Winter's Controversy: Flu Season and Vaccinations

It’s that time again. Flu season is upon us, and everywhere we turn we are reminded to get our flu shot.
It couldn’t be easier: You can get an influenza vaccine at your favorite neighborhood pharmacy, right along with your toothpaste and shampoo, or at a makeshift stand at the grocery store. At more and more businesses, employees can get one just down the hall from their desks.
 
Rising Flu Shot Use: 2010-2011
-        50% of American children received flu shots
-        41% of all American adults received flu shots
 
Are Flu Shots Effective?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get the annual flu vaccine,” says Joseph Bresee, MD, chief of the Epidemiology Prevention Branch at the CDC’s Influenza Division. Not all experts agree with this advice, though. An increasing number of researchers, academics and doctors are questioning the scientific basis. Some point out that the influenza virus isn’t the cause of most flu-like illness. Others argue that flu shots don’t work well for the most vulnerable among us, including the elderly, because their immune systems are too weak to respond. The most vocal critics even point to studies showing the influenza vaccine is no better than a placebo.
 
Influenza Strains Mutating Constantly
The problem with flu epidemics in the past and present is that there are always several variations of influenza strains circulating the globe, says medical historian George Dehner, PhD, author of Influenza: A Century of Science and Public Health Response (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012). The variants of those strains mutate constantly, and it is difficult for vaccines to keep the pace. With the advent of new DNA sequencing technologies, scientists have become faster at isolating influenza strains and updating vaccines. But it is still an inherently inexact science, unable to keep up with morphing viruses.
 
Fewer Cases of Influenza that We Think
Only 7% of those with flu symptoms actually have influenza, suggests epidemiologist Tom Jefferson, MD, author for the independent Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group. Jefferson believes flu cases are confused with flu-like illness. Jefferson's studies show that, on average, only about 7 percent of those with influenza-like illness actually have influenza.
 
No Official Body Count
How can we prove people die of the flu? Peter Doshi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in comparative effectiveness research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, says “there is no actual body count here, as we have with death by car accident or cancer.” The CDC put the death toll at 36,000 in 2003, though it has recently backed off the claim. The numbers are broad estimates, “but since there is no guarantee that what they call influenza is actually influenza,” says Doshi, the whole model is unreliable.
 
Money in Manufacturers Pockets
Many scientists point out that advisers on government vaccine committees vested with product approval have suspect ties to the manufacturers. With many of pharma’s most profitable drugs coming off patent in recent years, new vaccines, including influenza vaccines, have taken on an added luster. Experts predict that the seasonal influenza-vaccine market will grow to a $4 billion a year industry by 2015. Despite this, medical practitioners believe that concern for the public’s well-being is what motivates most health officials. Likely the truth is somewhere in the middle.
 
Toxins and Food Allergies in Flu Shots
Many influenza vaccinations contain toxins such as thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that was removed from most (but not all) children’s vaccines more than a decade ago. The flu vaccine is also prepared in hen eggs — so if you are allergic to eggs, you could have a reaction.
 
Toxins in Flu Shots?: Ask your Doctor
Here are some of the potentially harmful toxins still found in various influenza vaccines:
·      Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative removed from other vaccines used in children in 2001.
·      Polysorbate 80 is linked to infertility.
·      Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
·      Octoxinol-10 is commonly used as a vaginal spermicide.
 
How are the Vaccines Produced?
Pharmaceutical companies manufacture many varieties of influenza vaccine, and formulations change from year to year, along with the targeted strains. To make the vaccine, about six months prior to the next influenza season, scientists identify the strains they believe will be circulating most widely in the next year and inject them into fertilized hen eggs. After the virus multiplies in the eggs, it is harvested, and then weakened for use in live viruses, or inactivated with a chemical such as formaldehyde for injectable killed-virus vaccines.
 
Finally, the product is purified to elicit an immune response without making the patient sick, and shipped to medical centers and other facilities where patients can receive the vaccine. Killed-virus vaccines are delivered via an injection, which may come from multidose vials — which often contain thimerosal, a toxic preservative — or in single-dose syringes that have far less thimerosal, or none at all. Other times, patients (particularly the very young) inhale live-but-weakened versions of influenza organisms in the form of a mist. These do not contain thimerosal.
 
An Informed Choice
There are certainly plenty of experts who still endorse the influenza vaccine. One is immunologist Mary Ruebush, PhD, best known for her book, Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends (Kaplan Publishing, 2009). “Getting the flu vaccine is like taking your immune system to the gym,” Ruebush says. “Your immune system is activated when it responds to the vaccine, keeping it primed for response when the actual virus hits.”
 
Still, even in healthy populations, vaccines typically protect against just three or four strains, not the multiple strains that are constantly mutating in the wild. So, even if a vaccine boosts immunity, it can never protect against the full range of a constantly shifting illness.
 
After weighing the benefits of this marginal level of coverage, you might well decide to skip this year’s trip to the clinic. Then again, you may decide something is better than nothing, and elect to follow the advice of mainstream medicine and the CDC. This debate will likely rage for years. So for now, each of us is left to make up our own mind about whether to get that shot or not. If you decide against it, here are some easy steps to keeping you and your family healthy.
 
Simple Ways to Prevent the Flu
·      Avoid close contact with sick people whenever possible.
·      Stay home when ill. Urge your friends, family and coworkers to do the same.
·      Wash your hands frequently to protect yourself and others from germs.
·      Cover your cough. 
·      Keep your hands away from your face. Germs routinely spread when a person touches something contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
·      Stick to a nutrient-dense, toxin-free diet, and avoid foods that tend to weaken the immune system, such as sugar, refined grains, industrial vegetable oils, and processed and refined foods.
·      Sleep and avoid chronic stress. Constant anxiety at work or in your relationships suppresses the immune system, opening the door to flu.
·      Sunshine and supplemental vitamin D. High levels of vitamin D have long been linked to lower rates of flu.
·      20 minutes of exercise a day to prime the immune system.
·      Avoid antibiotics and antibacterial cleansers and sanitizers whenever you can. They can weaken your natural defenses and entice your “immunity muscles” to atrophy. By steering clear of chemical antibacterial agents as much as practical, you’ll encourage your body’s immune system to get smarter and harder-working overtime. As a result, it will stand a better chance of effectively vanquishing infections and diseases of all kinds, including influenza.
 
Helping your family stay healthy can be complicated. Fortunately, there are many other ways besides flu shots which can strengthen the body’s immune system. Supporting our digestive system is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to stay flu-free during the winter season.
 
Please call 734-222-8210 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation.

At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we provide professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide you towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.