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9 Myths about Influenza and the Flu Vaccine

Oasis Wellness Radio

Our latest blogs and podcasts on earth-based medicine, current trends in healthcare, and finding the balance.

9 Myths about Influenza and the Flu Vaccine

Jennifer Schmid

“Flu season” is almost upon us, and with it, influenza vaccine propaganda is everywhere. 

I don’t use the word “propaganda” lightly. It has a negative connotation and implies that misinformation is being fed to people to manipulate their beliefs and their actions. 

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we see when it comes to the influenza and the flu vaccine. And it’s only gotten worse over the last 10 years.

I mean, Walgreens and Walmart are giving people $25 gift cards to con them into getting the flu vaccine. Kelly and Ryan got their shots on live TV to show how “harmless” the vaccine is. American marketing at its finest? (Or worst… you decide.)

But wait, you say, thousands of people die every year from the flu. We have to get the influenza vaccine so that we are totally protected against getting the flu. And we have to get it every year. It's totally safe!

None of those statements is true.

Let’s break down nine (9) of the biggest myths about influenza and the influenza vaccine.

Myth #1: Influenza kills tens of thousands of people every year. 

Remember how during the 2000 Presidential election, George Bush told Al Gore that his proposed budget was based on “fuzzy math”? Well, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses fuzzy math in its calculations of influenza deaths every year. It ventures deep into a gray zone of estimates, statistical analyses and theoretical calculations, but there’s not a whole lot of real data there.

According to the CDC itself, “CDC does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year.” (1) The CDC estimates the number of people it thinks might have died from influenza-related complications. “CDC uses two categories of underlying cause of death information listed on death certificates: pneumonia and influenza (P&I) causes and respiratory and circulatory (R&C) causes. CDC uses statistical models with records from these two categories to make estimates of influenza-associated mortality.”

There are 2 major problems with the CDC’s methods of calculations:

  1. The majority of patients with upper respiratory infections and pneumonia are not tested to see if they have influenza, and if so, which strain.
  2. Patients with co-morbidities such as congestive heart failure and diabetes often are lumped into influenza deaths during “flu season” because a respiratory infection like influenza could potentially exacerbate their disease.

So how do scientists, healthcare providers, and regular citizens know which patients died from influenza related causes, and which ones didn’t?

We don’t. 

For what it’s worth, the CDC used to have a section on their website that did differentiate between influenza and pneumonia-related deaths, but they have removed that data from their website, probably because people were getting smart about flu vaccine propaganda. So now there is no way of knowing how many people actually die from influenza versus pneumonia. This means that we have to trust the CDC to give us accurate data, which is like trusting an alligator to help you get across a swamp.

The CDC has deep financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, so I can’t help but to raise my skeptical eyebrow at their fuzzy math estimates. (2) It’s too easy for the CDC and for industry-funded scientists to manipulate the data in order to strengthen their propaganda in favor of vaccination. Keep reading to find out more.

Myth #2: The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent influenza and influenza-like symptoms.

Before we can bust this myth, we have to define “efficacy” and “effectiveness,” because pharmaceutical companies and the CDC use the terms to make us think that their products work better than they do.

A vaccine’s or drug's efficacy does not mean how effective it is. Efficacy means how well a vaccine or drug works in the ideal setting, namely, a clinical trial, when they can control for all sorts of variables. Effectiveness, on the other hand, means how well a vaccine or drug works in the real world. 

When reading scientific studies (especially those funded by a drug company), remember that a drug’s effectiveness is always lower than its efficacy, because there are always variables for which a trial cannot control.

Part of the issue with the effectiveness of the annual influenza vaccines is that scientists are not psychic. They have to predict which viruses might be the most prevalent (causing the most cases of influenza) and virulent (harmful) for the next flu season, and they have to do it rather quickly. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually chooses which strains of viruses, such as H1N1 or H3N2, to put into the vaccines based on “surveillance,” “research” and “availability of vaccine viruses.” (3)

Basically, it’s a crap shoot. And an ineffective one at that, because you can still get influenza and/or influenza-like symptoms even when you get vaccinated. Let’s look at the data by age groups.

Elderly (over 65) 

We hear all the time how susceptible the elderly population is to succumbing to influenza, and influenza vaccines are pushed on our over 65 folks more than any other. But what does the research say?

