Health Column: Get your flu shot, or not …
INTEGRATE YOUR HEALTH
Free Press Health Columnist
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Perhaps you’ve been advised, encouraged, cajoled or even forced to get the annual influenza vaccine, known as the flu shot. If you question whether or not the vaccine is such a good idea you may be made to feel like a foolish vaccine heretic. Before you make a decision to get the vaccine, or not, a critical review of recent literature may enlighten you and help with your choice.
The 2014 Cochrane Database review, “Vaccines for Preventing Influenza in Healthy Adults,” found that “vaccination had a modest effect on time off work and had no effect on hospital admissions or complication rates.” The 2010 Cochrane review found similar results with the vaccines, noting “there is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.”
Of concern, in both reviews the authors made a specific note that studies funded by the vaccine industry were more likely to cast a positive light on the data whereas publicly funded studies were not so supportive of flu vaccines. They conclude “the review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin, but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies.”
Surely there is better evidence to support the flu vaccine for the “high risk” groups of people under age 2 and over age 65. In 2006 and 2008 Cochrane reviews showed the flu vaccine was no more effective than placebo in children under age 2.
Another review from 2010 analyzed flu vaccine efficacy in the elderly and found “the available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older. To resolve the uncertainty, an adequately powered, publicly funded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial run over several seasons should be undertaken.”
Here is a good way to summarize flu shot efficacy. In the years when the flu vaccine matches well with the specific strains of influenza virus about four percent of unvaccinated people get the flu while only one percent of those vaccinated come down with the flu. In an off year when the vaccine does not match so well, about two percent of unvaccinated people get the flu compared to one percent of those vaccinated.
Based on the above numbers, in a good year for vaccine match one could say there is a 50 percent “relative risk” reduction in getting the flu in those who get the vaccine versus those who don’t. That sounds impressive. Another way of looking at it though is that the “absolute risk” reduction is only one person out of 100 people vaccinated will get the flu compared to two people out of 100 who don’t get the vaccine. That is a one in 100 absolute reduction in cases of the flu as a result of the vaccine, which is arguably not so impressive.
Overall, the studies show that the flu vaccine has a very modest impact on reducing your chance of getting sick with influenza, and ultimately it is not shown to lower your risk of dying from the flu, nor prevent you from transmitting the flu to someone else.
Certainly I recommend you speak with your physician if you have questions about the flu vaccine, but clearly the studies show that the vaccine is not the invincible protection against the flu that many presume. The good news is there are several proven things you can do to limit the severity and duration of these infections, but you need to prepare ahead of time as these treatments work best when started at the onset of infections.
There are good studies, and good evidence of benefit for natural treatments of viral infections including influenza, with supplements such as zinc, vitamin C, N-acetyl cysteine, thymic protein A, astragalus, andrographis, black elderberry, and echinacea.
In our clinic we find the vitamin packed “Myer’s cocktail” to be a potent treatment for halting cold and flu symptoms. This mixture of vitamins and minerals is given by intravenous infusion in about 15 minutes and many patients report almost immediate improvement in symptoms.
Vitamin D is well known to support immune function and many studies confirm the association between low vitamin D levels and higher rates of influenza infections. I highly recommend having your blood level of vitamin D checked. Supplement using vitamin D3, with as much as necessary to get blood levels into the 80-100 ng./ml. range, or, taking between 2,000 and 5,000 units per day is a reasonable estimate for most adults.
Don’t forget other simple yet critical immune system support, such as getting to plenty of rest, eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and veggies, avoiding excess sugar and alcohol, and enjoying immune supporting drinks such as green tea.
Avoid influenza exposure by using good hand hygiene, taking note that the ethyl alcohol gels work best for disinfecting hands. At the end of the day, our immune system works best when proper support is already in place, so to be well, be prepared.
Free Press health columnist Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.
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