It’s that time of year when you hear about it on the radio and see it on TV. There are signs that remind you to get it when you drive by. Friend ask, “Did you get yours?” It’s the beginning of flu season when every CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and now Target and Wal-Mart advertise they’ve got this year’s flu shot.
What is the Flu shot?
The flu shot is an annually administered vaccine designed to protect you from the seasonal flu. It can be given as an intramuscular injection which contains a “dead” virus, or as an intranasal mist containing a “live” virus.
What many people don’t realize is that the seasonal flu shot is different each year and each vaccine contains 3 different strains of the influenza virus. The 3 virus strains that are chosen are the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. However, over the course of the flu season (October to May), many different influenza viruses can circulate at different times and in different places.
How does the Flu shot work?
The flu vaccine, like all vaccines, introduces a known pathogen into the body for the express purpose of creating antibodies against that pathogen. The presence of antibodies creates future protection against that particular disease.
When a vaccine is administered either a small amount of pathogen, a less virulent version, or a killed version of a pathogen is introduced into the body. The immune system launches an attack and creates antibodies to destroy what has been introduced to the body in the vaccine. Because only a small amount, a very weak, or dead form of the pathogen is present, the immune system has (almost) no trouble defeating the intruder and you (almost) never get sick from the vaccine.
Many of the vaccines we receive as either children or adults are for what are known as stable viruses. This means the DNA or RNA of these viruses changes very little over time. The more stable the virus, the more effective the vaccine. The influenza virus, however, is not at all stable. It can mutate very quickly and can even borrow genetic material from the influenza viruses of different animals, namely pigs and birds. Yup, you heard me – pigs and birds…that is where the names swine and avian flu come from. Human, pig and bird flu can easily exchange genetic material because they are so similar. In places like SouthEast Asia where people, pigs, and birds live in close proximity, these viruses readily exchange genetic information. These places are also where the seasonal flu is “born”.
But even without the help of pig or bird DNA, the influenza virus will mutate over the course of the flu season. Often the virus that causes illnesses at the start of the flu season is not genetically identical to the virus causing illness at the end of it. According to the CDC, the ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends on 2 factors:
- the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine
- the similarity or “match” between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation.
Get a flu vaccine for the wrong flu virus and its like you’ve received no vaccine at all. This was exactly the case during the 2003-2004 flu season when the CDC announced that the administered flu vaccine that season had “no or low effectiveness” against influenza or influenza-like illness because it was not a genetic match.
Who gets the Flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and pharmacies worldwide would like us to believe that ALL people benefit from the seasonal flu vaccine. But the following groups are most pressured to get the flu shot:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- People 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu
Unfortunately, in the research available since the first flu shots were administered in the 1940‘s paints a very different picture.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal, scientists concluded that the effectiveness of annual flu shots has been exaggerated. In adults research shows that the flu shot does not significantly reduce the number of hospital stays, time off work, or deaths from the flu/ influenza and its complications. In adults 65 and older, who are most strongly encouraged to get the flu shot, reduced their instances of death due to influenza related complications, namely pneumonia, by 0%. Despite increased vaccination rates research shows NO decline in flu related deaths. The story is the same when we consider the second most vulnerable population, young children. In a study published by Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews states, “A review of 51 studies involving nearly 264,000 children found that inactivated flu shots (the normal seasonal vaccine) were similar in effectiveness to placebos (sugar water) in children under 2.” In addition, another study claims children who receive the flu vaccine are 3x more likely to be hospitalized for treatment of the flu.
How is the Flu shot made?
The flu virus used to make vaccine is grown in fertilized chicken eggs. This is why anyone with a chicken or egg allergy can not get a flu shot. During the February before each fall’s flu season, three strains of flu are selected based on the statistic probability they will cause widespread illness. Fertilized chicken eggs are then inoculated with the three virus strains and vaccines are manufactured. By the time August comes, vaccines are ready to be distributed, and administered at your local flu clinic for between $15 – $35 per vaccination.
