H1N1 Flu: Be informed before making a flu vaccination decision
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Last month's column was dedicated to getting one step ahead of the flu virus.
I explained ways to get your body and immune system ready before flu season. It provided a new action plan for all Canadians. Such preventative steps are important for all of us, irrespective of our decision to proceed with the flu and/or H1N1 vaccines.
I am often asked variations of the following questions: "Should I get vaccinated?," "What do you think about flu vaccinations?," "What about the H1N1 vaccine?," "Is it safe for my kids?"
These are important questions, ones I'm sure many of you are asking. As a parent, I understand the need to keep our children safe, both from serious infections such as the H1N1 virus and also from potential vaccine side-effects. Being informed and clarifying what is important to you will help you feel more comfortable about your vaccination decisions.
Let me be clear, the decision to vaccinate is your choice. There is no right or wrong as every individual has different medical needs.
Let's further explore the pros and cons of vaccinations.
* To avoid infecting others and to participate in the global campaign to reduce the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.
* To provide immune support for those with a higher specific risk to the H1N1 virus. Unlike the seasonal flu, people over 65 do not seem to be at increased risk of complications because many may have antibodies against the H1N1 virus. Rather, those most susceptible to complications resulting from an H1N1 infection include: 1) pregnant women; 2) children under 2 years of age especially those with chronic health conditions; and 3) adults with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma or obesity.
No doubt, the importance of keeping these population groups protected is obvious. However, as is discussed below, these same groups are also the most likely to suffer from vaccine side-effects.
Even healthy people can get seriously ill or die from H1N1. Why healthy people are also targets is unclear. Apparently this was also the case during the 1918 Spanish flu. A possible explanation is that young, healthy people became very ill because their immune system is kicked into overdrive, leading to uncontrolled inflammation, much like a mildly sprained ankle that still swells like a balloon.
This highlights the importance that immune systems should be regulated and supported rather that revved up. Many botanical medicine herbs have unique actions that can soothe the immune system like an ice pack used on a swollen ankle. Some herbs are immuno-modulators and immune tonics while others are immune stimulants (boosting). The appropriate use of herbs that affect the immune system appears to be especially important for both the prevention and treatment of those infected with the H1N1 flu.
* To provide immune support for those with increased exposure to viruses. It is important for health professionals such as nurses, doctors, and hospital staff to take adequate preventative measures, whether it's a vaccine, strong naturopathic immune support or both.
Likewise, those in close quarters, among many people, or who stay inside all day are also more prone. Army personnel and children in large daycares or schools are especially prone to infections.
* To provide immune support for those with poor lifestyle habits. Stress, the lack of sleep and a poor diet can significantly deplete the immune system. Shying away from the dreaded apple or broccoli often leads to an increased consumption of sugary, refined foods. Numerous research studies have shown that a sugary diet suppresses important immune system cells responsible for fighting infections. In fact, a single sugary snack can suppress immune activity up to 48 hours after sugar exposure.
* Flu viruses are becoming resistant to the common anti-viral medication Tamiflu. People may feel that their options are limited given that conventional medicines such as Tamiflu may not be effective against the H1N1 virus.
Fortunately, naturopathic options do exist to support the immune system and can be used in conjunction with Tamiflu during active H1N1 infections. Higher dose vitamin D therapy, for example, has received a lot of press lately since vitamin D-deficient children infected with H1N1 have been shown to have a higher risk of death.
* Contraindications and cautions exist for the administration of vaccines in certain individuals. This is one of the most under-discussed issues concerning vaccines. It may also be one of the most important.
As a naturopathic doctor, I take great care to ensure that naturopathic supplements (especially botanical medicines) are not contraindicated with certain health conditions or pharmaceutical medications.
Vaccine contraindications include:
Those who have hypersensitivity reactions to any of the vaccines ingredients. However, since some ingredients are considered proprietary information, there is no complete list of vaccine ingredients available to the public and even to doctors. Therefore, we cannot be absolutely certain of what is in each vaccine. Nevertheless, we know that Canadian flu vaccines are made using eggs. Anyone who has anaphylaxis reactions to eggs should either abstain or be supervised in a hospital setting during administration.
Vaccine cautions include:
* Pregnancy. A growing fetus is sensitive to any change whether it is emotional, physical or chemical. Individual needs should be assessed to determine a past-medical history or family history of: 1) hypersensitivity to vaccines or vaccine ingredients and 2) neurological complications resulting from chemicals or vaccines (Guillain-Barre syndrome for example).
* Infants and children. Their detoxification mechanisms are immature and are therefore more prone to toxicity side-effects. This becomes a difficult choice for parents as the H1N1 virus appears to be targeting the young more than the old.
* Individuals with progressive systemic diseases such as tuberculosis, leukemia, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, HIV infection and other chronic virus-diseases. These conditions are related to unstable immune systems and therefore may have unpredictable reactions to immune boosting medications (whether it's a vaccine or botanical medication).
* There is no guarantee that a vaccine will create an effective immune response for all individuals. It is uncertain why certain individuals create a good antibody response while others do not. Compared to fighting off an infection on our own, vaccines generally do not provide lifelong immunity to a particular virus or bacteria.
* Exposure to preservatives, chemicals and adjuvants found in vaccine ingredients. Vaccine are made with chemicals as they are used to attenuate and preserve the viral ingredient within the vaccine. Most seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines contain levels of mercury in the form of thimerosal (although it is expected to be used in multiple dose H1N1 vaccines only). Other chemicals can include ethylene glycol (antifreeze), formaldehyde, phenols and antibiotics such as Neomycin and streptomycin. Many vaccines, such as those proposed for New Brunswick, also contain immune adjuvants like aluminum and squalene.
The degree of toxicity from these chemicals as found in vaccines differs greatly between individuals based on their toxic load at the time of administration and their ability to eliminate properly. Those with decreased bowel, liver and/or kidney function for example are less able to detoxify and evacuate these chemicals from their bodies. Children and developing fetuses are especially prone since their detoxification organs are much less efficient than healthy adults. The link between our increased exposure to toxins and ballooning rates of chronic disease is one that is hard to ignore. Please do your own research about each of these ingredients to determine your comfort level.
* The H1N1 vaccine may be ineffective if a new strain develops after manufacturing the vaccine. This is the apparent gamble that scientists also take every year with the seasonal flu vaccine. In the 2007-08 flu season, the vaccine did not match the circulating strains of influenza very well. In fact, the vaccine did not match two of the three viral strains actually making people sick.
* Seasonal flu vaccines and H1N1 vaccines only optimize our immune system for a few viral strains. With all the press lately on H1N1 we can easily forget that there are still many other deadly virus and bacteria that can lead to a plethora of infections and illnesses. Adopting strategies that optimize immune function against ALL viruses and bacteria is a wise approach to keeping us healthy. Please read the following for my comprehensive 'Immune Health Program' that can be followed by everyone, including those who decide to vaccinate themselves for the flu and/or H1N1. This program is tailored for each individual based on their unique medical needs.
Whether or not to vaccinate is a very personal decision. For some, a combination of conventional and naturopathic approaches works well.
Choose what is best for YOU. Please continue to do your research and, most importantly, take an action plan that provides a sense of control and that leaves you feeling healthier and stronger during this upcoming flu season.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday October 14th, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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