According to a Cochrane review, which in the healthcare industry is considered the most impeccable, bullet-proof analysis of available research, the flu vaccine is totally INeffective in the over 65 population for the prevention of “influenza, influenza-like illnesses (ILI) (fever, aches, headaches, chills, runny nose, cough etc.), hospital admissions, complications, and mortality in the elderly.” (4) The authors of the review recommended a publicly-funded, randomized placebo-controlled study that would cover many different seasons over time. Unfortunately, the authors also recognized that there is so much bias in favor of flu vaccines, and we have become so dependent on them as the only means of protection available, that such a study is now considered unethical. They stated, “It is likely that the data presented in this review are so biased as to be virtually uninterpretable.”

Translation? Public and private health officials in the US push influenza vaccination policies on the elderly that are based on worthless data and don't protect anyone's health.

Infants and Toddlers (>6 months to 2 years)

 Like the elderly, infants and toddlers are at greater risk of complications from influenza because their immune systems are not as strong as young and middle-aged adults. Rather than address environmental causes such as diet and antibiotics that weaken an infant’s immune system, the United States is one of the few countries in the world that pushes flu vaccinations on infants and toddlers, on top of the 18-26 other vaccines that they are supposed to receive in those first two formative years. 

A Cochrane review from 2010 asked the question, how efficacious and effective are influenza vaccines in children, meaning how well do they prevent influenza?

There is no evidence that vaccines help to prevent influenza or influenza-like illness in children under the age of 2 years old, whether they use a “live” or “killed” virus. (5)

We’ll discuss the sad lack of safety studies later in this article.

Children (>2 years to 16 years)

When analyzing research for pharmaceutical drugs, savvy consumers and healthcare providers often look for the “Number Needed to Treat” (NNT) for a given drug. This number refers to the number of people who need to take a drug in order to prevent the symptoms for which the drug was approved. With vaccines, we look for the “Number Needed to Vaccinate” (NNV) to identify the efficacy of a vaccine. (Remember, efficacy does not mean that it’s effective in the real world.)

As mentioned above, pharmaceutical companies make two different types of influenza vaccines for children: live attenuated and inactivated (which uses a “killed” virus). Live vaccines tend to be more efficacious, but they also make the person who took the vaccine contagious for at least 11 days, while the person sheds the virus. (6)

The same Cochrane review analyzing flu vaccines in the under 2 population also looked at the evidence for children aged 2 to 6 years and 6 to16 years. For children 2 to 6 years old, at least six (6) children need to be vaccinated with the live vaccine in order to prevent one case of influenza. At the time of the review, the was no evidence showing efficacy using an inactivated virus in the 2 to 6 year old population (the same inactivated vaccine they are pushing this year). 

Last year, the CDC had to do an about-face in its approach to the intranasal live virus vaccine because it didn’t really work and caused too many problems (such as influenza transmission). 

This year, there is no live attenuated vaccine recommended for children or adults. (7) Instead, they are recommended TWO doses of the inactive vaccine at least four (4) weeks apart if a child has never been vaccinated for influenza, since one dose is considered ineffective. There are no studies showing 2 doses to be either safe or effective, but hey, they are desperate. 

According to the Cochrane review, for children over 6 to 16 years of age, the NNV for the inactivated vaccines is 28, meaning at least 28 children must be vaccinated in order “to prevent one case of influenza (infection and symptoms).” The NNV “to prevent one case of ILI” is 8.

Remember, however, that these numbers refer to efficacy. They do not reflect the reality of how the vaccines work in the real world, nor was there “evidence of effect on secondary cases, lower respiratory tract disease, drug prescriptions, otitis media and its consequences and socioeconomic impact.” This means that a well-meaning parent who refuses to let her vaccinated asthmatic child play with a healthy unvaccinated child is not only depriving her child of a friend, but she’s also basing her opinion on scientifically incorrect information.

The Cochrane review summarized, “There is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the [industry-funded] studies.” 

As I mentioned, we’ll look at the adverse effects of influenza vaccination and the paucity of safety research later in this article.

Adults & Pregnant Women

Another Cochrane review, published in 2014, looked at the efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccination in adults (age 16 to 65) as well as pregnant women. (8)

According to their analyses of 69 clinical trials involving 70,000 participants, the NNV for vaccine effectiveness in preventing ILI is 40, based on the incidence (confirmed case) rates for a specific year. 

Influenza effectiveness faired worse in pregnant women, with an NNV of 92 to prevent ILI. However, all of the studies cited in the review were “observational”, meaning that they gave the vaccine to pregnant women and then watched to see what would happen. There were no randomized controlled trials where they gave the vaccine to some pregnant women but not to others. Sadly, we’ll have to talk about the increased risk of miscarriage after influenza vaccine in the section on Safety.

What’s most disturbing to me about this review is that the authors stated, “It was not possible to assess the real impact of bias” in the studies cited. This again calls into question the integrity of influenza vaccine research, especially when it is primarily funded by pharmaceutical companies, public health departments and corporations hell-bent on increasing vaccine compliance and profits.

