Ahh, October, we meet again… another year of fall goodness, and leaves unveiling their multi-faceted crimson glory! Another October, also means something else for us in the medical world… flu season… It is upon us. And, of course, with any flu season comes the constant barrage of marketing telling you to line up ’cause it’s “Time to get your flu shot!” But is the hype all it’s cracked up to be? Are the flu shot side effects worth the potential benefits? The answer may surprise you… and this nurse is here to dispel some of the more compelling marketing ploys, and delve a little deeper into the flu vaccine debate, so that you can be empowered to make the best decision for yourself and your families!
Let me be very clear… I don’t want the flu any more than the rest of you… body aches, chills, feeling like you’d rather die than continue living in the agony (not for the faint of heart). And I certainly have no intention of leading you astray from something that could potentially be beneficial for you or your loved ones. So, with that being said, I’d like to delve a little deeper into both sides of the flu vaccine debate to weigh the pros and the cons together. As always, when considering whether or not to get a vaccination, it’s of utmost importance that you discuss the matter with your primary care provider. The information provided on this site is my personal opinion based on my personal (and admittedly, potentially limited) research, and absolutely should not be construed as medical advice. I’m not a doctor, and don’t play one on the internet. Preventative medical treatment is personal and should be based on your specific needs as defined between you and your primary care provider.
With that being said, let’s start with the “benefits”.
Benefits of receiving the flu shot
Well, the most obvious benefit should be that you reduce your risk of getting the flu… right? So how does that work exactly… how does the flu shot reduce your risk of getting the flu?
Well, for starters, I think it’s important to point out that although all “influenza” is considered to be “the flu”, not all “flu”s are “influenza”. The flu is typically caused by one of hundreds of various forms of viruses. It’s also important to point out that “vaccination” does not equal “immunization” (or “immunity to”). The reason I feel these are both distinctions worthy of mentioning is that the terms have been used interchangeably and liberally as a marketing strategy, so if you’re not careful, you may be mislead by the wording of some of the ways the “flu shot” is being marketed (it’s a pretty smart move actually).
Regardless of sketchy marketing… here’s how it works…
Each year, scientists take an educated guess at which 3 or 4 strains (out of hundreds) will be the most common for the current season. They choose two types of Influenza A, and one or two types of Influenza B to make a concoction that will hopefully reduce your risk of getting those particular strains. According to the CDC, different strains mutate over time, and therefore require a new concoction each year based on a scientific probability of which strain will be most virulent for that particular season (it’s all very sciency).
Type C strains are not included in the annual vaccines primarily because they typically produce milder symptoms.
Besides obvious reasons of not wanting to get the flu (because it’s terrible!), other reasons you may want to avoid getting the flu are that it can increase the vulnerability of an already “at risk” person, and potentially be related to other health complications like pneumonia (we’ll explore the flip side of this momentarily). The CDC states that pregnant women, children younger than 2, and adults older than 65 are at highest risk of flu-related complications.
What’s weird is that the CDC also says that those who are at highest risk (as listed above), are also the ones who the flu vaccine is least effective for… meaning the people who are supposed to get the most benefit… actually get the least… so, that’s a bummer. (source)
So what about the rest of us common folk? Will the flu shot reduce our risk of getting the flu?
Well, it depends… if you already have a weakened immune system due to lack of proper nutrition, lifestyle, or poor hygiene practices, then it’s possible that the vaccination could reduce your risk of getting the 3-4 strains of influenza included in the vaccination.
On the other hand… (did you guys ever see Fiddler on the Roof? “on the other hand…” “on the other hand…” How many hands does that guy have?!)
*ehem* Anyways… on the other hand, the flu shot side effects could actually put you at risk for respiratory complications and can increase your likelihood of getting a respiratory infection… say what?!
But I thought you said the CDC says that the flu shot is supposed to reduce our risk of flu-related complications like respiratory infections? Yes, that’s exactly what they say.
What’s even more striking are the results found in a study done in Hong-Kong in 2012 (one of, if not the Only one, done in a truly scientific method of providing a certain control group with a placebo — by the way, the U.S. has yet to conduct a study like this with the flu vaccination)…
The study actually showed that the children who’d received the flu vaccination were at an increased risk of getting respiratory infections non-related to influenza. (5.5 x’s more likely, to be exact) What’s more is that the study also showed that the children had no greater benefit of being protected from influenza than those who had not received the vaccination.
