Much ado about nothing: The flu vaccine myths

It’s the time again to get your vaccine shot. At least this is the message that you hear from everybody who cares about you – or your wallet. I went straight to the source to get the facts, or so I hoped. I went to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Website (www.cdc.gov)

Here is what they say:

“There are two types of vaccines:

  1. The “flu shot”—an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
  2. The nasal-spray flu vaccine — a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “live attenuated influenza vaccine” or FluMist®). LAIV (FluMist®) is approved for use in healthy* people 2-49 years of age† who are not pregnant.

Each vaccine contains three influenza viruses-one A (H3N2) virus, one A (H1N1) virus, and one B virus. The viruses in the vaccine change each year based on international surveillance and scientists’ estimations about which types and strains of viruses will circulate in a given year.”

Myth #1: The choice of viruses for the vaccine is based on scientific data. Fact: There are 17 subgroups of Influenza A virus, of which 2-3 are chosen each year. Scientist base their recommendation on what virus hit us the previous year and what is hitting the population on the other side of the globe presently. This is as accurate as an extended weather forecast.

Let’s see what the CDC says about vaccine effectiveness:

“The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the virus strains in the vaccine and those in circulation. Testing has shown that both the flu shot and the nasal-spray vaccine are effective at preventing the flu.”

Myth #2: The flu shot is effective. Fact: CDC does not give numbers! How could they? There are no double blind, multi-center, placebo controlled, long term studies available. There are studies that assess the development of antibodies against flu viruses. However the results vary between 20 and 67%. Mistakes in production, transport, conservation and administration can be responsible for a further decrease of efficacy

How safe is it? Here is the CDC’s information:

“The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that could occur are soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given. Other symptoms include fever (low grade) and aches. If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last 1 to 2 days. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.”

Myth #3: the flu shot is safe. Fact: Other side effects have been linked to the flu shot: Polyneuritis, meningitis, encephalitis, ataxia, MS, chronic fatigue, Alzheimer’s, facial and peripheral paralysis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Some inactivated influenza vaccine contains thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury.

Back to the CDC:

“The vaccines are recommended to anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including: Children aged 6 months until their 5th birthday, pregnant women, 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, including: Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu. Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated) Healthcare workers. Influenza vaccine is also recommended for anyone who wants to reduce the likelihood of spreading influenza to others.”

Wow, this last sentence really hits my guilt button! Am I a health threat to the public by not lining up to get the shot?

Myth #4: You need the flu shot. Fact: The true driving forces behind vaccinations are fear and money.

It makes more sense to me to strengthen the immune system in general to prevent the flu and other illnesses. Basic preventive measures are more effective than all vaccines combined:

  • Rhythm governs all life processes: make sure you adhere to a rhythm in your daily schedule (waking up, going to bed, eating, working, etc. at a given time). Studies show that shift workers and flight attendants have a significant higher risk of getting sick than their peers.
  • Nutrition: avoid processed foods (they are vitamin and mineral robbers), eat organic, fresh, seasonal, local as much as possible and do not eat in excess
  • Sleep/Rest: varies from person to person. Most people need 6-8 hours of rest per day.
  • Exercise daily like walking/stretching if you are not already doing a more vigorous exercise program; aim at 4 hours/week
  • Wash your hands more often, especially after visiting public places. Do not sneeze or cough into your hands. Use paper napkins or your elbow!
  • Avoid crowded places like malls, exhibits, theater, games, etc on weekends.
  • Fresh air: open windows daily for at least 15-30 minutes to air your home.

Supplements:

  • Vitamin C: 2000mg daily
  • Blackthorn or Sea Buckthorn elixir (Weleda), rich in vitamin C: 1 teaspoon daily, or Black Elderberry
  • (Sambucus nigra) extract:1 teaspoon daily
  • A good multi (follow directions on the label and take max. dose)
  • B-complex 100: one tablet daily
  • Omega 3,6 fatty acid complex in form of cod liver oil (molecular distilled) or flaxseed oil: 2 grams daily

And last but not least: Enjoy another day in your life, call a friend, start something new, make it special. Every day counts.

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
—Rainer Maria Rilke



Peter Hinderberger, M.D., Ph.D., DIHom practices at Ruscombe. The mission of his practice is to promote optimal wellbeing by providing health care through an integrated approach, combining conventional and complementary therapies, which include Anthroposophic medicine, homeopathy, and salutogenesis.

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