Myth #3: Mandatory flu vaccination in healthcare workers protects patients from deaths and illness related to influenza.

Most hospitals and larger healthcare organizations in the United States and Canada have put policies into place requiring staff to be injected with the flu vaccine every year. The majority of health care organizations have a “vaccinate or mask” policy, meaning that providers who choose not to or cannot be vaccinated must wear a mask from what is considered the worst of “flu season,” December 1 through March 31. Unfortunately some hospitals have fired workers for refusing to get the flu shot, though a few have won back their jobs through the courts after a long and arduous battle.  

Surely there are studies that prove these policies are beneficial to patients and help protect them from dying of influenza, right? 

Nope. Forcing healthcare workers to be vaccinated provides no benefits to patients or other healthcare workers. What does the gold-standard Cochrane Review say?

A 2016 Cochrane review analyzed the four (4) randomized controlled trials (RCTs) available that addressed influenza vaccinations in healthcare workers (HCW) at long-term care (LTC) facilities whose patients were at least 60 years of age, considered the sickest and most vulnerable population in healthcare. The review found no “conclusive evidence of benefit of HWC vaccination programs on specific outcomes of laboratory-confirmed influenza, its complications (lower respiratory tract infection, hospitalization or death due to lower respiratory illness), or all-cause mortality in people over the age of 60 who live in care institutions.” (9)

In addition, a peer-reviewed article published in PLOS One in January 2017 was even more blunt, calling out the bias in the studies. They found that the claims of one RCT’s NNV of 8 (vaccinating 8 hospital workers to prevent one influenza death among patients) were “implausible,” while the benefits of others were grossly “exaggerated”, and that realistically, between 6000 and 32,000 HCW would have to be vaccinated to “potentially” avoid one patient death. These numbers were based on vaccine efficacy rates of 40-60%, meaning the NNV would rise if vaccines were deemed less efficacious, which they usually are. (10) Ultimately they advocated for voluntary vaccination policies. What really surprised me about this review was that several authors revealed that they had received money for consulting with pharmaceutical companies, and yet they still went forward with publishing it, despite the professional harm that might come to them.

Since mandatory vaccination policies provide no benefits to patients, then why do healthcare organizations force their employees to get vaccinated? You only need to follow the money, from the revolving doors of the CDC, FDA, and pharmaceutical companies, to Medicare and the accrediting body known as The Joint Commission, both of whom will ding a hospital for low vaccination rates. They all get the propaganda machine going, and then you have well-meaning infection control nurses scaring everyone into getting their jab. However, according to the authors of the PLOS One review, “The ethical premise for mandatory HCW influenza vaccination critically hinges upon the valid demonstration of patient benefit substantial enough to justify infringement of the personal rights of HCWs who would otherwise choose not to receive influenza vaccine each year.” And as they corroborated, no such demonstration exists.

    There is also no evidence that forcing healthy healthcare providers to wear a face mask helps protect patients, either. Let’s look at Myth #4.

Myth #4: Healthcare workers who aren’t vaccinated should wear a face mask during “flu season” so that they don’t inadvertently spread the flu to patients.

As I mentioned above, most healthcare organizations force employees who don’t or can’t get the flu vaccine to wear a mask for a third of the year. This practice is not only an unethical breech of employee privacy, it’s scientifically unfounded. There are NO studies, RCTs or otherwise, which show that forcing healthy HCW to wear a face mask during flu season helps to prevent influenza or ILI in patients or other staff. 

On the other hand, we have good data that threatening or forcing HCW to wear masks if they do not receive the flu vaccine does increase compliance, meaning that when given a choice, most HCW would rather deal with the risks of vaccination than the inconvenience of wearing a mask for four (4) months of the year. (11) I’ve seen this firsthand at a local hospital that instituted this new policy this fall. People are angry and frustrated, yet many go along with it anyway because they can’t fathom the intrusiveness of an unwarranted face mask.

Just as bad, these types of policies give the vaccinated a false sense of security that they are immune to getting and transmitting the flu and/or ILI to patients and other staff. They also perpetuate the myth that people who are not vaccinated are evil carriers of disease and illness who can choose their victims at will. 

Nonsense. 

Healthcare organizations need to make sure that they have adequate sick leave policies in place so that HCW can stay home when they have influenza or ILI, whether they have been vaccinated or not.

Myth #5: Influenza vaccines are thoroughly tested for safety for all age groups before mass distribution in the marketplace.

The CDC is running an effective smoke and mirrors campaign when it comes to vaccine safety, especially regarding the influenza vaccine.

