Flu season is here and for the last 2 months, I have seen so many news stories about how they are predicting this season will be worse than last and the record-breaking number of flu deaths last season. I have never taken the flu shot as my family never did while I was growing up. But I’m not gonna lie, this year I considered getting it. After seeing all those stories and reports, I thought I should protect my family and get the shot.
So, of course, I started researching the flu shot to help make my decision. It only took a few searches to find statements by the CDC and numerous studies that revealed all I needed to know. I decided we would not get the shot, and I will explain why and share my resources.
But before I do that, I want to tell you that I am not promoting you do or don’t get the shot. What I am promoting is doing your own research and making an INFORMED DECISION. The flu shot can definitely be helpful for some, but I have decided it is not for us. And on that note, I will say that I’m not pro or anti-vaccine so don’t ask. Again, I am pro make your own informed decision and do what’s best for your family.
What is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine was first approved for use in the 1940s after the flu was discovered in the 1930s. It used to protect against 1 strain of the flu (influenza A) but after discovering influenza B and learning about its mutations it now protects against 3 strains.
The vaccine comes in a nasal spray form and injection.
From the CDC:
The nasal spray is approved for use in non-pregnant individuals, 2 years through 49 years of age. People with some medical conditions should not receive the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Some people should not get the nasal spray flu vaccine:
- Children younger than 2 years
- Adults 50 years and older
- Pregnant women
- People with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of any influenza vaccine
- Children 2 years through 17 years of age who are receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications.
- People with weakened immune systems (immunosuppression)
- Children 2 years through 4 years who have asthma or who have had a history of wheezing in the past 12 months.
- People who have taken influenza antiviral drugs within the previous 48 hours.
- People who care for severely immunocompromised persons who require a protected environment (or otherwise avoid contact with those persons for 7 days after getting the nasal spray vaccine).
In addition, the following conditions are precautions to the use of the nasal spray influenza vaccine:
Asthma in people aged 5 years and older.
Other underlying medical conditions that can put people at higher risk of serious flu complications. These include conditions such as lung disease, heart disease (except isolated hypertension), kidney disease (like diabetes), kidney or liver disorders, neurologic/neuromuscular, or metabolic disorders. See “People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications.”
Moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome within 6 weeks following a previous dose of influenza vaccine.
The WHO determines which strains to include based on how the virus has mutated over the past year and where it is spreading. There are 4 strains, with influenza A and B being the most common. This usually means the vaccine’s effectiveness is in a range from 40%-60%.
Something especially interesting I found after reading through a few different vaccine inserts is that none of them have been tested on pregnant women, yet the CDC recommends the vaccine be given to pregnant women. Also, antibodies were lower in children under 3 and in geriatric patients, showing it’s not as effective in these populations.
The CDC does not track actual flu deaths. What they do is they lump all respiratory deaths into one group called “pneumonia and influenza” and use that number to “estimate” flu deaths. Straight from their website:
How many adults die from flu each year?
Flu deaths in adults are not nationally notifiable. In order to monitor influenza related deaths in all age groups, CDC tracks pneumonia and influenza (P&I)–attributed deaths through the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Reporting System. This system tracks the proportion of death certificates processed that list pneumonia or influenza as the underlying or contributing cause of death. This system provides an overall indication of whether flu-associated deaths are elevated, but does not provide an exact number of how many people died from flu. As it does for the numbers of flu cases, doctor’s visits and hospitalizations, CDC also estimates deaths in the United States using mathematical modeling. CDC estimates that from 2010-2011 to 2017-2018, influenza-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of 12,000 (during 2011-2012) to a high of 79,000 (during 2017-2018). The model used to estimate flu-associated deaths uses a ratio of deaths-to-hospitalizations in order to estimate the total flu-related deaths during a season. For more information: How CDC Estimates Burden.
How many people get sick with flu every year?
CDC conducts surveillance for people who see their health care provider for flu-like illnessthrough the Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet); a network of thousands of health care providers who report the proportion of patients seeking care for flu-like illness weekly to CDC. This system allows CDC to track levels of medically attended flu-like illness over the course of the flu season. CDC does not know exactly how many people get sick with seasonal flu each year. There are several reasons for this including that ILINet does not include every health care provider and monitors flu-like illness, not laboratory-confirmed influenza cases. Also, flu illness is not a reportable disease and not everyone who gets sick with flu seeks medical care or gets tested.
