Tis the season for flu shots. You can get them at the grocery store, at the pharmacy, at work, at school. Flu shots generate billions of dollars a year for the manufacturers- it’s no wonder they can be found virtually on every corner.
What is the flu?
Influenza is a respiratory infection that produces fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, and cough that lasts a week or more. The flu can be deadly for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or who are suffering from diabetes, kidney dysfunction and heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year about 36,000 Americans, mostly in these high risk groups, reportedly die from flu complications. However, there is controversy about whether the majority of the 36,000 reported deaths are caused by complications of true influenza or may be due to viral and bacterial infections which can be mistakenly attributed to influenza.
What is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is prepared from the fluids of chick embryos inoculated with a specific type(s) of influenza virus. The strains of flu virus in the vaccine are inactivated with formaldehyde and preserved with Thimerosal, which is a mercury derivative. (There is a limited supply of thimerosal-free influenza vaccines and it is supplied in single dose vials which do not require a preservative).
Influenza vaccines are Category C drugs, which means that animal reproduction studies have not been conducted and it is not known whether these vaccines can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman or if they can affect reproduction capacity.
Do they work?
In October 2012, scientists at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota released a report saying that influenza vaccinations provide only modest protection for healthy young and middle-age adults, and little if any protection for those 65 and older, who are most likely to succumb to the illness or its complications. Moreover, the report’s authors concluded, federal vaccination recommendations, which have expanded in recent years, are based on inadequate evidence and poorly executed studies.1
“We have overpromoted and overhyped this vaccine,” says Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, as well as its Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. “It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.
“I’m an insider,” he notes. “Until we started this project, I was one of the people out there heavily promoting influenza vaccine use. It was only with this study that I looked and said, ‘What are we doing?’ 2
While researching the report released last month, Dr. Osterholm said, the authors discovered a recurring error in influenza vaccine studies that led to an exaggeration of the vaccine’s effectiveness. They also discovered 30 inaccuracies in the statement on influenza vaccines put forth by the expert panel that develops vaccine recommendations, all of which favor the vaccine.3
The Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of experts that evaluates medical research, concluded in a 2010 review that the vaccines decrease symptoms in healthy adults under 65 and save people about a half-day of work on average, but that they do not affect the number of people hospitalized and have minimal impact in seasons when vaccines and viruses are mismatched. (When the vaccine matches the circulating viruses, 33 adults need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms; when there is only a partial match, 100 people must be vaccinated for the same effect.) It was also concluded that the vaccines appear to have no effect on hospital admissions, transmission or rates of complications. A separate Cochrane review on vaccines for the elderly determined the evidence was so scant and of such poor quality that it could not provide guidance. Dr. Bresee of the C.D.C. pointed to only one randomized controlled trial of influenza vaccine in older people, and it looked at people age 60 and over in the Netherlands healthy enough to not be hospitalized or in a nursing home.
Another Cochrane review found no evidence that vaccinating health care workers who work with the elderly has any effect on influenza or pneumonia deaths.
It’s a Guessing Game
Each year, researchers choose about 3-4 strains of flu to immunize against. The problem is, they don’t really know which of the 22-plus strains of influenza are going to spread among the public. And vaccinating only provides a temporary and partial response to these few strains; the only way to gain permanent immunity to a strain is to catch, and recover from, the flu!
Who is at increased risk for serious complications due to the flu?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) lists the following persons as being at increased risk for complications from influenza: anyone 65 years of age or older; nursing home residents or residents of other long-term care facilities; anyone with chronic lung or heart disorders, chronic metabolic diseases (like diabetes), kidney dysfunction, or blood disorders; anyone who is immune suppressed by medication (steroids, chemotherapy, etc) or by AIDS/HIV ; children or adolescents on long-term aspirin therapy due to possible risk of developing Reye syndrome; and women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during flu season.
Interestingly, immune-suppressed individuals are less likely to obtain a good immune response from the flu vaccine, and no animal studies have been done to determine if the flu vaccine can harm a fetus or cause infertility. So it makes one question whether a more vulnerable population is helped or harmed by this vaccine. There is a thimerosol-free flu vaccine available, but it still contains formaldehyde, Polysorbate 80 and a host of other chemicals.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
At Swanson Health Center, we recommend arming your body against viral invasions (either for fighting an existing one, or heading off a future one) with the Cold and Flu Protocol from Alex Swanson.