According to the CDC, “there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines.”(12). However, this is not exactly true. Much of the research supporting vaccine safety has been funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which, as I mentioned in the section on children, is often manipulated to get the outcomes they want, so it’s difficult to trust any of them. 

The other important fact is that per the pharmaceutical companies who test vaccines, the most recent flu vaccine trials do not use a placebo (usually sterile saline). They compare the safety and effectiveness of the new flu vaccine against another flu vaccine, not an inert placebo. The reality is, vaccine safety is yet another theory that has yet to be proven, and without large-scale, independently funded research comparing outcomes in those vaccinated against those not vaccinated, and without doctors willing to acknowledge and report adverse reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), we will never know the truth about vaccine safety.

Here’s what we do know. I’ll break it down again by age and/or pregnancy.

Elderly (>65 years old)

Let’s go back to the Cochrane review I mentioned earlier that looked at influenza vaccination in the eldery. As part of their analysis, they looked for adverse “local” events such as symptoms of ILI, injection site reactions, “systemic” reactions such as fever and fatigue, and serious complications such as Gillian-Barré Syndrome, thrombocytopenia, and neurological disorders.

They found that most studies looked only at vaccine efficacy and efficiency, and “few studies reported assessing safety outcomes.” They stated that “the available evidence provides no guidance regarding the safety… of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older.”

This review itself is partially flawed because it only looked for reports of adverse reactions within seven (7) days of vaccination. We now know that acute adverse reactions can appear up to six (6) weeks after vaccination. And without a randomized controlled trial comparing the outcomes of those who received the vaccine, and those who didn’t, we’ll never understand the long-term effects.

Children <2 years of age

Surely the CDC would not be recommending influenza vaccines to children under the age of 2 without rigorous safety studies.

Unfortunately, they are. 

According to the Cochrane review, there is only one study — using the inactivated vaccine — in children under 2. Worse, “extensive evidence of reporting bias of safety outcomes from trials of live attenuated influenza vaccines impeded meaningful analysis.” 

Therefore, at this time, all the promises from the CDC and pediatricians that it is safe to inoculate children under age 2 with influenza are based on propaganda and unfounded bias. They are not based on science.

Children 2-16 years old

Influenza vaccination in children is associated with permanent “cataplexy and narcolepsy” as well as febrile seizures in children. (13) Cataplexy means that the child suddenly loses all voluntary muscle control, usually triggered by emotions such as excitement or joy. It often partners with narcolepsy, caused by a disruption in the normal sleep-wake cycle and leading to excessive sleepiness during the daytime. Both cataplexy and narcolepsy are signs of severe neurological damage caused by the ingredients in the vaccine, and they don’t go away. Again, bias and lack of standardization in the studies makes it impossible to assess influenza vaccine safety in children before the vaccines are released for mass public use.

What other neurological and immunological damage is happening to children when they receive the flu vaccine year after year?

We don’t know. It would behoove us in health care to take the parents of vaccine-injured children seriously and stop guilting parents into giving their kids the influenza vaccine until we have the big study that compares outcomes of healthy children who have received the influenza vaccine and those who haven’t. (A tall order to get it right, considering that the CDC recommends children receive at least 72 vaccines by the time they are 18.)

Pregnant Women

The CDC says the influenza vaccine is safe for all pregnant women and their fetuses, period, though they concede that all of their data is based on observational studies rather than rigorous unbiased trials. The vaccine manufacturers are the first to admit that there are no studies supporting the safety of vaccinating pregnant women. (17) We do know that when pregnant women were recommended both the inactivated vaccine and H1N1 vaccine in 2009-2010, fetal death reports related to influenza vaccination went up 4250%. (18) Another study published this year showed that women who had received the H1N1 vaccine the year prior experienced a 7.7 times increased incidence of miscarriage. (19)

H1N1 is part of the 2017-2018 vaccine blend. I already know one woman who experienced a miscarriage two weeks after receiving this year's influenza vaccine. The staff at Kaiser refused to report it to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) for tracking because they said it was totally unrelated.

Adults (17-65 years of age)

Just like with children, the elderly, and pregnant women, there are no RCTs that look at the influenza vaccine for the sake of safety in adults. They only look at efficacy, and maybe record some of the safety concerns. The CDC itself admits that most of our data regarding vaccine safety is reported to VAERS after the fact, and that underreporting of adverse reactions is a serious concern. (20)

So why does the CDC keep telling us that the influenza vaccine is perfectly safe for adults, and we shouldn’t be concerned? Based on the data I’ve seen, we have plenty of reasons to be concerned.

