Every year around this time, the vaccine industry, through its vast network of corporate-government health agencies and mass media partners, begins raising the level of fear in the minds of the public about seasonal flu - in order to vaccinate as many people as possible with the influenza vaccine or “flu” shot.
Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by type A and B influenza viruses. There are hundreds of different viruses that cause influenza or other kinds of respiratory and gastrointestinal “influenza-like illness” in humans and animals. Interestingly, about 70-80% of all suspected influenza-like illness lab specimens test negative for type A or B influenza viruses every flu season. It is important for the public and consumer to be fully informed about the influenza vaccine and its potential detrimental ramifications before opting-out or consenting to this annual injection ritual.
First, there are three types of influenza vaccines available in the U.S.: inactivated influenza vaccine, recombinant influenza vaccine and live attenuated influenza vaccine. Inactivated influenza vaccine consists of two types: intramuscular influenza vaccine (which is injected into the muscle), and intradermal influenza vaccine (which is injected into the skin). Inactivated, injectable influenza vaccines packaged in multi-dose vials contain the highly toxic mercury preservative thimerosal (inactivated influenza vaccines in single dose vials are either thimerosal-free or may contain trace amounts of the mercury preservative). Recombinant influenza vaccines differ from inactivated influenza vaccines as they are produced through genetic engineering by growing the influenza virus inside insect cells instead of chicken eggs. The live attenuated nasal influenza vaccine is inhaled through the nose and does not contain thimerosal. However, in 2016, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) advised against use of the live attenuated nasal influenza vaccine due to lack of effectiveness of the vaccine based on data collected between 2013 and 2016.
Thimerosal-free influenza vaccine is also licensed in the U.S. and it is advisable to request these vaccines in advance from your healthcare provider, if your preference is the thimerosal-free version (and why wouldn’t it be?).
There are several different influenza vaccine products licensed in the U.S. - marketed by different pharmaceutical companies. Most seasonal influenza vaccines in the U.S. contain either two type A influenza viruses and one type B influenza virus (Trivalent) or two type A influenza viruses and two type B influenza viruses (Quadrivalent) that are selected every year by the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for inclusion in flu shots given during the current flu season.
In 2015, the FDA approved the first Adjuvant trivalent flu vaccine, Fluad, made from MF59 (squalene). This vaccine was approved for accelerated licensure by the FDA despite limited data on safety and immunogenicity and approval was based on a single clinical trial of about 1,000 healthy adults over the age of 65. This vaccine will be available for the first time to adults over the age of 65 for the 2016-2017 flu season.
Second, it’s important to understand the potential risks of the influenza vaccine. The most common reactions, which begin within 12 hours of vaccination and can last several days are: fever, fatigue, painful joints and headache. Other reported moderate reactions to influenza vaccine include local reactions (pain, redness, swelling at the site of the injection), flu-like symptoms, sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, joint and muscle pain, and nausea. Reported serious complications include brain inflammation, convulsions, Bell’s palsy, limb paralysis, neuropathy, shock, wheezing/asthma and other breathing problems. Guillain-Barré Syndrome is a disabling neurological disorder that involves temporary or permanent paralysis that can lead to death and has been related to influenza vaccinations. Brain and nerve disorders such as encephalopathy, optic neuritis, partial facial paralysis, and brachial plexus neuropathy as well as vasculitis have also been reported following the flu vaccine, although a definite causal relationship has not been established.
As of October 3, 2016, there had been 2,954 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following Influenza vaccination, including 109 deaths and 2,845 serious injuries.
Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of June 30, 2016, there had been more than 128,194 reports of reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following influenza vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 1,270 related deaths, 10,780 hospitalizations, and 2,377 related disabilities. In 2013, the Federal Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV) voted to add GBS to the Vaccine Injury Table within the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). Influenza vaccine risks are higher if given to someone who is sick; is allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine; has a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or has had previous vaccine reactions.
Lastly, it is valuable to understand that like all vaccines, the influenza vaccine only gives a temporary immunity, if at all, to the virus strains or closely related virus strains contained in the vaccine. The only way to get natural and permanent immunity to a strain of flu is to recover naturally from the flu. Natural immunity to a particular strain of flu can be protective if that strain or closely related strains come around again in the future. Hence, the vaccine only provides temporary immunity to selected strains, and those strains may or may not be prevalent each year.
Yearly, federal health agency officials attempt to guess which three to four flu strains, of the many influenza strains, are most likely to be prevalent in the U.S. the following year to determine which strains will be included in next year's flu vaccine. If they guess right, the vaccine is “thought”, but not proven, to be 70-90% effective in temporarily preventing the flu of the season in healthy persons less than 65 years old. For those over 65 years old, the efficacy rate drops to 30-40%, but the vaccine is “assumed", but not proven, to be 50-60% effective in preventing hospitalization and pneumonia and 80% effective in preventing death from the flu.
When health officials do not correctly guess which influenza strains will be most prevalent, the vaccine's effectiveness is much lower for that year.