Sorting Out the Convo-FLU-ted Vaccine Dilemma

by Dr. Jennifer Morganti, N.D.

The year's first chill inevitably provokes a discussion about the pros and cons of flu vaccination. Among the health conscious, the debate raises concerns over whether the vaccine is safe, effective, or an overall wise decision.

To better understand the issues, it might be helpful to know that the flu vaccine is an injection of inactivated (dead) flu virus, the intention of which is to trigger the immune system to produce antibodies to that virus, without causing symptoms of the flu—hopefully. After receiving the shot, it takes the body about two weeks to develop antibodies, which will then provide resistance to "catching" the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the following two subsets of the population receive the vaccination each year: those "at high risk of having serious flu complications" and people who "live with or care for those at high risk for serious complications." The CDC also states that anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu have the vaccine, causing many healthy Americans to feel that they need the shot.

Concerns about Vaccine Effectiveness:

Getting a flu shot may not be a blanket solution for prevention. Per the following statement found on the "Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) Vaccine" page of the CDC Website, there are many variables in the vaccine creation process that may influence its effectiveness: "The ability of the flu vaccine to protect a person depends on their age and health status, and the similarity or 'match' between the virus strains in the vaccine and those in circulation."

Every flu season, a committee from the FDA gathers to predict which strains of the flu virus will cause the most significant impact on health. From that information, pharmaceutical companies create a vaccination that they hope will protect consumers from three specific strains (out of literally zillions) selected by that committee. If other flu strains become more prominent during the season, the vaccination will not be protective and the virus can be transmitted. This begs the questions: How accurate is the committee in predicting the right strains? What is the percentage of times they make a good "match?" Unfortunately, these questions cannot be answered, because there is no follow-up procedure in place to determine if the predicting process is effective.

Concerns about Vaccination Safety:

Side effects from the vaccine can include runny nose, headache, sore throat, cough, or allergic reactions ranging from mild to serious. Also, a rare side effect is Guillain- Barré syndrome, a condition characterized by muscle weakness and nerve damage.

There is also the issue of thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury, found in vaccinations. Though there has been a push to remove thimerosal, some products still contain it to some degree. In the current flu vaccine, Fluarix™, thimerosal is used in manufacturing, and then removed from the finished product. The manufacturer states that "<1µg (microgram) mercury" is present in one dose of the vaccine. Some health professionals, however, believe even this dosage is excessive, and that it contributes further to the cumulative effective of mercury exposure during a lifetime. It is widely believed that mercury, which accumulates in fatty brain and nerve tissue, can cause neurological disorders, including autism, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease.

Available Alternatives:

Unless you are in a "high risk" group, you needn't feel pressured to have the flu vaccine. If you prefer to protect yourself via a safe, natural method, there are plenty of effective choices. The foundation for good health is always proper diet (lots of fruits and vegetables; little or no processed food), moderate exercise, and adequate sleep. And the following two-pronged approach to your dietary supplement regime is recommended:

Preventative products designed to support the immune system that can and should be taken throughout the entire flu season.

Products to keep on hand, ready for use at the first signs of illness, and discontinued after one or two weeks.

The preventative list includes the basics that we all know and love: vitamin A, zinc, and selenium are key nutrients for the immune system. You will also need more vitamin C than is contained in a multivitamin. For a superior bio-available, nonacidic vitamin C, try The Right C from Nature's Way.

Mushroom extracts can be taken continuously long term to support the immune system by enhancing B-cell and T-cell production. Garden of Life's RM10 contains a wide variety of organic mushrooms, including maitake, shiitake, reishi, and cordyceps, as well as selenium, and Cat's claw extract.

Products to keep available for use at the first signs of a cold or flu, include Echinacea Supreme, a potent liquid Echinacea extract created by Gaia Herbs. This "whole herb" extract contains natural compounds from the root, aerial, and seed, thus providing the synergistic benefits of the entire plant. It is a standardized extract guaranteed to contain 2.1 mg of Isobutylamides (the active constituents) per dose.

Influenzium, from Washington Homeopathics, are pellets that also generate immunity specific to a few particular strains of the virus. Theoretically, the pellets work in a similar manner as the vaccine, however there is no detectable presence of the virus in the product. As in all homeopathic remedies, only the "energetic vibration" of the ingredient is present, therefore it can be assumed that they are safe and without serious side effects.

At the first sign of stuffiness, try UMCKA from Nature's Way. It is a South African herb called Pelargonium sidoides, which studies have proven shortens the duration and reduces the severity of throat, sinus, and bronchial irritations.

The only thing that is clear about the vaccine debate is that there is no definitive answer. Choices are likely relegated to those made based on the individual making them. However, it is good to know that both vaccination and natural healing options are available.