According to Neidich et al. in the International Journal of Obesity, “Vaccinated obese adults are twice as likely to develop influenza and influenza-like illness compared to healthy weight adults. This finding challenges the current standard for correlates of protection, suggesting use of antibody titers to determine vaccine effectiveness in an obese population may provide misleading information.” (21) The CDC says over 37% of American adults are obese, meaning that over 37% of vaccinated American adults have been given a false sense of security when getting the flu vaccine. What is happening to the immune system of an obese person who gets the flu vaccine that would make them more susceptible to influenza, even when they have antibodies against the flu?  

We have no idea. And yet we tell them over and over again that it’s safe.

We also know that the toxic ingredients in vaccines such as influenza, Hepatitis B, and HPV can breech the blood-brain barrier and cause demyelination of nerve cells called neurons, resulting in cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, or AIDP), clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and chronic disseminated encephalomyelitis (CDEM). (22) This results in multiple sclerosis-like symptoms of paralysis, weakness, tingling, numbness, pain and cognitive deficit. Some people have to be put on a ventilator to assist with breathing. There is no cure for GBS or other demyelinating syndromes, and the health issues associated with them can last anywhere from 3-4 weeks to a lifetime. These syndromes can appear between 24 hours up to six weeks after vaccination, and many healthcare providers are reluctant to report them to VAERS, or even worse, they do not even know about VAERS, despite federal requirements.

Based on this data, surely the CDC doesn’t recommend the flu vaccine to people with multiple sclerosis, who are already dealing with a chronic, incurable demyelinating disease? 

I wish we could say they don’t, but they do. Unfortunately, since they don't study a possible link between exacerbations of MS with influenza vaccination, we don't know to what extent annual flu vaccines might be making their disease progress faster. 

Remember, vaccines don’t have “side effects.” They have adverse effects. Sometimes that adverse effect can be a bruised arm or fever, but occasionally the adverse effect is febrile seizure, narcolepsy, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or death. Likewise, since 1986, when the federal government made vaccines a liability-free product for those creating or administering vaccines, there has been no incentive, financial or otherwise, for safe pharmaceutical vaccines to be manufactured or administered. For more information on adverse reactions to influenza, please refer to the manufacturers’ inserts that come with vaccines as well as the reports contained in the annual VAERS’ reports. (Warning: most people who administer and/or recommend influenza vaccination have not read the manufacturers' inserts.)

Myth #6: Once you get vaccinated for influenza, you are protected right away from getting influenza for the rest of the flu season.

Many of the patients I’ve talked to think that they’re protected against influenza as soon as they get the shot. They also think they can’t get influenza for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, these patients have been misled by all the posters, advertisements, flyers, and coercive tactics used to convince people to get the flu vaccine. They’re not told the truth by their healthcare provider or the person administering the vaccine, who could be a medical assistant, a pharmaceutical technician, or a student nurse.

The CDC itself tells people that if you are going to create antibodies, it takes at least two (2) weeks to build up the antibodies against influenza from the vaccine. This is a big IF — not everyone’s immune system is able to create "enough" antibodies, for various reasons such as immunosuppression therapy and even being in a bad mood when getting the vaccine. (23) Moreover, antibodies and immunity can wane over the course of the season. This is part of the reason we often see surges in influenza in March, because the vaccine might no longer be effective in a person who was vaccinated in September. 

The other big elephant in the room is that antibody titers do not prove protection, as pointed out in the study on obesity. This is one reason why we see the discrepancy between efficacy and efficiency of the vaccine. In the real world, there are other factors that impact one’s immunity beside one’s ability to create antibodies against a virus, such as diet, stress,  hormone imbalances, pharmaceuticals, and genetics.

Myth #7: You can’t get influenza from the vaccine. 

Technically speaking, this one is sort of true, although the risk of bias and lack of statistical significance in studies makes it difficult to sort out fact from myth. What you can definitely get from the vaccine are influenza-like symptoms — fever, malaise, stuffy nose, etc. — that are caused by your immune system asking, “What the heck did you just inject into me?” This is especially the case when the vaccine is given at the same time as other vaccines, such as the pneumococcal vaccine. (The CDC recommends that children not receive the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines at the same time due to the increased risk of febrile seizures.) (24)

The influenza vaccine also weakens your immune system for an unspecified amount of time after vaccination, possibly making you more susceptible to other circulating viruses such as rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. During the 2009 H1N1 “pandemic,” people who received the inactivated influenza vaccine, which did not contain H1N1, were more likely to be hospitalized with complications attributed to H1N1 infection. (25)

Myth #8: You can’t give someone else influenza if you’ve been vaccinated.

