Friday, October 22, 2010

Influenza, the Vaccine, and Vitamin D

It's flu season!

You've likely noticed the propaganda.  Signs everywhere I go, at pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets, warehouse stores, and more!  I see signs on the side of the road, and I hear news stories about how everyone should go get their flu shot!  Some places even offer incentives, such as memberships, gift cards and the like, all for getting a flu shot!  Our pediatrician's office has a sign with a caricature of a man with an ice pack on his head, a red nose, tissue in his hand, covered with a blanket, and a fizzling drink nearby.  It says "Don't let this happen to you!  Get your flu shot today!"  They'll even bill your insurance for you!  No hassle!

One thing all this media coverage makes me question is why?  Where are the funds coming from to pay for all of this?  The advertisements and the incentives?  The pay for the registered nurses who sit at the tables and booths with their syringes ready?  It makes me think that, just maybe, the flu shot is pushed more for monetary reasons than for health.  Just think about that for a minute.

If you live in a place where it gets very cold in the winter, like I do, then the propaganda is likely more prevalent than in warmer climates.  Flu season here can be quite ugly, particularly for infants and babies who can develop potentially deadly RSV, which affects a baby's ability to breathe and get adequate oxygen.  Indeed, parents are cautioned to keep their infants home and avoid public places for fear of contracting the feared flu bug.  When I gave birth to my third baby in October we kept him home for months to avoid any exposure.  We sacrificed holiday parties and family get-togethers out of fear our precious baby might get sick.  He was healthy all season, and I can't say whether or not staying home really made a difference.

I used to get the flu shot, and I even had some of my kids get it more than once.  Our family doesn't get the flu shot anymore.  The decision was simple for me.  I didn't notice our family getting sick less often when we got the vaccine.  The years that we skipped the vaccine we didn't get sick any more often or worse than the years we got it.  I saw no point in subjecting myself and my children to an annoying stick in the shoulder (or thigh) when I never noticed any benefits.

In the years since I stopped getting the flu shot I've done more research on the subject.  This year in particular I've found a lot of resources about the flu vaccine, and they're not favorable.  I didn't intentionally seek out anti-vaccine blog posts and articles, but the research I've found supports my decision to stop getting the annual shot.

Why is flu season during the winter months?  It's quite simple.  The colder weather forces us to stay indoors more.  We exercise less.  We eat more food, and more fatty and sugary foods, particularly during the various holidays that take place during the winter.  Our health overall suffers, and we're more prone to illness.  Flu isn't the only illness that goes around during these times, but it seems to be the one that gets the most attention.  Perhaps it's because of money.  There's a vaccine for that, and lots of companies make money when vaccines are sold and administered.

In considering whether or not the vaccine is a good choice for you or your family, you should consider the following:

  • The latest flu shot has been linked to seizures:  "Australia, just coming out of its flu season, had to suspend flu shots for kids — because little ones were suffering febrile seizures at 10 times the normal rate."  This is the 2010 flu shot.  The one that's being currently promoted.  My kids won't be getting it.
  • Six reasons to say NO to vaccination: At first glance I thought this blog post was all about scare tactics, but when I took the time to read past the bold print I realized there's a lot of truth to it.  It's about vaccinations in general, but as you read it think about how it applies to the flu shot in particular.  
  • Flu is vitamin D deficiency disease: This post really resonates with me.  It makes sense that during the darkest months of the year we would suffer from vitamin D deficiency, when vitamin D is most available through exposure to sunlight.  Taking a regular dose of cod liver oil or another vitamin D supplement could potentially prevent the flu altogether.  I'm willing to give it a try!
  • Vitamin D proven far better than vaccines in preventing influenza infections:  If you're one of those people who needs scientific proof of a theory, here's some evidence to back up the vitamin D link to the flu.
  • Food sources for Vitamin D: This site has a list of foods that contain Vitamin D.  The major foods listed are: fish (like salmon and tuna), milk, cheese, and egg yolks, but check the list for more.  It's a good idea to eat as many Vitamin D rich foods as possible through flu season.  An adult should have about 1200 IU's of D3 daily, and a child should have about 400.  You can also get D3 supplements from your local grocery store or health food store.
  • Sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D: However, in many very sunny places it's still possible to be deficient because it's dependent on the type of sunlight.  Dietary changes and/or supplementation may still be needed.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist.  I support families making informed choices about their care.  That means knowing what it is you're choosing.  If you choose to get a vaccine, understand the potential risks involved.  If you choose not to vaccinate, understand what you can do to support your family's health more effectively.  Make the choice that makes sense and feels right for you.

I make decisions for myself and my family based on a combination of personal intuition and research.  I go with what feels right, but I also search for evidence and pray about my decision.  This is one vaccine I feel confident about missing.

UPDATE: (10/29/10) Since writing this post, I discovered more information about the 2010 Influenza Vaccine.


  1. excellent post, but when you say "fatty foods" I think you really meant "sugar". hehe ;-)

  2. Mama Bean, that's exactly right. I guess I could have worded that better. Sugary foods are more fattening, and also lower our immune response to illness. Refined and artificial sugars are the worst, and we tend to eat a lot more of them during the holidays.

