Are Flu Vaccines a Scam?

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Every autumn, we hear the encouragement to rush to the pharmacy or a doctor’s office and get our annual flu vaccination. Getting vaccinated for influenza has become a staple in our public healthy routine within the US –advertised abundantly through pharmacy store signs, television, and doctor recommendations. With the scares of the Swine Flu and past influenza epidemics, more people than ever are lining up to get vaccinated. However, some scientists are beginning to doubt the effectiveness of these vaccinations.

What is the flu shot supposed to do?
Vaccines contain antigens. These are dead or weakened components of the virus that are meant to urge the immune system to produce antibodies. Rather than leaving, these antibodies stay within the body on the lookout for the virus to return so they can fight it. Vaccines basically train the immune system to battle whichever virus the vaccine is meant for and gives it a heads up that something bad may be coming.

Within the flu vaccine, there are antigens for four strands of the influenza virus: Type A H1N1 (Swine Flu), Type A H3N2 (‘New’ Swine Flu), and two different strands of Type B influenza. Type A causes more serious symptoms and complications while Type B is considered to be more mild but both types have been known to cause seasonal epidemics. All strands of the virus can infect anyone but those without a strong immune system are more likely to get infected; this is the reason that it is recommended by the CDC that children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems get the vaccine first.

Does it actually work?
While no vaccine works 100%, according to studies the flu shot may not even work at 50%. A study published in 2006 in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that there was no difference in the rate of influenza between a group of children who were vaccinated and a group who were given placebos. To back up the Cochrane study, a 2008 study found in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine came to the conclusion that flu vaccinations had no impact on the amount of flu-related hospital or doctor visits and that the effectiveness of the vaccine could not be thoroughly demonstrated. To top it off, a 2009 article published in The Atlantic called ‘Does the Vaccine Matter?’ has shed quite a bit of light on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the flu shot.

One of the more dangerous aspects of influenza is that the virus strands mutate rapidly. They’re highly adaptable. The genetic make-up of this year can be very different than it was last year, making the previous vaccine ineffective. Until the virus presents itself again, there’s no way to know exactly how it mutated. Due to this, the vaccine manufacturers have to guess. Although it may be a scientific guess, it is still just a guess and it may not be on the mark. There are also many strands of the influenza virus and which one circulates during each flu season is not always the same. So, once again, the manufacturers have to take a guess at which strands’ antigens to put in the vaccine. In both 1968 and 1997, the strands within the vaccines did not match the strands that were circulating during the flu seasons.

During those two years where the vaccine did not match the circulating virus strands, even those that got the flu shot were not protected. Yet, the influenza mortality rate did not spike from the previous years when the vaccine had matched the circulating virus strands. The mortality rate from the virus also did not spike in 2004 when there was a period of vaccine shortage and many people weren’t able to get vaccinated. Since there was no change in mortality during periods when people were vaccinated and periods where they weren’t, it throws question on whether the flu vaccine is effective at all.

Compared to twenty years ago, there are twice as many people getting vaccinated. One would assume that the mortality rate from influenza would have gone down due to more vaccinations but that’s not the case. In some age groups, it has remained steady while in other age groups, it has fluctuated between rising and falling over the years. In observation of the mortality rate in correlation with the amount of vaccinations given, it does not look as though the flu shot really impacts the morality rate of influenza.

A possible reason to explain the flu vaccine’s ineffectiveness in lowering the mortality rate influenza may be the fact that it works only for people that don’t actually need to be vaccinated. A person with a healthy immune system is not as likely to get infected by the virus, even without a flu shot, and will not have an issue with producing antibodies to fight off influenza. However, someone with a weaker immune system is more susceptible to getting the flu and they have trouble producing antibodies – meaning that even with the antigen of the virus, their immune system may not be able to produce the antibodies needed to prevent infection. The vaccine works for people at a lower risk of infection while it’s not likely to work for people at a higher risk for infection. So, the people who were already highly susceptible to the flu, and the most like to get it, may still be just as susceptible after the flu shot.  

When a patient asks me if they should get vaccinated, my first thought is, “Well…how healthy are you now and are you doing things to be healthy in the future?”  Simply put – there’s no easy way around it.  You either put in the hard work of being healthy (and not needing a vaccine) or allow your body to get sick.

Dangers of Vaccinations

I could go on and on about this, but here’s a direct quote from the FDA website (link provided). “In some cases the cell lines that are used might be tumorigenic (tumor causing), that is, they form tumors when injected into rodents. Some of these tumor-forming cell lines may contain cancer-causing viruses that are not actively reproducing. Such viruses are hard to detect using standard methods.”

So…here the FDA is admitting that not only can these vaccines cause cancers but they don’t know how to detect it.  This is why they are wanting to study if further.  Meanwhile, kids and infants and “scared” adults are asked to get their vaccinations like good little test subjects!

Is there a way to prevent the flu?
Although the flu shot may not work, there are other ways to protect against infection. The main way to protect yourself from getting the flu is to take care of your health. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet, reducing stress, and exercising can all work to strengthen the immune system and help it fight off viruses. The better you take care of your body, the better it functions – and this includes the immune system.

Food like yogurt, garlic, fish, and citrus can give the immune system a boost and Vitamin C is known to help prevent against catching a virus. Stress can weaken the immune system greatly so taking time to relax and cutting out unneeded stress can be helpful during flu season. Exercising works not only to reduce stress but it improves overall health and helps every system function better. Simply living a healthy lifestyle can be very effective in preventing coming down with a case of the dreaded flu.