Unfortunately, in my practice, I have seen this happen many times. I haven’t conducted any double-blind studies with placebos (funding, give me funding!), but my own clinical experience says, no, it’s not.
If you Google this topic, you will find a jillion sites telling you that it is impossible to get the flu from a flu shot and that anyone who thinks so is a neanderthal. My first response is, “Hey, what do you have against neanderthals?” My second one is, of course, if the science says that the flu virus in the vaccine is dead and you can’t get sick from it, I am not going to argue with that.
Not to brag, but I went to a good four year liberal arts college and got pretty good grades in my science classes, so I don’t have a problem with good science.
However, nowhere does anyone address the possibility that the vaccine, along with the many additional ingredients of the shot (see the CDC website for a list of ingredients), represent an insult to the immune system, causing the patient to become many times more susceptible to the many viruses all around us, thus causing her to get sick.
Since many people are getting flu shots this time of year, it’s time again for me to answer that question, “Ron, what do you think about flu shots?”
I mention that research has shown that flu shots are no more effective than a placebo at preventing the flu in elderly (see the NY Times article here.) The same result was found for infants under two years old (see the article here.)
For those of us who are not infants and not yet elderly, the evidence is mixed. The problem is that, before the flu season begins, the CDC makes an educated guess about which strains of the flu virus will be most prevalent in the upcoming season. Sometimes, this guess is off, sometimes it is on. In the former cases, you get studies that show that the flu virus does nothing (like this one).
There are studies that indicate that flu shots are helpful and reduce sick time (see this article). So, for me to say that flu vaccines are entirely ineffective, would be, from a scientific perspective, incorrect.
However, I still don’t recommend flu shots. Why? For several reasons.
1) As mentioned above, flu shots may contain additives which are bad for you. As the CDC warns us: “The following substances are found in vaccines: aluminum (brain toxin), antibiotics, egg protein, formaldehyde (now listed as carcinogenic), MSG or monosodium glutamate (a known neurotoxin),and thimerosal (neurotoxic mercury).” Would you want want these in your child? How about in you?
2) My patients who receive acupuncture get fewer colds and flus (for studies that prove this, click here).
3) My patients who take Chinese Herbal Medicine also get fewer colds and flus (see this study).
The problem with studies on flu shots is that they are always compared to “placebo” groups. What does the placebo group do to prevent the flu? Of course, nothing. How about using a placebo group consisting of my patients?
So, you have decided you don’t want to take the risk of getting a flu shot this year. Here are some hot tips on how you can prevent the flu and colds:
1) Engage in a regular exercise program (but don’t overdo it).
2) Eat whole, natural foods, including lots of vegetables, and good quality proteins; stay away from processed foods and overeating high-glycemic carbs (also known as junk food).
3) Reduce your stress with exercise, meditation, talking it out with friends, or making concrete changes in your life. Another way to do this is to buy a karaoke machine and sing Johnny Cash songs every night with your family.
4) Get your vitamin D tested and begin supplementation now. Most people north of Florida need to be taking 4000 IU/day.
4) Get acupuncture. It doesn’t hurt. Read this blog post if you don’t believe me.
5) Take Chinese herbal medicine to boost your immunity (as prescribed by your certified practitioner of Chinese Medicine).
Two of my patients, Betty and Jackie, now belong to that elite group of people who used to get sick a lot every season, but now rarely get sick with colds. They don’t get a flu shot. And they swear by acupuncture and herbs.
Think about how much time you spent last winter in bed recovering from colds and the flu. Follow my recommendations above, and spend less time this season in bed and more doing the things you love to do.