sick. If we have a healthy immune system and body, we usually don’t get sick.
Many researchers believe the reason we are more prone to getting sick in the winter is because of a lack of vitamin D, increased cortisol from seasonal stress, and increased sugar consumption (holiday eating). These all contribute to an internal environment in our bodies that is weaker to respond to pathogens, like the flu. Part of the reason our vitamin D decreases in the winter is due to the fact that we can’t make vitamin D from the sun at our latitude outside of the summer months. It is also known that increased levels of cortisol weaken our immune system, making it more likely for us to get sick. Similarly, increased sugar intake has been shown to increase cortisol and also weaken our immune system. Combine our weakened internal environment with being stuck inside where the flu likes to spread, and this is the reason we are more likely to get sick in the winter.
Now that we have established that it is our weakened internal bodily state that leads us to get sick, I’ll go over ten reasons why I prefer doing things to boost our immune systems rather than getting the flu shot—by demonstrating some negative aspects of the flu shot.
- The number one reason I don’t recommend getting the flu shot is that the flu vaccine actually makes you more likely to get sick. This includes: more likely to get sick from strains not included in the vaccine (because it weakens the immune system), more likely for kids to be hospitalized with the flu, more likely to get sick from epidemic flu, more likely to get sick from a second strain of the influenza virus, and more likely to get sick from non-influenza viruses. Many people complain that they get sick after getting the flu shot, and we now know why. While studies show that the flu shot cannot give you the flu, it does actually increase your likelihood of getting sick. If the whole purpose of getting the vaccine is to not get sick, why get the vaccine if you are then more likely to actually get sick?
2. The second reason I tell people to avoid the flu shot is that it works very poorly. It is well documented that the flu shot last year only worked 10% of the time. This year, it has already come out that the vaccine works only 20% of the time. However, most years it also does just as poor, and on good years it works about as well as guessing heads or tails on the flip of a coin. A recent study showed you have to give 100 people the flu vaccine to prevent 1.5 cases of the flu. That means roughly 99 people get the vaccine without any benefit, but with all of the risks.
I’ve heard doctors say that even if the flu shot worked only 1% of the time we should still receive it. This frustrates me because even placebos work about 33% of the time! And, placebos don’t have any side effects! (We will get to those later)
Part of the reason the flu vaccine doesn’t work very well is because pharmaceutical companies have to guess how to make it. What I mean by that is each year they try to predict which three or four strains of the flu are going to be dominant, and those three or four strains are what they put into the vaccine. The flu virus is always changing and adapting, so it is very hard to guess correctly.
2b. Often times we hear that those who especially need to get the flu shot are those people who are more likely to have adverse effects from getting infected with the flu virus. This includes the young and elderly, and they are frequently the main targets of marketing campaigns for the flu shot. But, yet again, research shows that the flu vaccine works especially poorly for the elderly population! There have also not been any studies showing the flu vaccine works very well in children under the age of 2, but the CDC recommends the flu shot for all ages except infants under 6 months.
2c. Every year you get the flu vaccine its effectiveness wanes. And, if you get it 5 years in a row, by the fifth year it is not effective at all. Ever buy a product that didn’t work? Well normally you can return something that doesn’t work, or at least get your money back. Not with vaccines! You can’t sue vaccine makers due to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 passed by Congress making all vaccine manufacturers, and those who inject them unaccountable for their actions and products.
3. Side effects. The flu vaccine is the #1 compensated vaccine on the market in the United States. The most commonly cited reason is Guillen Bare Syndrome, a debilitating demyelinating (paralyzing) disease. I have even witnessed side effects in my own family when my mother was left with constant migraines for months after being forced to get the flu vaccine (more on that later) and neurologic deficits from the drugs to treat the problem caused by the vaccine. Other side effects include: soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site, headaches, nausea, muscle aches, allergic reactions including difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling, hives, weakness, fast heartbeat, dizziness, and death.
4. Informed consent. This is a legal term that requires doctors and hospitals go over the risks and benefits of a procedure or drug with you prior to you going through with that procedure/drug. This is a legal requirement in America and many medical professionals have been sued and have had their license to practice revoked by not providing the patient proper informed consent. This allows you, the patient, to make an educated decision in which you can then say, “Yes, it is worth it” or, “No, I don’t want to.” However, many people in our country are denied the right to choose. Earlier, I mentioned that my mother was forced to get the flu vaccine. She is a nurse, and many nurses and other health professionals are mandated to get the flu vaccine or lose their job—even though a study by the Cochrane group shows the vaccine doesn’t help prevent the flu from spreading in healthcare workers. This is contrary to the principle of informed consent. You are supposed to have the right to deny medical treatment, but forced vaccination violates that law. States like California, West Virginia, and Mississippi have actually stripped their citizens of the right to choose how to vaccinate their own children.
