The Real Science Behind the Flu Shot (And Effective Alternatives)
OCTOBER 23, 2018 by DR. HEATHER MODAY, MD
What is the ”flu” ?
The “flu” as we call it is usually caused by the influenza virus, although there are likely many other viruses that cause similar symptoms. Symptoms can be mild to severe. The most common symptoms include high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headache, coughing, sneezing, and fatigue. Symptoms typically begin two days after exposure to the virus and most last less than a week, although they can last for longer. The influenza virus has several strains that affect humans, most commonly Influenza Type A, Type B, and Type C. There are some influenza viruses that can also affect animals as well.
Flu season starts usually in November and lasts into March. Various viruses can be active in different parts of the worlds at the same time.
Every year the viruses genetically mutate slightly changing the property of the viruses. This makes it very difficult to create a long-acting vaccine for influenza, and scientists literally have to guess every year, using epidemiologic models from previous years. The vaccine is formulated each year by pharmaceutical companies based on this research. Vaccines never include all the viruses that may be active throughout the world at a given time.
How Effective is the Flu Shot?
We hear it all the time from doctors that we should get a flu shot, but how effective is it really?
Based on the most recent reviews by the Cochrane Library, a group of independent scientists who review the available scientific literature on a variety of topics, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine is fairly poor for the general population. This is certainly counterintuitive given the very heavy marketing push for nearly half the year and how adamant doctors are about everyone receiving a flu shot.
When we look at the numbers needed to treat (NNT), which is a measure of how many patients you need to treat to prevent one bad outcome (in this case, it will be how many people need to receive the flu shot to prevent 1 case of the flu), the data is not reassuring.
- The NNT for healthy adults was 71, meaning 71 adults would have to be vaccinated to prevent 1 case of the flu. That’s really ineffective.
- The NNT for those 65 years and older was 30. Still not very good.
“The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety,
efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older”- Cochrane Library
- The NNT for healthy children between the ages of 3 to 16 was 7. Now that’s not a bad number, but there are other concerns when it comes to children receiving the flu shot that need to be considered.
Are There Any Possible Risks from Getting a Flu Shot?
Much of the available literature on adverse effects of the flu shot are found in children, which is important to consider since it appears they are ostensibly most likely to benefit from the flu shot.
One study found that children with asthma who received the flu shot had a 3-fold greater likelihood of being hospitalized than those who hadn’t received the vaccine. Another study out of China found that children who received the flu shot were 4.4 times more likely to get a different viral illness other than influenza than those who hadn’t received the flu shot. This is believed to be a result of a phenomenon called heterologous immunity, aka unequal immunity.
With heterologous immunity, it is believed that when introduced to a vaccine with a specific strain of virus or bacteria, the body mounts a strong response to that specific virus or bacteria, but is impaired to fight off exposure to other viruses/bacteria.
Because most doctors believe vaccines are 100% safe, the vast majority of the time they fail to report adverse events, even though they occur fairly routinely. The result of this poor reporting is inaccurate safety information, which perpetuates this cycle.
Though the issue is downplayed, there is definitely a concern when it comes to the mercury found in multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine. It is aclled thimerasol and it’s a preservative in every multiuse vial of flu vaccine. For instance, the amount of mercury found in the Fluzone Quadrivalent vaccine is 25,000 ppb, well above the 2 pbb safety limit for drinking water and 200 ppb limit for hazardous waste. We know for certain that mercury is a potent toxin and can cause reproductive and immunological problems, especially in young children.
A final potential risk that is not discussed with vaccinations is the increased risk of developing an autoimmune condition. We know that all vaccinations contain adjuvants — such as aluminum — that create a non-specific immune response. This ensures that the immune system reacts to the virus or bacteria contained within the vaccination. But when the body produces a non-specific immune reaction, it can create antibodies that attacks its own tissues, called autoimmunity. This was seen in Sweden with the H1N1 vaccine, where there was in increase in Type I diabetes in children who had th flu shot. This is particularly concerning since the data had initially been omitted from publication and raises the question of how many adverse events are never reported for vaccines. Dr. Thomas Cowan’s most recent book Vaccines, Autoimmunity, and the Changing Nature of Childhood Illness is a good book to read more if you are interested.
How dangerous is the flu anyway?
Reports in the media will often cite statistics stating the death toll for the flu is anywhere between 30,000-80,000 annually, but those statistics combine deaths from flu AND any-cause pneumonia (including pneumonia from HIV, COPD, cancer, elderly, etc.). Though deaths from influenza are not reportable for adults, it is for children and the range is from 60-120 deaths annually out of 74 million children in the USA. When you look at death certificates, the estimate for flu deaths annually is closer to 1,000, not the 10’s of thousands commonly cited.
Regarding complications from the flu, a review by the Cochrane Library in 2010 found the following:
“Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.”
In general, if you are healthy without any significant illness such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, HIV, diabetes or severe respiratory symptoms, the flu vaccine is unlikely to give you any protection. You also have to weigh the exposure to mercury and other immune adjuvants.
How to Protect Yourself from the Flu Naturally
By far the most effective way to prevent illness, whether it be flu or any other infection, is to optimize your immune system. Your body is perfectly equipped to fight off potential infections when it is in proper working order. Here are a few strategies we have found to be effective:
Our body repairs itself while we are sleeping, so if you are not getting adequate sleep (at least 7.5-8 hours a night), you are going to be susceptible to infection. One big reason we find patients have a hard time sleeping at night is that they are exposed to blue light at night right up to bed. Blue light is produced by most LED lights, TV’s, cell phones, computers, and other digital devices. The research is very clear that blue light is stimulatory and suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that aids sleep and recovery. Because of this, we recommend all of our patients wear these glasses 2 hours before bed, since they are one of the few products on the market that block all blue light.
The sun has numerous mechanisms of improving immune function, including aiding in the production of vitamin D and the upregulation of T cell motility (T cells are a part of the immune system). Because it is hard to get adequate sunlight in the fall, winter, and early spring here in Philadelphia, we suggest our patients start supplementing with 5,000 IU vitamin D3 plus K2 daily from October to April. This is one of the brands we recommend.
We have two rules we recommend to all patients:
- Eat a varied and diverse diet. When you only eat a few foods or food groups, you end up with nutritional deficiencies.
- Eat real food in its whole form. This means eating foods like vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds, grains, legumes, meat, fish, etc. and avoiding packaged foods.
What Should You Do if You Get Sick?
Below are a few of the general strategies we recommend to our patients if they develop an acute respiratory infection. While there are many interventions practitioners will utilize, these are the ones we find most effective:
- Follow the strategies above – Continue to follow the strategies listed above, making sure to get even more sleep and rest than usual.
- 24-hour water fast – Start this at the first sign of illness. This is one of the best ways to upregulate your immune system. Of course, if you are an insulin-dependent diabetic or require food with your prescription medication, this should be avoided.
- Medicinal mushrooms – Certain mushrooms have very potent immunological properties and work very well to help the body deal with infection. We like mushroom blends that include reishi, chaga, cordyceps, and turkey tail. The OM organic mushroom Immune blend is a great choice.
- High-dose vitamin C – Everyone’s ideal dose is different and can be determined via an ascorbate calibration protocol, but in general 2-3 grams of buffered ascorbate four times a day will help. If you notice loose stools with this much vitamin C, cut the dose in half. We prefer Perque Potent C Guard which comes in a powder form.