There are two (2) aspects of this myth that we have to address. First of all, as we already discussed, people who receive the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) can transmit influenza to people up to 3 weeks after vaccination, especially to those who are immunocompromised, i.e., on medications such as steroids and/or chemotherapy. Luckily this vaccine is not currently recommended, however it is still available in some markets.

Second of all, high rates of vaccine failure mean that people who get the influenza vaccine could still be susceptible to influenza infection and therefore transmit an influenza or influenza-like virus while contagious. 

Myth #9: There are no other ways to prevent influenza than vaccination. 

Much of the propaganda and dogma surrounding influenza and other vaccine policies are based on the theory of herd immunity, which stipulates that if enough people in “the herd” get vaccinated, then the virus can’t spread and will die out. This theory is a hypothesis that has never been proven in any laboratory or real-life setting but upon which many public health policies are based. Unfortunately it takes into account neither the complexities of the human immune system nor the fact that viruses are smart little strands of DNA that can mutate and differentiate in order to survive. (26)

As I’ve stated in previous writings, we cannot rely on vaccination as the sole method of disease prevention. We have to use common sense and all of the tools that nature makes available to us. 

Let’s look at some of the ways you can both strengthen your immune system against influenza and prevent influenza transmission to others, with or without a vaccine.

  1. Hand hygiene. Handwashing is truly the most understated public health measure that you can take to keep yourself and others healthy (assuming that you have access to clean water). Doctors were incredibly resistant when they were first introduced to the concept of hand hygiene in the 1800s, but we have come to learn that a good scrubbing with regular soap and water (not antibacterial soap) will literally wash a virus down the drain. To help prevent the spread of influenza, wash your hands after sneezing or coughing into your hand, blowing your nose, and before touching your mouth or picking your nose.
  2. Cough and sneeze into your sleeve, please. It’s amazing how many other people a contagious person in a shared space such as a subway, bus, or office can infect when they cough or sneeze into the open. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve is not 100% preventative, but it can help to stop the spray of many of the virus-containing droplets shooting everywhere. Don’t be afraid to remind co-workers and family about this simple step to help stop virus transmission. If you have to use your hand to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, remember that you then have invisible goo all over your hands which should be washed off with soap and water or hand sanitizer as soon as possible, especially if you’re not feeling well. 
  3. Don’t pick your nose or bite your fingernails. Picking your nose is one of the fastest and most effective ways to introduce the influenza virus into your respiratory system. If you must get that booger out, use a tissue. Same thing goes for biting your fingernails, which can harbor bacteria and viruses underneath. Sticking your fingers in your mouth during flu season if you haven’t just washed your hands without touching anything afterwards is a bad idea. Find another habit, such as using a stress ball or taking sips of water, with which you can keep your hands and mouth happy in those stressful or boring situations. 
  4. Reduce sugar and carbohydrate consumption. Sugars and empty carbs (like white bread, pasta, and french fries) impact the immune system on many levels. First, they deplete your immune system of the nutrients it needs to ward off invasion from viruses like influenza, especially minerals like calcium and magnesium. They also raise insulin levels in the blood, which can prevent the immune system from doing its job of stopping viral invaders (27). Sugars and empty carbs can quickly damage the microbiome in your digestive system, where 80% of your immune system resides in the MALT (mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue). Instead, fill your diet with fresh vegetables, complete proteins from happy animals, legumes such lentils, and healthy fats like butter, coconut oil, avocado, and extra-virgin olive oil. I dream of how many people would benefit from removing sodas, sweetened beverages, and empty, white carbs from hospital cafeterias and patient trays.
  5. Feed your microbiome. Why is the microbiome such a popular topic for discussion in health care these days? Because the health of our own cells depends on the health of our microbiome — the symbiotic bacteria, fungi, yeasts and helminths that live inside of and on us. Feeding your microbiome means not only consuming foods rich in probiotics but also consuming foods that nourish the environment of your GI tract so the microbiome can flourish. Raw fermented sauerkraut is truly a superfood, because it is rich in vitamin C (which is why sailors of the old navies would bring barrels of it on their voyages), fiber, and health-nourishing bacteria, all of which keep your immune system ready for battle. Other options to feed your microbiome include kale, whole-milk plain yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar. Please consult with your holistic healthcare provider before purchasing an over-the-counter probiotic to make sure you are getting what you need. Remember that many pharmaceutical drugs — including vaccines but especially steroids and antibiotics — can harm the health of your microbiome, so be sure to consult with your prescriber about this issue before starting any medications. 
  6. Get a good night’s sleep, at least 7-8 hours daily. How often have you felt like you were coming down with something, only to stave it off with a good night’s sleep? Our ancestors were smart to sleep with the darkness of winter, because sleep is when the healing magic happens. Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system. (28). Make getting enough sleep an integral part of your self-care, and you will give yourself an advantage when it comes to beating the flu.
  7. Breathe/meditate daily and when stressed. Cortisol, the main hormone released when we are stressed, hijacks other hormones and suppresses the immune system so that we cannot fight the proverbial bears, which seem to be everywhere lately. When we are chronically stressed (and who isn’t these days), it can impact our health long-term and lead to conditions such as depression, diabetes, and weight gain. This is why it’s so crucial to practice stress-management techniques such as exercise, meditation, breath work, or t’ai chi daily.  Even stopping and taking a few deep breaths when we find ourselves in a difficult situation can reset our nervous system so that cortisol is not so prevalent. 
  8. Stay home from work or social events if you feel like you are coming down with something. I realize that some companies and schools have more generous sick policies than others, but staying home when sick — quarantining yourself or a sick child — is a best practice when it comes to stopping disease transmission, whether you are 5 or 50 years old. Not only is it inconsiderate (or even dangerous) to everyone else you are exposing to the virus if you go out, but staying home can also allow you time to rest and sleep so that your immune system can go to work getting you well again.
  9. Consult with a trained holistic healthcare provider to see how you can strengthen your immune system, microbiome, and general health with whole food nutrients and herbs. Not all products are created equally! Self-prescribing can often take us down a more expensive rabbit hole than the cost of a consultation, so it’s worth spending a little extra money on someone who understands how nutrients and herbs impact the body. I highly recommend the brands Standard Process, Medi-Herb, Systemic Formulas (all of which are only available through licensed health care providers) and Touchstone Essentials.* Don’t go it alone and buy products willy-nilly online. Spend the time and money working with someone who understands your health and your needs.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

