Driving up and down Central Avenue in Dover, NH I am amazed at the number of signs for walk in flu shots. Many of my patients have questions about whether or not the Flu vaccine is right for them. According to research the flu vaccine is effective at reducing symptoms of Influenza, however, the vaccine is only as good as how well it is matched to the live viruses we are exposed to within a season. Therefore this efficacy can range from 10% in some seasons to 50% in others. There is a lot of media driven fear about Influenza mobidity and mortality, however, greater than 90% of Influenza deaths are in the elderly and the remaining 10% affect mostly those with compromised immune systems.
Questions about vaccinations come up frequently in my practice and its important to look at a number of factors anytime you are considering a vaccination for you or your child. In the end, with most of my patients, it comes down to a basic cost:benefit ratio. Interestingly enough, different patients will weigh certain costs and benefits higher than others and therefore each individual comes to thier own desicion of what is best for them and their family members.
Firstly, it is important to ask the question-"Who is the vaccine protecting? You? The community? or Both?" Some vaccinations are given to children and/or adults to eradicate disease but not necessarily to protect the individual. This is how diseases basically become extinct in our country. A good example of this is Hepatitis B, which is given at birth to infants who are not at high-risk of contracting the illness until they are well into their teens or older. However, this "proactive" public policy may eradicate Hep B for our future generations. The flu vaccine is given to protect the individual. Influenza viruses change constantly and eradication of the flu at this time is impossible due to constantly changing viral strains.
Next we look at the vaccine ingredients and if any are concerning. There are a number of different Influenza vaccine producers and each brand will have slightly different ingredients. An example of one flu vaccine ingredient list for the 2012-2013 season is Aluria-with chicken egg protein, neomycin (an antibiotic), polymyxin B, and thimerisol (mercury) as well as the deactivated viral antigens. As well, we would want to know the side-effects of each vaccine. With most vaccines there are many localized side-effects, but only a few are really concerning such as neurologoical disorders like Guillian-Barre syndrome and increases in febrile seizures in children. In the case of the flu vaccine listed above, I would consider mercury a problematic ingredient, as well as chicken egg protein particularly in those reactive to egg. I believe that all side-effects are problematic and should be weighed heavily in your cost:benefit ratio.
Lastly, I believe it is important to look at how common is the disease and whether or not it is treatable? Are there any devastating side effects of having the illness? In the case of Influenza, it is a common disease but very treatable. In fact, it is not only treatable but it is preventable! With anti-viral herbs such as Elderberry and immune-stimulating herbs such as Echinacea, Astragalus, and Osha. Influenza is seriously uncomfortable, but for most of us our bodies can fight off the bug and bring us back to health.
So, the question is, "Should you get the flu shot this year?" Make an educated desicion. Look at the vaccine side effects and ingredients of the particular shot in your doctor's office of pharmacy before making a desicion. Every vaccine has this information listed in the pamphlet in the box. Also, you can check out the National Vaccine Information Center which lists the side effects and ingredients of most vaccines on their website.
As a doctor and mother, I not only have to make these desicions for myself but for my family. Luckily, both myself, my husband, and our son are healthy most of the time. No one in my household is immune-compromised or elderly. I think that this year we'll dose up on our Elderberry, Vitamin C, and Echinacea, get good rest, avoid sugar, and drink plently of warm fluids. Naturopathic medicine provides another option for prevention. However, in the end the best desicion is the one that you make because only you and your loved ones will experience the positive and negative outcome of that desicion.