It’s that time of year again when you have to make the decision ‘to vaccinate or not to vaccinate’ against the flu.  Influenza (commonly called the “flu”) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The symptoms usually come on quickly and include some or all of the following: fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover from the flu without complications, although some people, such as the elderly (65+), young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (cancer, diabetes, HIV, asthma) are at higher risk for serious complications.

What are my chances of getting the flu?

Approximately 5%-20% of people get the flu each year. Studies have shown that the flu shot can decrease your risk by up to 60%. Therefore, if you opt for the flu shot your chance of getting the flu only decreases from approximately 5-20 in 100 (if unvaccinated) to 2-8 in 100 (if vaccinated).

What’s in the flu shot?

  • 3 strains of the flu, including an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and an H1N1 virus (the 3 strains vary each year and are chosen by scientists at the World Health Organization)
  • Trace amounts of hen’s eggs (the virus is grown in hen’s eggs, then removed in order to incorporate it into the vaccine)
  • Thimerosal (a preservative containing Mercury added to keep the vaccine fresh)

Mercury?

Yes, that’s right. The flu vaccine is one of the last vaccines known to still contain thimerosal (mercury-containing preservative). All other vaccines have removed this from their manufacturing due to the potential adverse effects. Mercury affects the central nervous system and can affect a developing fetus.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Yes.  As with any vaccine, there is always a chance you may experience an adverse reaction. The most common side effects include:

  • Pain or redness at the injection site
  • Muscular aches and pains at or near the injection site
  • Fever

Although rare, more serious side effects have also been known to occur, such as:

  • Life-threatening allergic reactions (note: if you have an egg allergy you may want to skip this vaccine): these occur immediately and thus it is recommended that you stay put for 20 minutes after receiving your vaccine
  • GBS (Guillain Barre Syndrome): an autoimmune disorder causing tingling, muscle weakness and paralysis

Are There Any Alternatives?

Yes again.  There are many ways to boost immunity naturally to help stave off the flu, but as with the flu shot there is still a chance of getting the virus. Studies have shown vitamin D is effective in boosting innate immunity, the body’s first line of defense against pathogens.  A healthy diet consisting of whole foods and minimal sugar intake is also protective.  For an individualized immune boosting protocol, it is best to talk to your Naturopath.

The Take Home:

Deciding whether or not to get any vaccine should always be an individual choice. Be sure you are making an educated choice: read the studies and examine the reasons for and against in order make the best decision for you.