Despite the lack of evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine, do I still recommend that you get one, just in case?

Vaccination is a highly personal matter. I recommend that you educate yourself by reading independent research articles (such as those found at greenmedinfo.com) and then make an empowered decision about what is right for YOU. Don’t let profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies or the government dictate what’s best for your health or your family’s well-being. 

Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s a decision you feel good about and that you don’t feel coerced, forced, or frightened into doing something you don’t want to do. Empowering yourself with knowledge is the first step you can take on the road to natural wellness and healing for good.


*Note: When you purchase products from links on my website, I might make a small commission, which goes to support my mission and blogs like this one. 

For more detailed information about the flu vaccine in pregnancy, please see Kelly Brogan’s excellent article, “Following your inner compass: Rejecting flu vaccine in pregnancy” at greenmedinfo.com.

Please note that due to trolls and angry souls, all comments will be moderated. Death threats and other malevolent comments will be reported and/or deleted.


Footnotes

(1) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/us_flu-related_deaths.htm

(2) https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2015/05/revelations-cdcs-industry-funding-raise-questions-about-some-its-decisions  

(3) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/vaccine-selection.htm

(4) Jefferson, T., Di Pietrantonj, C., Al-Ansary, L.A., Ferroni, E., Thorning, S., & Thomas, R.E. (2010). Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010(2), Art. No.: CD004876. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004876.pub3.

(5) Jefferson, T., Rivetti, A., Di Pietrantonj, C., Demicheli, V., & Ferroni, E. (2012). Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012(8), Art. No.: CD004879. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004879.pub4.

(6) Grohskopf, L.A., Sokolow, L.Z., Broder, K.R., Walter, E. B., Bresee, J.S., Fry, A.M., & Jernigan, D.B. (2017). Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2017–18 Influenza Season. MMWR Recommendations and Reports  66(RR-2):1–20. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.rr6602a1.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Demicheli, V., Jefferson, T., Al-Ansary, L.A., Ferroni, E., Rivetti, A., & Di Pietrantonj, C. (2014). Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014(3)Art. No.: CD001269. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001269.pub5.

(9) Thomas, R.E., Jefferson, T., & Lasserson, T.J. (2016). Influenza vaccination for healthcare workers who care for people aged 60 or older living in long-term care institutions. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016(6), Art. No.: CD005187. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005187.pub5.

(10) De Serres, G., Skowronski, D.M., Ward, B.J., Gardam, M., Lemieux, C., Yassi, A, … Carrat, F. (2017). Influenza Vaccination of Healthcare Workers: Critical Analysis of the Evidence for Patient Benefit Underpinning Policies of Enforcement. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0163586. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0163586.

(11) Esolen, L.M., & Kilheeney, K.L. (2014) Sustaining high influenza vaccination compliance with a mandatory masking program. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 35(5), 603-4. doi: 10.1086/675846. 

