Monday, January 14, 2013

Flu Shots - Should you get one?

There is a flu epidemic, or so they say, so should you run to the drugstore to get the flu shot? Although I am not a medical doctor, I would like to share my thoughts on this.

What I've observed over the past few months has been shocking, to say the least. Maybe it is the first time I've paid attention or maybe the advertising campaigns have just been stronger than ever, but this year, it is pretty evident that the drug manufacturers and drugstores are looking to make their money back on past years when the flu shot has been in short supply. This year, I've seen nothing short of a rampant campaign for those companies to make money by scaring individuals. The first ad to really infuriate me was the ad run by Walgreens in October 2012. It showed an ill woman putting kale, a raw egg, other veggies, and hot sauce into a blender, then making an awful face after pouring the smoothie into a glass. The commercial advises people to go to Walgreens to get a prescription or over the counter meds rather than stay healthy by eating good healing foods (the egg not included). Why do you think they put this ad out there? Because they want you to spend money at Walgreens and not the grocery store. They could care less about you being healthy. They just want you to buy the flu shot. I have no idea how their marketing people sleep at night, but it truly makes me sick just thinking about it.

That's not to mention the countless other articles, ads, and signage I've seen for the drugstores' flu shot campaigns. It is truly unbelievable.

Walgreens ad

What is the vaccine and what is my chance of infection? 
The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing the killed virus) that is typically given with a needle, but is also available in a nasal spray. Every year, manufacturers of the flu vaccine make an educated guess about the strain of influenza that might be present in this country. The doses for this year's flu vaccine were completed in February of 2012 way before the strain for this year was even identified. The manufacturers don't care if they get it right, they just want to make money and if they do get it right, great! Because then you are more likely to buy it again next year!

In general, they say the vaccine is about 62% effective. Add to that the fact that many people who get the vaccine do not produce enough antibodies to be protected anyway and now you have a more realistic number -- a less than 20% chance of being protected from the flu by the vaccine.

Is the flu shot vegan?
No, the viruses used in the influenza vaccine are grown in eggs -- probably the eggs of hens in battery cages.  Who knows?!

Why do so many people get the flu shot?
Most people get the flu shot because they are scared. The drug industry's commercials and the news reports on the incidence rate are scaring the heck out of everyone. And, sadly, many people would rather get a shot than take care of themselves to ensure they have a healthy immune system in the same way that many people would rather take cholesterol-lowering drugs, i.e., statins, than reduce their intake of meat, eggs, and dairy.

What should you do?
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to ensure your immune system is healthy. This means ensuring you eat a balanced diet rich of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.  It isn't necessary to even consume probiotics if you have healthy flora in your gut. But, it is important to pay attention to that because the gastrointestinal tract is a prominent part of the immune system. In fact, 60% of your immune system is contained in your gut. If the ratio of good to bad bacteria is not in line, then your immune system can be compromised. If you are worried about this or have had issues with this in the past, Goodbelly is a good source of vegan probiotics.

You can learn a lot about yourself and your health from getting the flu. Your body's immune system should be strong enough to fight off disease. If it is not, then you are probably not as healthy as you think you are. Perhaps you are not eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals or getting enough exercise. In any case, it just means you can work harder to get healthier for the future. And if you get the flu and that is the result (that you get healthier), then that is a good outcome.

But don't people die from the flu?
Yes, and almost all of them are the elderly, individuals with comprised immune systems, those who have a history of serious asthma or upper respiratory compromise, or children who get dehydrated. So, if you are one of these people, you will need to take extra precautions.

Other ways to protect yourself
  • Wash your hands! 
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Keep your distance -- at least 6 feet from a sneezer or sniffler. Don't be afraid to get up and switch seats while using public transportation.
  • Keep surfaces clean. If anyone touches your phone or computer, wipe them down with alcohol afterwards....and wash your hands.
  • Eat healthy foods and avoid meat, dairy, and eggs. 
As Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Don't give any more money to the drug companies than you have to. Eat healthy and exercise instead.

Disclaimer: I am a certified Food for Life instructor through PCRM, but I am not a medical doctor. Please consult your physician if you have specific questions about the best way to protect yourself from the flu.


  1. It's just annoying that there are ads that tend to promote vaccinations like a commodity these days. It's medicine, yes, but it's not a for-profit product, and should not be treated as such.

  2. Ditto on ads for vaccinations. I wonder why the health department hasn't stepped in to put a stop to the profiteering concerning vaccines. At least, they can tell the providers to treat it as a typical service, not turn it into a commodity.

  3. I'm considering getting the flu shot for the first time(and I've never had the flu) not because I'm worried about myself getting the flu but because I wouldn't want to pass it on to others. I work with lots of people and visit an elderly lady regularl. Any thoughts?

  4. It really is a personal decision. The elderly are much higher at risk so that is something to consider. It just depends on whether your body can fight off the flu should you be exposed to it.

  5. Those ads are harmful in so many ways. Not only by pressuring people into making a decision out of fear, but it becomes so common that people simply expect it and those of us who are making a choice are looked at as heretics. When I first speak with clients, I have to determine just what misinformation I need to debunk in order to get them on the track to real heath. And they are often SO indoctrinated that they sometimes just cannot immediately hear the truth. And therefore their health is in limbo until they can wrap their head around the idea that maybe all these ads are simply ads... and not necessarily true.

  6. What about egg free flu vaccine?

    1. I would still not recommend the flu vaccine for healthy individuals.

  7. It doesn't matter how good of an immune system you have or don't have, if you are exposed to a foreign flu virus, and you don't have the antibodies that will recognize this virus and kill it quickly, the virus will infect you. The flu vaccine is a dose of dead flu virus strain (so it won't make you sick) which allows your body's antibodies to learn the virus receptors, make antibodies to recognize the receptors, detect and kill it. As a result after killing it, your immune system will make memory B cells that will quickly remember the virus the next time you are exposed to it, and kill it fast before it is able to cause an infection. This is the whole process/reason for getting the flu vaccine. However, flu viruses change all the time, so each new strain is foreign to the body and that is why there are yearly flu vaccines. It's not like the chickenpox that stays the same and where you are typically infected once, and then memory B cells do the job next time you are exposed.
    Just because you became sick with something does not mean automatically mean you're in an overall unhealthy state, in fact, immune systems are also based on genetics as well, no matter how healthy someone can eat.
    I think the most important statement in this blog is "Although I am not a medical doctor-" and I hope everyone takes that statement into strong consideration before following any advice.