I LOVE talking and writing about vaccines…just LOVE it. Especially since a lot of my friends in earthy, green, tree hugging California, where I happen to live, are against vaccinations. I am a medical doctor and excuse me for giving advice based about scientific data. (Do you sense the sarcasm yet?) Here is some data: vaccinations, for whooping cough, polio, tetanus, hepatitis and diphtheria, just to name a few, have saved millions of lives. FACT. I believe it is almost criminal for people who do not have a sense of this history to make erroneous claims regarding vaccines and in turn persuade others not to vaccinate themselves and their children. This type of “magical thinking” has lead to a resurgence of diseases that were almost eradicated. But let me stick to one type of vaccine before I fall off my soap box: the flu vaccine.
Flu season is upon us and if you’re like a lot of consumers, you may be wondering if the flu shot is worth the hassle, pain and potential risk. Google “Is the flu shot safe?” and you will find a plethora of information that is muddled in myth, rumor and exaggeration. I thought I’d take a moment and address some of the most common myths about the flu shot….
It can give you the flu. This is absolutely false. Most versions of the vaccine contain inactivated strains of the flu virus — meaning it is dead. It cannot cause illness. The nasal spray does contain a live form of the virus but it’s attenuated, which simply means that it’s weakened and it cannot thrive within the warm conditions of your body. Patients who contract the flu shortly after getting the shot were likely already infected or came into contact with the illness before the vaccine was effective — it takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to build immunity in your system.
It’s linked to Alzheimer’s. This rumor has been disproven in multiple studies that actually show the opposite may be true — individuals who get the flu shot may have a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association also says there is no credibility to this common myth.
It’s not safe for pregnant women. Studies show that women are at greater risk for complications from the flu while they are pregnant than when they are not. The antibodies mom builds up from a flu shot during pregnancy have also been shown to benefit her baby while in utero and protect her precious bundle from serious flu related complications after birth.
It doesn’t work. Sure, it’s not 100 percent effective — nothing is — and its effectiveness varies from year to year. But a recent study shows that even in seasons when the vaccine isn’t a complete match to the strains circulating, the flu shot is still effective for the majority of the population. It has also been shown to reduce the severity of the illness for those immunized patients who still catch the flu.
It can give you Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). There was a time when this was a concern. Back in 1976 there was a “small but significant association” between GBS — a neurological disorder than can cause weakness and temporary paralysis — and a vaccine for the swine flu. Vaccines are formulated differently today and recent studiesshow no link between the illness and the flu shot.
It contains mercury and it causes autism. Many naysayers point to the mercury contained in Thimerosal — a preservative that has widely been discontinued in vaccines — saying that it can cause brain damage and autism. While it’s true that methyl mercury can cause brain damage, it’s completely false when it comes to the ethyl mercury contained in Thimerosal. The differences can be likened to those between ethyl and methyl alcohol. One might cause a hangover, the other blindness. Furthermore, all single-dose vials of the flu shot are actually Thimerosal-free and studies prove that the preservative is absolutely harmless.
Everything that we do contains some element of risk and the flu vaccine is no different. Still, study after study show that the risks are minor and very insignificant. The flu on the other hand can be miserable at the very least and absolutely deadly for some. Recently, flu-associated deaths in the United States have been as high as 49,000 in one year. This is nothing to SNEEZE at! Weigh in… have you had your shot yet?