The CDC predicts that the 2014-2015 Influenza Vaccine will not be as effective as usual.
I've had a lot of questions this year about the Influenza vaccine - Should you get it? What do I personally do for my family? Is it safe? Does it work?
Part of the reason that the Flu Shot sparks so much debate is because we actually have a great deal of choice over the matter (contrary to the cartoon above), as opposed to other immunizations which have more standardized delivery schedules.
How it's made
Every year the Influenza virus changes or mutates slightly. In order to prepare for the upcoming season, the flu vaccine is made by taking last year's strain and predicting how the virus will change from year to year. Therefore, the 2013 flu shot is different from the 2014 version. In order to manufacture enough of the vaccine in preparation for flu season these decisions are made well ahead of time, while you are busy planting flowers and spring-cleaning.
Most of the time, scientists do a pretty good job at guessing how the virus will mutate. Unfortuntately, sometimes the educated guesses are incorrect, or the virus changes too much, and the resulting flu shot does not match the current flu strain. By the time this mistake is realized, it is too late to bring a new vaccine to the market.
The flu shot also contains a small amount of mercury to preserve the solution and stimulate an immune reaction.
This Year's Flu 2014-2015
The strain of flu going around this year is called Influenza A H3N2. The CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control) just released a statement that this year's flu shot will not be as effective as usual; however, they still recommend getting the flu shot in the hopes of preventing or reducing severity of the virus if you do get it.
The concern is that historically this type of flu (H3N2) is associated with more reported hospital visits and risk of mortality than other strains. In the last 10 years, it was the 2002-2003, 2007-2008, and 2012-2013 winters where the H3N2 flu strain dominated.
Last year's flu shot was considered to be 50-55% effective, which is considered by experts to be quite good. This year it is expected that the vaccine will be less effective than usual. Consequently, antiviral medications like Tamiflu are being recommended by conventional experts at the first signs of infection.
I am not going to weigh in on whether or not I recommend the flu shot in general because, as you know, my recommendations are always individualized based on your own unique health picture. Asthma, uncontrolled-diabetes, and lowered immunity are reasons why someone might choose to get the vaccine.
However, I will say that given the above information, I don't believe that the Flu Shot is effective enough to protect you from getting sick. Consequently, I suggest a variety of measures to keep you well this season.
Instead of Flu Shots, many Naturopathic Doctors give Immune Shots. It is much easier to prepare the immune system for battle than it is to guess which strain of flu virus the immune system needs to learn to fight.
Immune shots are NOT equivalent to Flu shots. They work under a completely different model. When combined with other scienfically-based preventative methods (see below), these shots can help to prevent or reduce the severity of the flu when given monthly until the end of Flu Season.
*Note: 'shots' in this case refer to small portions liquid, not needle injections.
1. We all get sick at one time or another, but usually we can reflect on times off illness and relate it to periods of stress, fatigue, overwork, or poor eating habits. When we get rundown, don't sleep enough, eat more fast food or sugar, and skip our exercise routines it tends to be a recipe for illness. Notice you always get sick at the most inconvenient times? That's because we have often been neglecting our healthy lifestyles, and our defenses are weakened.
Try: going to bed on time, planning your meals, limiting the sugar, deep breathing exercises and moving your body
2. Handwashing with plain soap and water, or alchol-based solutions (eg. Purell) when you don't have access to a sink
Try: avoiding antimicrobial handwashes as they encourage mutation of viruses to new versions and also break down your natural defenses
3. Handshakes are a standard greeting, but they also put you in contact with more germs. The foot tap was being encouraged a few years back but never took off as a replacement. Hugging actually exposes you to fewer germs.
Try: hugs not handshakes
4. Herbs: Echinacea, Boneset, Andrographis, Elderberry, Ashwaghanda, Garlic and Ginger are all wonderful. Ask me which one is best for you.
5. Consider your Vitamin D and zinc levels (both can be tested in the blood). Zinc is a particularly common mineral deficiency and Vitamin D stores become depleted in the winter months. These nutrients are key to a healthy immune system
Try: Vitamin D3 1000IU per day for maintenance
6. Believe it or not, your liver is actually an important organ we need to think about when it comes to immune function. The liver is where immune cells become activated and regulated. NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) is a wonderful liver rejuvenator, but also supports lung health and helps to prevent the flu virus
Try: NAC 600mg twice per day
7. Up to 80% of our immune system actually resides in our digestive tract. By now you've likely heard me talk about the importance of having a proper balance between the good and bad bacteria that populate our bodies. Probiotics help to create a positive bacterial environment in the body, which allows the immune system to focus attention on the germs and bugs instead of fighting the bad bacteria.
Try: Probiotic multistrain 10-20 billion CFUs per day
Ask me if you need more guidance or want to book an 'Immune Shot'!