Wait, I thought we were supposed to be talking about the Benefits of the flu shot, not the negatives… I’m finding it difficult to pick out the benefits…
Me too guys, me too. I’m doing my best here, please hang with me!
I want to be as fair and unbiased here as possible… so I will say this to the “benefits”… in an ideal setting, where the stars align, and the scientists doing all their sciency stuff actually guess the exact 3 or 4 strains of influenza (out of hundreds), and they put them in a syringe (filled with other stuff, but we’ll get to that), and they inject it into your arm… and one of those 3 or 4 strains of influenza happens to be the one that “attacks” you… then you Might, in fact, have some protection against it…that is unless it’s been less than 2 weeks since you got the shot… or if you are a child under 5 years old… or an adult over 65 years old… or a pregnant woman… or if the flu shot didn’t work for you because you weren’t a “prime candidate”. (all per the same CDC who states the same flu shot is your “best bet against getting ‘the flu'”)
Since the evidence we’ve been able to produce for the benefits of receiving the flu shot are so glaringly seriously lacking, let’s move on to the “side effects”… not to add insult to injury… but here we go…
Flu shot side effects
The CDC states (here) that although “you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine”, you may experience the following side effects:
- Fever (low grade)
- Muscle Aches
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
So, what you’re saying is… the flu shot can’t give me “the flu”, just “flu-like symptoms”? Precisely.
Like most vaccinations, the flu vaccine contains a dead or weakened strain of the virus, along with other ingredients to help jump start your immune response, disarm the viral strain, and preserve and/or stabilize the vaccine itself.
Despite all of the very compelling arguments that the CDC has come up with to encourage us to get a flu shot… (*ehem) it’s actually not so much the respiratory complications (including asthma & respiratory failure) or the increased risk for flu-like symptoms & respiratory infections that worries me so much as the side effects associated with the additives for making the flu shot “work” in the first place.
So, what else is in this thing?!
Although we think of the “flu shot” as a singular, there are actually 6 different manufacturers who make variations of the vaccine, so the one you receive (if you’re not convinced to do otherwise after reading this article) may have a slight alteration, although it’s unlikely to be too far off.
All of the vaccinations have been linked to an increased risk of developing Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of receiving the vaccination. Just so you know, Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder where your body’s immune system attacks your nervous system… which results in various degrees of weakness & loss of muscle control, even so much as full paralysis and death.
The thimerosal, a mercury derivative called ethylmercury (not to be confused with it’s toxic counter-part methymercury), is used to preserve flu vaccinations that are multi-dose. Mercury (specifically methylmercury) is a known neurotoxin, and has been linked to autoimmune disorders (where one part of your body begins attacking another part… sound familiar?) as well as brain damage from high concentrations. Unfortunately there has not been a lot of research done on ethymercury at this time, but popular medical opinion seems to be that ethylmercury doesn’t accumulate in the body and will not cause problems.
The vaccines also contain formaldehyde (known to cause cancer) to kill viruses or inactivate toxins during the manufacturing process, and aluminum which has been associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. (source) The formaldehyde in
Total side note, but I have also wondered if certain “preventative” measures may be contributing to viral mutations (as stated by the CDC happen with the influenza viruses each year) in similar fashion to the war we are currently waging against super bugs from overuse of antibiotics. I have no data to present to you on this (for lack of wanting to research it at the present moment), but I do wonder, and hope there will be further investigation into this topic.
I think it’s probably clear by now where I stand on this subject. The reason I’m writing this article right now is to help you hear the other side… the side your doctor won’t tell you, because he may not know… and the side the pharmaceutical industries Definitely won’t own up to, because, quite frankly, they’ve got a product to sell.
The truth is, although it is really terrible to get the flu (I’m not denying it!), I also believe that we have a God-given immune system designed to fight and protect us from invaders meaning to do us harm… when we start to mess with that, things can get unpredictable (to say the least).
The most important ways you can protect yourself against getting the flu are simple. Wash your hands, sneeze into your arm (not your hands), eat a nourishing diet (with lots of probiotics to support your immune system), get fresh air, wear a mask if you are around someone with known influenza (and obviously, clean areas that may have been “contaminated” by said persons), get enough sleep, and of course, discussing the risks versus benefits with your primary care physician to decide whether or not the flu vaccination is right for you.
photo credits: depositphotos.com/lisafx
**This article was updated on 9/17/15.