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Should I Get a Flu Shot?

Updated on January 27, 2013

Whether one should get a flu shot (also known as flu vaccine) is a personal decision. And it depends on your risk profile and age and health condition and so on. To answer the question, one must weigh the benefit to risk ratio for your particular case. Let's examine the various factors to help us understand the benefits of flu shots versus the potential risk of flu shots.

Flu Shot Not Necessary for Healthy Adults

For young healthy adults with immune system functioning well, it is not really necessary to get a flu shot. Because a strong immune system will be able to fight off the flu so that one does not get it in the first place. And even if one catches the flu, a strong immune system in a healthy individual will be able to recover from the flu without any complications.

Complications from the flu usually occurs in the elderly or people or immuno-compromised individuals with less than optimal immune system.

To keep your immune system in tip-top shape, eat a lot of cruciferous green vegetables, mushrooms, and garlic. Reduce stress, since stress reduces the effectiveness of the immune system.

Take vitamin D which plays a role in regulation of the immune system. The reason why people get more flu in the winter is partly due to the lack for vitamin D generation by our skin due to lower sun exposure. By taking vitamin D supplements you may be able to reduce your chance of catching a flu.

Dr. Ben Kim says that the flu primarily kills cells that are the weakest and contain excessive toxins and waste products. Therefore, the flu kills off cells that your body would have wanted to get rid of anyways. And the coughing and sneezing is just a way for the body to rid itself of these toxic cells. He writes in his article What Most Doctors Won't Tell You About Colds and Flus ...

"And so long as you get plenty of rest and strive to stay hydrated and properly nourished during a cold or flu, there is no need to get vaccinated or to take medications that suppress congested sinuses, a fever, or coughing."

Dr. Joel Fuhrman talks about the benefit to risk ratio of the flu vaccine in his book Super Immunity. He believes in keeping the immune system in optimal condition with plant-based phytonutrients such as cruciferous vegetables and mushrooms.

On the benefits side of the equation, we have the look at how effective the flu vaccine is in preventing the flu. On the risk side of the equation, we have to look at the potential harm that a flu shot may have.

How effective are flu shots?

A review in the Cochrane Library says that there are over 200 viruses cause the flu which rarely leads to serious illness. The flu shot is only effective for influenza A and B, which accounts for only 10% of the circulating viruses. The authors making the following conclusion:

"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"[1]

On his site, Dr. Mercola also cites amply evidence and studies showing that flu shots do not work. And there can be rare but serious reactions to the flu vaccine.[3]

Also watch the below video by Thinktwice Global Vaccine Institute which does not think that flu vaccine is very effective.

Mercury and Aluminum in Flu Shot

Some flu vaccines contain a perservative called thimerosal which contains trace amount of mercury. Mercury is very toxic to the human body. Granted the trace amount is small enough that many say is safe. But others raises the concern of accumulation of this mercury year after year.

Others recommend that pregnant women should only take flu shots without thimerosal that is mercury-free.

Although now many flu vaccines are mercury-free, some are adding aluminum in the vaccine as an adjuvant. An adjuvant is an element that is added to simulate the immune system in order to boost the effectiveness of the vaccine, because some people's immune system are not reacting enough to the dead virus used in the flu vaccine.

In any case, it turns out that aluminum is even more dangerous than mercury.

Listen to the below video between Dr. Mercola and Dr. Stephanie Seneff when they talk about vaccines in general (not just flu vaccines). Seneff says that ...

"This gets into actually vaccines because one of the toxins in vaccines that I think is a very serious problem is aluminum. ... I’ve done a lot of studying of vaccines in the last few months. I’m deeply disturbed by what I’m seeing." [around 13:25 in the below video]

Debate of Vaccines and Autism

Furthermore Dr. Seneff did an statistical analysis of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System database and found that the mention of "autism" skyrocketed after the year 2000. It was in 1999 that they remove thimerosal and they started putting aluminum instead. It is also possible that the aluminum from the vial glass stoppers could have contaminated the vaccine.

Some say there is no link between vaccines and autism. A report in the Oxford Journals titled Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypothesis looks at the various hypothesis linking vaccination of young children to autism. It came to the following conclusion:

"Twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism. ... These studies, in concert with the biological implausibility that vaccines overwhelm a child's immune system, have effectively dismissed the notion that vaccines cause autism."

But then others say there might be some link in susceptible individuals. In the book The UltraMind Solution, Dr. Mark Hyman writes...

“The vaccine probably affects only a few genetically susceptible children who are biochemical and immunological train wrecks because of toxic overload.” [page 210]

Chris Kresser writes ...

“there are studies that have shown vaccine injuries and particularly vaccines that contain mercury in them, and then there’s a lot of, like I said, correlations and plausible mechanisms and other data that point to the distinct possibility that vaccines cause immune dysregulation and can increase the risk of autoimmunity as kids get older.” [reference]

And in his Revolutionary Health Radio podcast episode titled The Truth About Flu Shot (which you can listen to), he says that he himself does not take flu shots. He summarizes by saying ...

"Number one, in general, flu vaccines are not effective for adults. ... Nor have vaccines been shown to prevent complications or transmissions. Vaccines have not been shown to be more effective than placebo in kids under 2 years old and may have significant risks that are not yet well understood. ..."

