Be informed before making flu vaccination decision
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
At the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic, I have established the Immune Health Program.
This program was discussed in great detail in a previous column. Patients benefit from this program by getting one step ahead of microbes (i.e. prevention), and by being better able to fight active infections (whether acute or chronic). By optimizing their immune system, patients can better deal with colds, influenza (commonly known as flu), coughs, ear/sinus/throat and other respiratory infections that are common at this time of the year.
Taking such pro-active steps is important for all of us, irrespective of our decision to proceed with the flu vaccines.
Now that the flu season is upon us, many of you are wondering whether to get the flu vaccine. Recent controversy hasn’t helped decision-making when several European countries and provinces in Canada placed a stop-hold on the Novartis flu vaccines. This situation started when a higher-than-normal level of protein aggregates where found in one batch of vaccine. Although, it has now been deemed safe by Health Canada, many folks remain uncertain about the idea of being injected with such protein aggregates (tiny bits of the killed flu viruses that are used to make flu vaccine).
I am often asked variations of the following questions: "Should I get vaccinated?," "What do you think about flu vaccinations?," "Is it safe for my kids?", “Is there an alternative to the flu vaccine?”
These are important questions, ones I'm sure many of you are asking. As a parent, I understand the need to keep our children and loved ones safe, both from potentially serious respiratory infections 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.
I have discussed the pros and cons of vaccinations in a previous article related to H1N1 flu vaccine. Let's further explore the pros and cons of vaccinations related more specifically to the seasonal flu vaccine:
* To avoid infecting others and to participate in the global campaign to reduce the spread of the flu virus.
* To provide immune support for those most at risk of developing complications resulting from a flu infection: 1) people 65 years of age or over; 2) pregnant women; 3) young children that have a predisposition to respiratory infections; 4) those with chronic health conditions such as respiratory disease (asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, etc…), diabetes, neurological conditions, as well as those with heart, kidney and liver disease; 5) those with a weakened immune system due to conditions such as HIV, AIDS, certain cancers, and other immunosuppressive conditions; and lastly, 6) those who undergo treatments that suppress immune system function, such as chemotherapy.
No doubt, the importance of keeping these population groups protected is obvious. However, as discussed below, some of these same groups are also the most likely to suffer from vaccine side-effects.
* 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. Those living in a long-stay residential care homes/facilities, 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, smoking, excess alcohol 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. People may feel that their options are limited given that conventional medicines may not be effective against the flu virus and that anti-viral drugs side-effects are too severe to justify their use in treating the flu.
Fortunately, naturopathic options do exist to support the immune system in the event that you have a flu infection.
* 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, medical procedures or pharmaceutical medications. Vaccines and pharmaceuticals drugs are no different in this regards.
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.
Vaccine cautions and concerns 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.
* 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 naturopathic 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.
* There are over 500 different viruses that can cause flu like symptoms. A flu vaccine is only effective against the same strain of influenza virus used to develop the vaccine. Because the vaccine is formulated from only the three most common strains seen in the previous year and because the influenza virus is constantly changing, the flu vaccine’s effectiveness will vary significantly from year to year.
* According to the manufacturer of the vaccines, the flu vaccination should not be given to persons with an acute respiratory infection or with any other active infection or febrile (fever) illness. Therefore make your medical doctor aware of such symptoms if you intend to get the flu vaccine.
* Exposure to preservatives, chemicals and adjuvants found in vaccine ingredients. Vaccines are made with chemicals as they are used to attenuate and preserve the viral ingredient within the vaccine. Most seasonal flu vaccines contain trace amounts of mercury in the form of thimerosal. Other chemicals can include ethylene glycol (antifreeze), formaldehyde, phenols, antibiotics, etc. Many vaccines also contain immune adjuvants like aluminum and squalene, and may contain egg ingredients. There is therefore a rare risk of allergic reaction in individuals with an allergy to eggs.
The degree of toxicity from these chemicals 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.
* As discussed, the seasonal flu vaccines only optimize our immune system for a few viral strains. With all the press lately on the flu, 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. My comprehensive Immune Health Program can be followed by everyone, including those who decide to vaccinate themselves for the flu. This program is tailored for each individual based on his or her 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 year’s flu season and beyond.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Friday, November, 9th 2012 in Times & Transcript.
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