  3. I've updated it to include "sugary" foods :)

  4. I LOVE this post! Here in sunny California we have just as much propganda as you! Last year two teachers were sick for WEEKS AFTER they got the flu shot. This year I have a student who has been out all week due to a bad reaction to the flu shot. The one time I got the flu shot, I got really sick. I refuse to give it to my children anymore. I refuse to get one - even when it is offered for free. Thank you for this post and keep up the good work!

  5. We've been getting fliers and forms for the past couple of weeks trying to get us to sign our daughter up for a "flu immunization clinic" they're having at her school. Ugh! Leave us alone! Thanks for this post!

  6. LOVE this post. We'll be skipping the flu shots as well. I am on the fence about vaccinations (leaning towards not doing them at all but for sure delaying them) but I feel like you - this is one vaccination that I know we don't want for sure. I think a healthy diet has much more power than most people realize!

    Oh, PS, in Arizona even though it is warm, there are signs everywhere for flu shots. There is even a "free flu shot" birthday part at the Children's Hospital. Birthday party with flu shots? No thanks :)

  7. Great post! I will say I live in a warm climate and they still push the flu shot here.

  8. Thank you for your post! Your blog is very informative.

  9. Actually, flu season is during the winter months because of the viral biology. Influenza and rhinovirus are not able to survive the warm temperatures of summer, but survive cold just fine and so they become more infectious during the colder seasons.

    Just because you get the flu shot does not mean that you can expect to 'get sick less often'. Getting the flu shot does not effect how you might become infected with any virus besides influenza. You can only expect to not get the flu itself.

    Thanks for at least posting one reference that links to a real scientific study. A bunch of blog articles that all say the same thing, but give no actual scientific information, is not doing good internet research in my opinion but it seems to be the majority of what I see.

  10. Monica,

    Thank you for pointing out the viral biology of influenze. It makes sense. I still believe our relative inactivity and diet impact our immune system and its ability to fight off infection as well. I've often heard of October through March referred to as "cold and flu season". Does the common cold also thrive in cooler temperatures, or is that just a catch phrase that's become popular?

    The flu shot is designed to target specific strains of the virus, as you mentioned, and according to the CDC this year the vaccine is composed of 3 different strains ( Often the strain(s) in the vaccine does not match up with the strain that goes around that year. Would you call that a success, in that the vaccine is suppressing an outbreak of the intended strain, while another strain of the flu makes everyone sick? Or would it be considered a failure of planning, that the infectious strain wasn't included or expected that year?

    Here's another reference about the flu shot complications in Australia as well as other nations, several who have banned the vaccine from babies: also includes source links to publications about the issue.

    I'm sorry I don't have more "real scientific" references, as they can be hard to come by. The H1N1 vaccine is still new and largely untested, and it's been included in this year's flu vaccine cocktail. (see the CDC link above). It takes at least 3-5 years for a drug or vaccine to be tested on the general public to determine its true efficacy and safety. The flu vaccine itself also changes each year based on the particular strain, so arguably it hasn't been sufficiently tested either.

    The majority of scientific studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in selling their product. They're not interested in finding evidence that a natural alternative, non-pharmaceutical is more effective than their product. The FDA also has no regulation on the use of placebo, so the placebo in any drug or vaccine test or study can be anything, for instance olive oil, sugar, or whatever. Even sugar or olive oil can affect a person's health, and there is no true placebo. The scientific studies that so many rely upon aren't necessarily as dependable as we are led to believe.

  11. Monica brings up a good point, but it doesn't negate the concept of low vitamin D levels contributing to increased risk of illness.

    I think you did well on this topic. It's hard to write about vaccines because the amount of information is a bit mind-boggling.

    Whether studies are reliable or not, the fact still remains that sometimes people want commentary so they can think through an issue, and other times people want medical literature with a greater focus on numbers and methodology.

    Of course, if you did include studies, you could really rip at vaccine-theory. The vaccine companies make it really easy. Take, for example, the Flumist insert. It gets interesting at around 14.5:
    - - - - - INDICATIONS AND USAGE - - - - - FluMist is a vaccine indicated for the active immunization of individuals 2-49 years of age against influenza disease caused by influenza virus subtypes A and type B contained in the vaccine."
    (So if you're under 2, you're not supposed to receive flumist)

    I read 14.5 ("transmission study") and apparently they thought it was more important to study mostly those under age 2(8-36 months).

    Using the frozen formulation, a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed in a daycare setting in children <3 years of age to assess the transmission of vaccine viruses from a vaccinated individual to a non-vaccinated individual. A total of 197 children 8-36 months of age were randomized to receive one dose of FluMist (n=98) or placebo (n=99). Virus shedding was evaluated for 21 days by culture of nasal swab specimens.\\

    So in real life, people age 2 through 49 are receiving flumist, yet, the "transmission study" studied only babies 8 months through 36 months old.

    Nobody is complaining about this? Nobody finds this fraudulent? Nobody cares about this?

    To me, it would appear they know exactly what they are doing and the reason they chose that age group to study (and print the results of) is because they didn't like the results of the study in the older age group and didn't want to publish those results. What other reason in the world would they even waste time and money studying a group for which in real life isn't even going to be receiving this vaccine?!?