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny is a proponent of parent's right to choose for vaccination of their child. Dr. Tenpenny says in podcast linked here that vaccines can definitely cause autism in some individuals. But it is a spectrum, other people may not get autism, but may have other ill effects. She doesn't believe in flu vaccines, travel vaccines, nor the use of any vaccines in general. She say "health does not come in a needle".

Dr. Tenpenny has a DVD titled Vaccines: What CDC Documents and Science Reveal

You can dig deeper into the controversies between autism and vaccines with some reference here.

Read the package insert of flu vaccines

Have you ever read the package insert of the flu vaccine that you are getting? Have the medical professional that is giving the shot read it? Most people who get flu shot have not read it. You should. And it is available on the Internet, just do a web search for the particular flu vaccine that you are getting. Ask for the exact name of the flu vaccine. Many people just get a "flu shot", but there are many different types by different manufacturers.

Here is the package insert as found on the FDA website for the Fluarix flu vaccine. It provides data on how likely one might encounter adverse reactions in comparison to placebo. It also provides data on how effective the flu vaccine is in comparison to placebo.

Contraindications of Flu Vaccines

Contraindications are conditions in which a particular drug should not be given.

Here are some contraindications as mentioned in the insert. Do do use the vaccine under the following conditions ...

  • "Known severe allergic reactions (e.g., anaphylaxis) to egg proteins (a vaccine component) or a life-threatening reaction to previous influenza vaccination."
  • "If Guillain-Barré syndrome has occurred within 6 weeks of receipt of a prior influenza vaccine, the decision to give FLUARIX should be based on potential benefits and risks"
  • "FLUARIX is not approved for use in children younger than 3 years of age."
  • "In subjects receiving FLUARIX or the comparator vaccine, geometric mean antibody titers postvaccination were lower in geriatric subjects than in younger subjects (18 to 64 years of age)."

What does that mean? That means that this particular vaccine is designed for those age 3 to 64. One almost has to be a scientist to understand the information in the insert.

Guillain-Barré syndrome

Also note the mention of Guillain-Barré syndrome as an contraindication. What it really should say that is the vaccine may trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome in some susceptible individuals. Since we can not know beforehand who is susceptible and who is not, there is always some risk to taking the flu vaccines, as is with any drug.

Although rare (1 cases per 100,000 for those under 30 and about 4 cases per 100,000 in those older than 75 years)[reference], there are cases where individuals have contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome after the flu vaccine. Doctors have seen such cases. One such case has happened to the individual as profiled in the above video. She was healthy prior to taking the flu shot. And then afterwards, she developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition where an inappropriate immune response targets nerve tissues instead of foreign antigens. The disorder causes damage to the peripheral nervous system. Although many can recover from this disease, her case was particularly severe which rendered her disabled.

Here is some shocking statistic as reported in the book The Autoimmune Epidemic ...

"By January 1977, more than five hundred cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome had been reported as a direct result of the vaccine." [page 142]

The vaccine was part of the National Influenza Immunization Program started in October 1976.

For Pregnant and Nursing Women

What about for pregnant women? Some other points from the vaccine information insert are ...

"FLUARIX should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed."

So that means that if you are a healthy pregnant woman, you probably do not need the flu vaccine. This particular flu vaccine is classed under "Pregnancy Category B", which means animal studies have not shown any risk to the fetus, but there is no adequate studies in pregnant women in regard to the safety to women or fetus.

For nursing mothers, the package insert says ...

"It is not known whether FLUARIX is excreted in human milk. Because many drugs are excreted in human milk, caution should be exercised when FLUARIX is administered to a nursing woman."

Different Types of Flu Vaccine

As noted on the CDC website, there are three types of flu shots based on age ...

  • regular flu shot for those 6 months and older.
  • high-dose flu shot for those 65 and older
  • intradermal flu shot for those 18 to 64 years of age

Intranasal vaccine with live virus

Although flu shots uses dead virus, there are nasal-spray flu vaccines that uses live weakened flu viruses.

One such flu vaccine is the Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine Live, Intranasal with product insert linked here. It says ...

"for the active immunization of individuals 2-49 years of age"

It specifically says not to give to children under two due to increase chance of hospitalization and increased wheezing, with ...

"Most hospitalizations observed were gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections and occurred more than 6 weeks post vaccination"

The product insert also says that this product is not approved for use for those age 50 or over. So if you or your medical practitioner did not read the material, they may not have known this.

This intranasal vaccine is worst for pregnant women than Fluarix, because it is Pregnancy Category C, rather than category B. Again, insert says that it "should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed."

Some contraindications are if you have sensitivity to eggs or if under "concomitant aspirin therapy in children and adolescents".

Also ...

"Safety has not been established in individuals with underlying medical conditions predisposing them to wild-type influenza infection complications"

What is in a Flu Vaccine

Unfortunately, the product insert may not give full detail of what exactly is in the vaccine. To learn about adjuvants added and other ingredients read Dr. Mercola's article and see list of active ingredients of the various vaccines on Wikipedia.


This article was written in October 2012 and is only opinion at the time of writing. Author is not a medical professional and this is not medical advice. Author does not take flu vaccines.


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