The Flu Vaccine
Welcome to “Flu Shot Season.” It’s inevitable- nearly everyone at one point or another will be told that they need to get the flu vaccine whether it’s their medical doctor, pharmacist, or even employer. But you have a choice.
I’m not here to bad-mouth vaccines. I’m a huge advocate for some, at certain times, for certain people.
What is the flu vaccine?
The vaccine can be administered by a shot or as a nasal spray. The viruses in the shot are killed/inactivated, so you will not get “the flu” from the flu shot, but you may experience flu-like symptoms. Physicians suggest the nasal spray vaccine to children over 2 years old who do not have asthma. The viruses in the nasal spray are living, though weakened, and should not cause severe symptoms like the flu.
The flu vaccine is formulated each year to address 3 or 4 different strains of the influenza (type A or type B) virus that are suspected to be predominant that particular year. The flu can be due to one of hundreds of viruses you are exposed to each year. But only 1 in 5 cases of the flu are actually due to type A or type B influenza, and there’s a good chance that it is not due to one of the 3-4 strains actually used in the vaccine.
The Center of Disease Control (CDC) states- “During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed.”
Flu viruses are constantly changing from season to season and even within the course of one flu season. The CDC recognizes that it is not possible to predict with certainty which flu viruses will predominate during a given season.
This is important information for those of you who are faced with the decision to get the flu shot or not. I highly recommend gathering as much information as you can as to make an educated decision for your health, just as you would for anything else.
Fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, sore throat, cough, headache, stuffy nose.
Flu vaccine shot:
Fever, body aches, soreness/redness/swelling over shot site
Flu vaccine nasal spray:
Children- Runny nose, headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever
Adults- runny nose, headache, sore throat, cough
Know that the flu shot is insufficiently studied, lacking long-term side effect evaluation.
Allergic reactions: greater risk for those who have had a reaction to the flu shot in the past or who are allergic or sensitive to eggs.
Mercury (thimerosol): used as a preservative in the vaccine. Mercury is a neurotoxin. The CDC says that no convincing evidence that low doses of thimerosol in the vaccines can cause harm. Yet the FDA has been taking working with vaccine manufacturers to reduce and eliminate the use of thimerosol in vaccines because of its obvious dangers to the nervous system.
Guillain-Barre Syndome: this is a life-threatening illness which causes paralysis (weakness and numbness) in arms, legs, upper body and face. This can occur after an infection of the flu or after receiving a vaccine.
Who should get the flu shot?
During a regular flu season, about 90% of influenza-caused deaths occur in people 65 years and older. The CDC recommends the flu shot for everyone over the age of 6 months.
Those at greatest risk of having more severe reaction to the flu: young children, people over 65 years old, pregnant women, and those with certain health conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease. The vaccine can be useful in preventing pneumonia, hospitalization, and death in elderly, especially those in nursing homes.
I generally recommend the flu shot to individuals with weakened immune systems, where the classic symptoms may be more than the body can handle.
My Philosophy of the Flu
Getting sick a few times per year is GOOD for us! The immune system needs challenges. If a patient tells me he/she never gets sick, I am very concerned about immune suppression. Many of these patients are individuals who have a lot of stress in their lives. Stress releases a “fight or flight” hormone called Cortisol, which is an immune suppressant. The reason why the body
suppresses the immune system during stress is because when we are running from the bear, we do not have time or energy to get sick. This works wonderfully for those of us studying for finals or preparing for a big event, only to crash with a cold or flu when it is finally over.
But this is only beneficial in the short term. I encourage patients to focus on stress management to truly support their immune systems. Chronic immune suppression may lead to cancer. I have had many patients with cancer who have said “I never got sick. I thought I was so healthy. Then I got cancer.” Thus, I am a big advocate for allowing your body to be sick and to support its natural processes. And yes, take off of work for a day or two. Let your body heal. You will find you will be healthier overall when you trust in your body’s inherent abilities.
For more information on supporting the Immune System: Check out my blog on Fevers and Immune Support.
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Dr. Alicia McCubbins is a naturopathic physician who strives to educate, motivate and inspire. Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions so that we may collectively grow through knowledge.