Why is it difficult to know exactly how many people die from flu?
There are several factors that make it difficult to determine accurate numbers of deaths caused by flu regardless of reporting. Some of the challenges in counting flu associated deaths include the following:
- the sheer volume of deaths to be counted;
- the lack of testing (not everyone that dies with an influenza-like illness is tested for influenza);
- and the different coding of deaths (influenza-associated deaths often are a result of complications secondary to underlying medical problems, and this may be difficult to sort out).
- For more information: Estimating Seasonal Influenza-Associated Deaths in the United States.
What categories does CDC use to estimate flu-associated deaths?
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 estimatesof influenza-associated mortality. CDC uses underlying R&C deaths (which include P&I deaths) as the primary outcome in its mortality modeling because R&C deaths provide an estimate of deaths that include secondary respiratory or cardiac complications that can follow influenza. R&C causes of death are more sensitive to describe flu-related deaths than underlying P&I deaths and more specific than deaths from all causes.
- All influenza activity reporting by public health partners and health-care providers is voluntary.
So basically, they have no idea how many people actually get the flu or how many people die from the flu. They claim that 36,000 people die from the flu each year. This was my first red flag.
You can read an open letter from a doctor to the CDC here, all about the discrepancies in their numbers.
There is even more evidence from the National Vital Statistics Reports which is on the CDC’s website. According to this report, there were 500 or fewer flu deaths in the 2010 season. The CDC website shows the following: “From October 3, 2010, to May 21, 2011, a total of 311 laboratory-confirmed, influenza-associated deaths were reported to CDC through AHDRA. From October 3, 2010, to May 21, 2011, 105 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported.” This clearly goes against their 36,000 annual flu deaths claim.
Only about 15-20 percent of people who come down with flu-like symptoms have the influenza virus — the other 80-85 percent have other viruses that present with flu-like symptoms.
Flu Season Campaigns
Due to the low effective rate of the flu vaccine in the early 2000s, people were vaccinating a lot less so the CDC created promotional campaigns to get more people vaccinated.
At the 2004 “National Influenza Vaccine Summit,” co-sponsored by CDC and the American Medical Association, Glen Nowak, associate director for communications at the NIP, spoke on using the media to boost demand for the vaccine. One step of a “Seven-Step `Recipe’ for Generating Interest in, and Demand for, Flu (or any other) Vaccination” occurs when “medical experts and public health authorities publicly…state concern and alarm (and predict dire outcomes)—and urge influenza vaccination” (www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/36/2004_flu_nowak.pdf). Another step entails “continued reports…that influenza is causing severe illness and/or affecting lots of people, helping foster the perception that many people are susceptible to a bad case of influenza.”
Preceding the summit, demand had been low early into the 2003 flu season. “At that point, the manufacturers were telling us that they weren’t receiving a lot of orders for vaccine for use in November or even December,” recalled Dr Nowak on National Public Radio. “It really did look like we needed to do something to encourage people to get a flu shot.”
Possible Side Effects
I went straight to the vaccine inserts for this information. I also checked the VAERS website. VAERS is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System were people can report adverse reactions and receive compensation for their injuries. You can download the reports for each year straight from their website.
It’s very rare that a serious vaccine reaction will occur. However, what most stood out to me were the neurological events:
Neurological disorders temporally associated with influenza vaccination, such as encephalopathy, optic neuritis/neuropathy, partial facial paralysis, and brachial plexus neuropathy, have been reported. Microscopic polyangiitis (vasculitis) has been reported temporally associated with influenza vaccination.
While researching I also found that many of the studies were either funded by the CDC or the vaccine manufacturer, which means they are biased. Furthermore, independent studies are more likely to not show positive outcomes. Still, I found a few reliable ones and I’ll link them below.
On fatal illness associated with the flu vaccine: Quantifying how Different Clinical Presentations, Levels of Severity and Healthcare Attendance Shape the Burden of Influenza-Associated Illness: a Modeling Study from South Africa.
Influenza reduction by flu shot is only around 3% – 4% off unvaccinated adults will contract flu vs 1% of vaccinated
So considering all this information and the fact that there are no long term studies on the effects of the flu vaccine I decided not to get the vaccine. You can read all about how I protect my family from the flu and boost our immune systems in general in this blog post. There are lots of simple ways to help your immune system fend off colds and viruses so I share about what has worked for us.
***I have linked back to all the studies, reports, and sites where I got the information from within each statement.