Sunday, October 2, 2016

Flu Shots: Some Facts to Consider

Flu season hasn’t even officially started yet, and already I’m tired of seeing and hearing all the ads urging people to get flu shots. Last week while I was on the phone refilling Ed’s blood pressure medicine, my thyroid medicine, and Alex’s anxiety meds, I had to listen to the pharmacies’ pleas to get our flu shots right away, especially since they are “free.” In fact, I’ve seen some places offering gift cards as an enticement to customers to get flu shots at their stores. In addition, my friendly and well-meaning pharmacist eagerly offered to give me a flu shot when I was picking up refills. I declined then, as I also did during my regular thyroid check when my doctor offered one. I don’t do flu shots anymore.

When I was younger, I received annual flu shots, fearing that my job as a middle school teacher put me more at risk for exposure to the flu. Some students feel the need to stand very close to me as they share their fears of illness along with their germs before I send them to the school nurse. Unlike other jobs where a person just calls in sick, teachers must construct elaborate lesson plans for substitute teachers, even when we are half-dead with illness. In addition, taking care of Alex requires that I always be at my best. Consequently, I can’t get sick. I used to think that flu shots were a good way to avoid illness. However, after Alex was diagnosed with autism and I was diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, I began researching ways to make both of us healthier. My research led me to conclude that flu shots were not the answer for us.

Before getting a flu shot this year, I would suggest researching and considering the following factors.

Limited Effectiveness: This year, the Centers for Disease Control has decided that the nasal version of the flu vaccine should not be given because it is ineffective. This vaccine that contains a live weakened form of the virus is usually preferred for children who do not like getting shots. However this year, it was found to have an effectiveness rate of only three percent. While the shot version of the flu vaccine performs better, the CDC admits that various factors hinder making the shot effective, such as predicting which strains of flu will be present in the coming season. Consequently, they predict that flu shots will be effective in only fifty to sixty percent of the people who have them. Those are not impressive odds.

Side Effects: Before getting a flu shot, patients should consider the potential risks. The package insert for the flu vaccine lists serious adverse effects that have occurred after flu shots. These conditions include the blood disorder thrombocytopenia (a blood platelet disorder that can cause serious bleeding), immune system reactions such as anaphylactic shock, nervous system disorders including convulsions and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, vascular disorders that can involve the kidneys, along with skin and other disorders, such as cellulitis and “influenza-like illness.” In trying to prevent the flu, a patient at worst can become sicker from the vaccine or even die, or at least have the same symptoms of flu. Patients should also be aware that “no interaction studies have been performed on interaction between influenza vaccines in general and other vaccines or medications.” In other words, no one has bothered to test whether mixing flu vaccines with other vaccines or medications is dangerous or not.

Ingredients: The package insert for the flu vaccine gives pause for thought, too, in listing the ingredients found in flu vaccines. The least concerning component is sucrose (sugar), and ovalbumin, or albumin from egg whites seems harmless, except for those with egg allergies. Hence, those with egg allergies are usually warned not to get flu shots. In addition, people with allergies to antibiotics should also be concerned because the shot contain the antibiotics neomycin sulfate, and polymyxin B. These shots also contain beta-propiolactone, which is considered a carcinogen, a potential cancer-causing agent. These ingredients occur in “residual amounts.” One should investigate the main ingredients, as well.

The vaccine insert lists ingredients that can be found and researched on Sodium chloride is used to supplement the body with fluids and can cause rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. Monobasic and dibasic sodium phosphate are both laxatives that can cause nausea and vomiting and should not be taken by people with kidney disease or who have had gastric bypass surgery. Potassium chloride is a mineral used to treat potassium deficiency and has similar side effects to sodium phosphate. Patients with kidney disease and the autoimmune disorder Addison’s disease are warned not to use potassium chloride. Another mineral, calcium chloride, can cause nervous system and cardiovascular side effects. Monobasic potassium phosphate, which controls the amount of calcium in the body, can cause dizziness and vomiting and should not be taken by people with kidney disease. Sodium taurodeoxycholate is listed as a bile acid and an irritant. Injecting any of these compounds could be problematic, aggravating previous health issues and potentially causing new ones. In addition, most flu shots contain thimerosal, which contains mercury, a heavy metal toxin harmful to the nervous system. In fact, we had to use chelation therapy with Alex because he suffered from mercury poisoning, probably caused by his childhood vaccines in the 1990's. Thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, yet flu shots continue to use this compound as a preservative.

What led me to research flu shots in greater detail was a letter Alex recently received from our pharmacy encouraging him to get a flu shot. The letter also contained a vaccine screening form with several questions that made me question how safe the flu vaccine really is. In addition to questions about various allergies and immune system issues, Question #10 asks: “Have you ever had a seizure disorder for which you are on seizure medication, a brain disorder, Guillain-Barre Syndrome or other nervous system problems?” Thanks to autism, the answer to that question is a big resounding “YES.”

After the questionnaire, the form provides fine print legalese in which the patient agrees to understanding all the potential risks of the vaccine and releases the pharmacy from any legal responsibility for any damage the shot may cause. The final line should give a person pause for thought: “I understand and agree that I will not be able to sue [the person who administered the shot and the pharmacy] for any injury or property damage I may suffer as a result of the immunization.” Essentially, you take a risk, and they incur no responsibility.

Consequently, Alex and I will not be getting flu shots this year or likely ever. His neurological issues associated with autism and my autoimmune issues put us at risk for complications. Besides, I don’t like the idea of being injected with questionable compounds, and the limited effectiveness of the vaccines makes it not worth the gamble, even if it is free. Another pharmacy we use offered helpful suggestions for staying healthy during flu season: wash your hands; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially in public; get plenty of sleep; be active; drink plenty of water; and manage stress. While they also suggested getting a flu shot, Alex and I will skip that tip, follow their other guidelines, and take vitamin D-3 as recommended by our doctors. In addition, we will follow the 3 P’s for good health my retired internist once shared with me: proper nutrition, plenty of rest, and prayer. Armed with those, we trust God will keep us safe and healthy.

“Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You.” Psalms 25:5

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