Every year news reports warn that flu season is one of the worst in years, and that it starts earlier than in previous years, according to the CDC. Such news reports then go on to warn of flu related deaths and suggest heading out to get a flu shot as the best way to prevent the flu.
But is it? A major news report linked GalaxoSmithKline’s 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine, Pandemrix, which was given to more than 30 million people in 47 countries (but not the United States), with incurable narcolepsy in people under the age of 20.
In fact, some research cited in the news reports indicated that youth who received the 2009-2010 H1N1 vaccine were 13 times more likely to contract narcolepsy than those who did not.
Likewise, in years past, Italian authorities banned Novartis AG’s flu vaccine because of a build up of foreign protein particles in the drug. The particles, which were of unknown origin, compromised the safety of the vaccinations, causing both the Italian and Swiss governments to ban it.
The best way to make such a choice is by informing yourself and choosing based on comprehensive information. To that end, I wanted to give you a comprehensive look at the risks and benefits of the flu shot.
There are a number of risks associated with receiving the flu shot. The CDC lists a number or risks ranging from mild to severe.
Because the flu shot is a moving target (that is, the strain of flu changes from season to season, so drug companies must mock up a flu vaccine with a previous version of the flu and then change it when the strain of seasonal flu is known), there is a risk of developing unknown serious complications that won’t become clear until they show up in millions of people.
Some people may have a life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine.
A 1976 flu vaccine was linked to Guillain-Barré Syndrome. While vaccines from other years have not shown a similar causal link, there is a risk of developing this dangerous muscle disorder.
Flu vaccines have a host of unpleasant side effects, ranging from aches and pain to fever.
Children receiving the flu shot and pnemococcal vaccine at the same time are at higher risk of having a febrile (fever-induced) seizure.
No controlled studies exist assessing the safety of the flu vaccine for use in pregnant women.
The flu vaccine may contain dangerous or toxic ingredients, such as the addition of Thimerosol (a methyl-mercury containing compound used as a preservative), aluminum salts, formaldehyde, and antibiotics like penicillin.
According to the Mayo Clinic, receiving the influenza vaccine does provide some level of prevention of the flu.
Because the flu can be life threatening in at-risk populations that include older adults, children, and people with certain medical complications, physicians do suggest these people get the flu shot.
Complications associated with the flu include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infection, and ear infection. In high-risk populations, these complications can lead to hospitalization or even death.
Medical conditions that increase the risk of influenza complications include people with:
Compromised immune systems
Sickle cell disease
Kidney or liver disease
It is also essential to weigh the efficacy of flu shots when determining whether the risks outweigh the benefits. Efficacy statistics use scientific studies to determine how well the flu vaccine protects certain populations from contracting the flu. From the CDC:
Adults 65 years or older not living in long-term care: Effectiveness is about 58 percent
Adults 65 years or older living in long-term care: Studies show effectiveness ranging from 34 percent to 55 percent.
Children: Multiple studies show results ranging from about 66 percent to about 91 percent.
Healthy Adults: In healthy adults, different studies show widely different results, ranging from about 18 percent to around 37 percent.
Part of the difficulty in obtaining pure effectiveness data is the result of the different strains of influenza (and thus, different types of the vaccine).
In October of 2012, the University of Minnesota released the CIDRAP Comprehensive Influenza Vaccine Initiative, which mined flu vaccine data and studies and showed an overall American effectiveness of about 56 percent, which was significantly less than flu shot marketing often indicated.
I met a woman in an office once, who felt very strongly that everyone should get the flu vaccine (she brought it up, not me). I was across the desk from her, and I think she liked it that way, so she could “barricade” herself from everyone and their germs.
I let her talk as much as she wanted about how she was scared to go anywhere now because of the flu “getting her”, and smiled politely, but didn’t say much. I just didn’t want to engage.
Sometimes it’s better to save your energy and choose your battles. I’m sure you know what I mean?!
Who Should Not Get the Flu Vaccine
The flu shot can trigger a dangerous reaction in people with allergies to eggs, or those who have had an allergic reaction to a previous influenza vaccine.
Preventing the Flu Naturally:If you are in a high-risk population, it is best to work closely with your primary health care provider to determine whether the influenza vaccine is right for you.
If, however, you are a healthy adult, there are a number of things you can do to prevent the flu.