5. Fear Mongering. One of the top ways pharmaceutical companies try to get you to receive the flu vaccine is by stating about 56,000 people die each year from the flu. The CDC even came out this year and said last year was particularly bad, and 80,000 people died. If this were true, I might actually support getting the flu vaccine. But, the media and people who propagate these numbers are misleading. In the British Medical Journal, a very prestigious and credible journal that publishes new research, a Johns Hopkins researcher showed that those numbers are grossly inflated. The 12,000 – 56,000 deaths cited by the CDC and others is actually the number of pneumonia deaths plus flu deaths. While the flu can lead to pneumonia, not all pneumonia cases are the result of the influenza virus. In fact, one study shows that in 2001, 62,034 people died from the flu and pneumonia. Of that, 61,777 were attributed to pneumonia, and only 257 to the influenza virus. Out of all of those deaths, only 18 cases had the flu virus actually confirmed! While it is tragic to lose anyone, the real number of victims of the flu virus, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is between 257 and 3,006 – not 50,000-80,000. In 2008, a study in the Lancet even showed that, “The flu vaccine is ineffective for pneumonia prevention in older adults. It even increases the risk slightly during the season peaks. The flu shot is ineffective for reducing mortality in the elderly.” While another article in the Lancet added that the flu vaccine benefits have been exaggerated.
6. Even though the vaccine works poorly, doctors still recommended that you get the vaccine because it can reduce the severity of the flu and decrease your symptoms. But here is the problem with that: if people don’t have severe symptoms, they tend to go to work or school, rather than stay home to heal. After all, the American way is to ‘pick yourself up by the bootstraps’ and ‘tough it out’, right? So if people don’t feel as bad, they go out, and are then more likely to actually spread the flu to others than if they stayed home. To add to this, a study showed that people vaccinated with the flu shot spread the flu just by breathing, rather than through coughing and sneezing. This is known as shedding, and people vaccinated for the flu can shed the virus and spread it to others. If we are trying to decrease the spread of the flu by having people get the flu vaccine so they don’t get sick, I find this reason to get the flu vaccine a little contradictory.
7. A recent study published in September (which contradicted an older study by the same group) showed that getting the flu vaccine while pregnant actually increases your risk of having a miscarriage. Many people claim that people who are against vaccines are anti-science, but this one really gets me fired up because there were no studies prior to licensing the vaccine showing they were safe, yet the flu vaccine was pushed on unsuspecting pregnant women.
Since the flu vaccine has been on the market studies have been done with mixed results. There are a few studies on infants and pregnant women showing no increased risk for pre-term birth, birth defects, small for gestational age, or fetal death in the baby. And, no increased risk during pregnancy for preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, and chorioamnionitis. These studies have varying critiques of being retrospective, small sample sizes, and having both populations in the study receiving some sort of vaccine. The Cochrane group, an independent, highly respectable group says they are currently conducting a study on the health outcomes of pregnant women and their infants. They also say there is no difference in rates of severe illness or hospitalization between vaccinated and unvaccinated pregnant women.
8. Adding to that, there are actually zero studies where the flu vaccine (or any vaccine for that matter) has been compared to a true placebo. All vaccines are either compared to another vaccine or another substance with mercury or aluminum in it.
9. The ingredients. The flu vaccine has mercury in it, unless you specifically ask for the single dose vials and even those still have trace amounts. The vaccine also has aluminum, and both aluminum and mercury are known neurotoxins. Recently, scientists stated that the effects of ethyl and methyl mercury are similarly toxic to humans and both substances disrupt central nervous system function and development. This means whether you ingest mercury in food or have it injected into you, it is a dangerous neurotoxin and can cause severe problems. Formaldehyde is also in the flu vaccine and is also a known carcinogen. But, vaccines are never tested for mutagenicity (the ability to cause DNA mutations) and carcinogenicity (the ability to cause cancer).
10. Tamiflu. This is a medication that is given once someone has already contracted the flu virus. It is supposed to decrease the severity of the flu and shorten the duration of the infection. After initially seeming like a promising drug, a Cochrane review showed Tamiflu reduced the alleviation of symptoms by only .7 days. This means if you took Tamiflu, you wouldn’t even get 1 full extra day of being symptom free! Here is a quote from the review, “but the evidence does not support claims that these drugs (Tamiflu and another anti-viral drug Relenza [zanamivir]) lower the risk of complications from the flu (such as pneumonia) or that the benefits outweigh the risks.” Yet, Tamiflu actually “increases the risk of adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, psychiatric effects and renal events in adults and vomiting in children.” The psychiatric effects included convulsions, delirium and suicidal behavior. Here again, I believe the risk of these side effects does not outweigh the benefit of just 16 hours more symptom free.
As you can see, there is much more to the flu vaccine than we hear about through the media. So, what can we do to enhance our own immune system and ability to fight off the flu? Make good choices. Change your internal terrain and help strengthen your innate immune system (the first line of defense before antibodies).
- Increase Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplementation
- Resist Sweets
- Decrease stress through prayer, meditation, and mindfulness
- Receive a chiropractic adjustment
- Wash Hands
All of these things enhance your immune system function, decrease inflammation, and help the prevent the spread of the flu virus.