As we move into the cold, wet months of autumn and winter in Portland Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, no doubt people around us will be coughing, sneezing and coming down with “the bug.” Are you thinking about getting the flu vaccine in an effort to ward off illness? These vaccines may not be as effective as you think. Here are some issues to consider in making your choice.
As part one in a two-part series, we’ll discuss the shortcomings and risks of the modern flu vaccine. In Part II, we will discuss how acupuncture, herbs, and a healthy lifestyle can build up your immune system and keep you healthy, regardless of whether or not you get the flu vaccine.
Flu Vaccine Effectiveness
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that flu vaccines may only be 40-60% effective in preventing lab-confirmed influenza. They also released information showing that between 2005 and 2015, the vaccine was less than 50% effective in at least half of patients.
This fact is hardly surprising considering that they produce a vaccine based on what strain of influenza they predict will be going around in any given year. Some years they indeed miss the mark, and the vaccine is useless. For example, in 2004 and 2005, the vaccine proved to be only 10% effective.
Is annual vaccination the best choice? Some studies have shown that efficacy decreases with yearly vaccination and is highest among people who have not been vaccinated in the last five years. Despite these studies and admitting that the vaccines often fail to prevent infection, each year the CDC still adamantly urges people to get a flu shot annually.
Increased Risk of Illnesses
Perhaps the most concerning drawback of getting a flu shot is that doing so may increase your risk of contracting other strains of the flu. For example, in 2008, people who were vaccinated were twice as likely to contract the severe H1N1 “swine flu” virus. Furthermore, studies have shown that children who receive the vaccine are three times likelier to be hospitalized for influenza than kids who did not get a flu shot.
Taking Statins? Think Twice About Your Flu Risk
What’s more, the efficacy of flu vaccines is even lower in people who take statin drugs to manage their risk of heart problems. These drugs, among the most widely prescribed in the USA, inhibit your immune system’s ability to respond to the vaccine. In fact, research shows that flu antibody concentrations were 38-67% lower in people over 65 who take statin drugs.
Negative Side Effects
In addition to limited effectiveness, yearly flu vaccination can cause adverse side effects in some people. A small percentage of people may contract Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and become paralyzed.
Because vaccines are immunosuppressive, receiving the shot could make you more vulnerable to other illnesses for weeks afterward. Furthermore, some vaccine elements, such as mercury preservatives and aluminum adjuvants, are neurotoxic and can depress your immune and brain function. Injecting foreign bodies also presents the risk of allergic reaction, autoimmunity, and T-cell dysfunction, leading to chronic illness.
Perhaps the most concerning potential side effect is associated with the flu vaccine in its inhalant form, called FluMist. This nasal spray differs from the traditional flu shot in that it contains a live influenza virus. The shot contains an inactive virus. Though inhaling the live virus cells won’t cause influenza in that patient, it can turn that patient into a carrier of the virus and cause them to spread it to others. Because of this, the CDC recently pulled FluMist from the American market. It is still available in Canada.
Weighing the Risks vs. Benefits
As with all vaccines, you should consider the benefits versus the potential risks. People with weakened immune systems may prefer to take their chances with the vaccine and at least receive some limited benefit of lowering the risk of infection. Keep in mind, however, that protection is never 100%, and there are some potential risks to the vaccine. Finally, remember that much of what people commonly label as “flu” actually isn’t influenza at all; it’s a cold and involves a different pathogen altogether.
Alternative Forms of Protection
In our next post, we’ll explore other ways you can keep yourself and your family healthy this winter. Acupuncture, herbal formulas, and an optimal diet can help you avoid both flu and colds, reduce the severity of symptoms, and decrease the amount of time you are ill.