In addition to the 3 virus strains, the flu shot contains many other additives and preservatives including:
- Thimerosal (a mercury derivative)
- Ethylene glycol (antifreeze)
- Phenol (a disinfectant dye)
- Benzethonium chloride (a disinfectant)
- Formaldehyde (a cadaver preservative and disinfectant)
The vaccine additive that has gotten the most press is thimerosal, which contains approximately 49 percent ethylmercury, a known neurotoxin. Both children and fetuses are extremely vulnerable to the effects of thimerosal, yet we encourage our children and pregnant women to get vaccinated. Studies have indicated that incredibly tiny concentrations of thimerosal induced:
- DNA strand breakage
- Cell membrane damage
- Cell death
In addition, thimerosal has been implicated as a cause of increased rates of Autism. As a result it has been removed from many standard pediatric vaccines. All EXCEPT the annual flu vaccine. To get a flu vaccine without thimerosal requires an express request as very few of these vaccines are manufactured.
Emerging research also suggests a link between the annual flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s disease because of the combination of mercury, aluminum, and formaldehyde in the vaccine. At a National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) International Vaccine Conference in 1997, one expert stated that anyone who had five consecutive flu vaccine shots increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by a factor of 10 over someone who received only two or fewer shots. It is estimated that by 2025, 22 million people will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The Flu Shot and YOU
The Flu vaccine, like any other vaccine, is designed to elicit a response from your immune system. It takes approximately 2 weeks after vaccination to build up immunity to the influenza virus. During this time you’re not only susceptible to the flu, but because your immune system is busy building anti-flu antibodies, you are more susceptible to other illnesses. For most people the flu shot does not keep you healthy. Instead the vaccine weakens your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to colds and flu-like illnesses throughout the flu season. In fact, the 2 sickest winters I’ve ever spent were the 2 years I got a flu shot.
In addition to weakening your immune system the flu vaccine can create autoimmune reactions – illness that occur your body tissues are attacked by your own immune system. These autoimmune reactions include joint pain and inflammation (arthritis), Guillain-Barré syndrome and anaphylactic shock.
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system causes damage the nerve cells. GBS can cause muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Symptoms may last for a few weeks or several months and though most people recover fully from GBS, some suffer permanent nerve damage. The connection between influenza vaccinations and GBS began in the 1970s when people who received a swine flu vaccine were more likely to develop GBS than non vaccinated individuals.
Avoid getting the flu…or any other illness without a vaccine!
It is proven that individuals who live a healthy lifestyle and subsequently have a healthy immune system have a decreased susceptibility to colds and the flu. As an alternative to the flu shot, work on preventing the flu by strengthening your immune system. There are several things you can do strengthen your immune system and decrease your chances of getting sick with the flu, a cold, or any other illness this winter without having to get a shot.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is your body’s opportunity to recharge your immune system. If your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for you to fight the flu or any other potential invader.
- Check your stress. Stress is the root cause of 99% of all illness. Stress, emotional or physical, supresses your immune system’s function and prevents your body from fighting off the bacteria and viruses that make you sick.
- Avoid sugar like the plague. Sugar, like stress, suppresses the function of your immune system. The cells of your immune system will take in sugar instead of the vitamin C necessary to destroy bacteria and viruses when both are abundant in the body. It is especially important to avoid sugar if you feel you are getting sick, but keeping sugar out of your diet on a regular basis will make it harder for viruses and bacteria to bother you in the first place.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise increases the circulation of blood and components of your immune system. This increases the chances of your immune system finding any bacteria and viruses before they have a chance to spread. Exercise also increases your immune system efficiency in deciphering and acting upon viruses and bacteria before they make you sick. .
- Get some sunshine, or a Vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D increases the potency of your immune system. The BEST way to get your vitamin D is from safe sun exposure. However, getting enough sunshine to support adequate Vitamin D production at this latitude is almost impossible, especially in the winter. The next best option is to take a 2000 IU Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement, which is the same vitamin D your body makes when exposed to sunshine.
- Take your Fish Oil. Your immune system can’t function optimally without the necessary omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. Research has shown that EPA and DHA support your immune system to provide increased resistance to common colds and illnesses like the flu.