Working at Vail Valley Pharmacy is a funny thing for me this time of year. We are bombarded with requests for the flu vaccine, and I like to use alternative methods to prevent the flu. I am not an anti-vaxxer. I believe in a personalized approach to vaccination as opposed to herd immunity. When it comes to any vaccination, I think we need to be well-informed about the risks and benefits and then have the freedom to decide the best course for ourselves and our children.
So, when deciding whether or not to get a flu shot, it is best if you know the facts.
The CDC recommends yearly vaccination for all people over the age of 6 months.
I think we all understand that yearly is necessary because the circulating flu virus changes each year. The flu vaccine does not give you lifelong immunity to any flu virus. Contracting the flu will confer lifelong immunity to that particular strain of flu.
While each year the flu circulates throughout the US, only 10% of flu-like symptoms are caused by the influenza virus. There are over 200 other viruses that cause flu-like symptoms. You can feel exactly like you have the flu but have one of these viruses that causes flu-like symptoms.
The vaccine will protect you from the flu, but not these other viruses.
The overall goal of vaccinating our population from the flu is to prevent complications, hospitalizations, and death. The idea is that if we immunize everyone, there will be less overall flu in the community, which would mean that those people who are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu will be less likely to come into contact with the virus. There is also the idea that with less flu circulating, there would also be fewer days of work and/or school lost, reduce the amount of sick days, hospital visits, and have a healthier population in general.
Unfortunately, a review of studies shows that getting the flu vaccine does not reduce the number of days one is sick, the number of days missed of work, or hospital visits.
The vaccine does prevent some cases of the flu. It is estimated that in order to prevent one case of the flu, we have to vaccinate 70 people.
While the vaccine itself is relatively safe and there are not a lot of serious side-effects, I think there are better strategies to avoid the flu.
Attaining and then maintaining adequate Vitamin D levels (between 50 and 70 is a good target) improves the functioning of your immune system. Instead of preventing one strain of circulating virus, having an effective immune system will help prevent ALL circulating viruses.
DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE. This one is in all caps, not because I am yelling at you but because it is so important and so easy to forget to do! I touch my face all day long and am constantly yelling at myself to stop. This time of year, I am especially conscious of this. I try to avoid shaking hands with people, don’t grab food out of shared bags or bowls, and, if I need to pick, scratch, or feel, I make sure to wash my hands first.
A whole foods diet, exercise, restful and restorative sleep, and stress management will keep you healthy and keep you immune system strong. Do I sound like a broken record?
Herbs like Elderberry are great to both prevent viral infections and treat them. Medicinal mushrooms like reishi, maitake, and chaga help to stimulate your immune system to prepare you body to fight infections.
The bottom line is that while the flu vaccine is relatively safe, there are other, more effective ways to keep you healthy during cold and flu season. If you are willing to do the work, be aware, and stay at home if you do feel sick, you may choose to skip the vaccine.