(12) Influenza (flu) Vaccine Safety, retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/vaccinesafety.htm

(13) Jefferson, T., Rivetti, A., Di Pietrantonj, C., Demicheli, V., & Ferroni, E. (2012). Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012(8), Art. No.: CD004879. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004879.pub4.

(14) American Thoracic Society. (2009). "Children Who Get Flu Vaccine Have Three Times Risk Of Hospitalization For Flu, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily, 20 May 2009. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519172045.htm.

(15) Cowling, B. J., Fang, V. J., Nishiura, H., Chan, K.-H., Ng, S., Ip, D. K. M., … Peiris, J. S. M. (2012). Increased Risk of Noninfluenza Respiratory Virus Infections Associated With Receipt of Inactivated Influenza Vaccine. Clinical Infectious Diseases: An Official Publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America54(12), 1778–1783. http://doi.org/10.1093/cid/cis307.

(16) Bodewes, R., Fraaij, P. L. A., Geelhoed-Mieras, M. M., van Baalen, C. A., Tiddens, H. A. W. M., van Rossum, A. M. C., … Rimmelzwaan, G. F. (2011). Annual Vaccination against Influenza Virus Hampers Development of Virus-Specific CD8+ T Cell Immunity in Children. Journal of Virology85(22), 11995–12000. http://doi.org/10.1128/JVI.05213-11

(17) https://www.fda.gov/downloads/biologicsbloodvaccines/vaccines/.../ucm305089.pdf

(18) Goldman, G.S. (2013). Comparison of VAERS fetal-loss reports during three consecutive influenza seasons: Was there a synergistic fetal toxicity associated with the two-vaccine 2009/2010 season? Human and Experimental Toxicology 32(5), 464-475. doi: 10.1177/0960327112455067.

(19) Donahue, J.G., Kieke, B.A., King, J.P., DeStefano, F., Mascola, M.A., Irving, S.A., … Belongia, E.A. (2017). Association of spontaneous abortion with receipt of inactivated influenza vaccine containing H1N1pdm09 in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Vaccine 35(40), 5314-5322. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.06.069.

(20) Zhou, W., Pool, V., Iskander, J.K., English-Bullard, R., Ball, R., Wise, R.P., …Chen, R.T. (2003) Surveillance for Safety After Immunization: Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) --- United States, 1991—2001. MMWR Surveillance Summary, 52(1);1-24, retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5201a1.htm.

(21) Neidich, S.D., Green, W.D., Rebeles, J., Karlsson, E.A., Schultz- Cherry, S., Noah, T.L., … Beck, M.A. (2017). Increased risk of influenza among vaccinated adults who are obese, International Journal of Obesity 41(Sept 2017); doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.131. 

(22) Sacheli, A., & Bauer, R. (2014). Influenza Vaccine-Induced CNS Demyelination in a 50-Year-Old Male. American Journal of Case Reports 15: 368-373. doi: 10.12659/AJCR.891416.

(23) Ayling, K., Fairclough, L., Tighe, P., Todd, I., Halliday, V., Garibaldi, J., …Vedhara, K. Positive mood on the day of influenza vaccination predicts vaccine effectiveness: A prospective observational cohort study. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 67(0), 314-323. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2017.09.008.

(24)  Li-Kim-Moy J., Yin J.K., Rashid H., Khandaker G., King C., Wood N.,… Booy R. (2015). Systematic review of fever, febrile convulsions and serious adverse events following administration of inactivated trivalent influenza vaccines in children. EuroSurveillance 20(24):pii=21159. https://doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES2015.20.24.21159.

(25) Janjua, N.Z., Skowronski, D.M., Hottes, T.S., Osei, W., Adams, E., Petric, M., … Bowering, D. (2010). Seasonal Influenza Vaccine and Increased Risk of Pandemic A/H1N1-Related Illness: First Detection of the Association in British Columbia, Canada. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 51(9), 1017–1027. https://doi.org/10.1086/656586.

(26) For more information about the herd immunity theory, see the work of Tetyana Obukhanych and Suzanne Humphries.

(27) Han, J.M.,  Patterson, S.J.,  Speck, M.,  Ehses, J.A., & Levings, M.K. (2014). Insulin Inhibits IL-10–Mediated Regulatory T Cell Function: Implications for Obesity. The Journal of Immunology 192(2), 623-629; doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1302181

(28) Watson, N.F., Buchwald, D., Delrow J.J., Altemeier, W.A., Vitiello, M.V., Pack, A.I., … Gharib, S.A. (2017). Transcriptional Signatures of Sleep Duration Discordance in Monozygotic Twins. Sleep 40(1), zsw019. DOI: 10.1093/sleep/zsw019


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