The Flu Vaccine 2020
The 2020-2021 flu season is not shaping up to be a normal one. That’s not to say it’s going to be particularly bad: Clues from the Southern Hemisphere, where the flu season is well underway, actually hint that it will be a mild year for influenza across the globe. But it will be exceedingly complicated. First of all, the mild flu season in the southern hemisphere is probably due in large part to masks and social distancing.
Second of all, coronavirus is still raging in the U.S. and if a flu season packs the hospital, the mortal dangers of both COVID-19 and the flu increase. Coming down with a cough and fever could also mean locking down in quarantine while you wait (probably way too long) for COVID-19 test results. It’s more crucial than ever to get your flu shot.
This year, getting vaccinated for the flu will be a bit different too. For one, kids can get vaccinations and the flu shot at pharmacies, a new approval by the Trump administration. Many pharmacies can give adults the flu shot too. And it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated on time. August is too soon because protection might wear off by the heavy-hitting months later in the season.
But September is ideal and you should definitely be up to date by the end of October, though later is better than never. There are also new and improved flu vaccine options for older adults, who are hit hard by both the flu and COVID-19. And the government may require some people to get flu shots, such as Massachusetts, which is mandating the vaccine for students.
The Ongoing Controversy About Vaccinations
During the 2010–2011 influenza season, about half of all children and 41 percent of American adults received flu shots. And health officials are pushing for more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get the annual flu vaccine,” says Joseph Bresee, MD, chief of the Epidemiology Prevention Branch at the CDC’s Influenza Division.
Not all experts agree with this advice, though. An increasing number of researchers, academics, and doctors are questioning the scientific basis for an influenza vaccine at all. Some point out that the influenza virus isn’t the cause of most flu-like illness, diminishing the advantage that widespread vaccination confers. Others argue that flu shots don’t work well for the most vulnerable among us, including the elderly, because their immune systems are too weak to respond. The most vocal critics even point to a study showing the influenza vaccine is no better than a placebo.
There’s also a safety concern since many influenza vaccinations contain toxins such as thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that was removed from most (but not all) children’s vaccines more than a decade ago.
The rising furor over the influenza vaccine differs from the controversy over most other vaccines because the central argument is not over the risk but rather if it works at all. Defenders insist that widespread vaccination will confer a herd immunity to the general population, protecting the weakest among us, who might actually succumb to influenza if exposed. They say that manufacturing an influenza vaccine year after year keeps the factories primed for the dreaded day a more virulent strain threatens a true pandemic, like the one that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans in 1918. But skeptics label such benefits hypothetical at best and argue that even the smallest risk or side effect is unacceptable.
The most severe influenza pandemic to date hit in 1918 and swept the globe for two years, infecting about 30 percent of the human population and killing an estimated 40 to 50 million people (675,000 in the United States alone).
What is in The Flu Vaccine?
The recipe starts with the four most popular (slash effective) influenza strains from around the world, injected into fertilized chicken eggs or mammalian cells, deactivated so it doesn’t give you the actual flu, mixed with a grab-bag of preservatives, antibiotics, and sugars, and then formulated for a shot or spray to make it in time for the 2020 flu season.
Pharmaceutical companies manufacture many varieties of influenza vaccine, and formulations change from year to year, along with the targeted strains. To make the vaccine, about six months prior to the
next influenza season, scientists identify the strains they believe will be circulating most widely in the next year (generally two As and one B) and inject them into fertilized hen eggs. After the virus multiplies
in the eggs, it is harvested, and then weakened for use in live viruses, or inactivated with a chemical such as formaldehyde for injectable killed-virus vaccines.
Finally, the product is purified to elicit an immune response without making the patient sick, and shipped to medical centers and other facilities where patients can receive the vaccine. Killed-virus vaccines are delivered via an injection, which may come from multidose vials —which often contain thimerosal, a toxic preservative — or in single-dose syringes that have far less thimerosal, or none at all. Other times, patients (particularly the very young) inhale live-but-weakened versions of influenza organisms in the form of a mist. These do not contain thimerosal. Here are some of the potentially harmful toxins still found in various influenza vaccines. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider
whether they’re hiding in your flu shot.
- Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that was removed from other vaccines used in children in 2001.
- Polysorbate 80 is linked to infertility.
- Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services. One version of the flu shot used in the United States uses formaldehyde to inactivate the influenza virus in the vaccine-manufacturing process, after which the formaldehyde is purified out, but trace amounts may remain.
- Octoxinol-10 is commonly used as a vaginal spermicide.
For the 2020-21 Flu Season, New Types of Flu Vaccinations have been developed.
There are two new flu shots available this year, and they are both designed for adults aged 65 and above. Older people generally have weaker immune responses to vaccines, so these special formulations help them get as much protection from the flu as possible. This is especially important in 2020 because older people face a heavy double burden from the flu and COVID-19.
The cons of the flu vaccine
The flu can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and death in high-risk individuals. High-risk groups include:
- older adults
- young children
- pregnant women
- people with certain underlying health conditions, such as HIV, asthma, and diabetes
Some possible downsides to flu vaccine include:
- only about 40–60% of flu shots are effective in preventing the flu each year
- they can take up to 2 weeks to start working
- sometimes, they cause mild side effects, such as pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site
- some people may experience low-grade fever, headaches, and muscle aches after the shot, but these should only last 1–2 days
- in very rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome can develop following a flu shot
Pros of the flu vaccine
Flu shots allow the development of community immunity. If enough people get the vaccine, the flu is unable to spread rapidly through communities. As a result, people in high-risk groups are less likely to get the flu.
Younger children are at a higher risk of severe illness from the flu. According to a study in Pediatrics, flu shots significantly reduce the risk of death from the flu in those between the ages of 5 and 12 years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over 6 months of age should receive a flu shot. Most flu-related deaths occur in children without vaccinations.
A downside is that the shot might cause discomfort in very young children. For example, there might be some pain and swelling at the injection site.
Less commonly, fever and aches might occur in children receiving their first flu vaccine.
To protect children, the people around them should also receive flu shots.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that women get a flu shot during pregnancy.
Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illnesses from the flu. For pregnant women, a flu shot can:
- reduce the risk of acute respiratory infection by half
- lower the risk of hospitalization from the flu by 40%
- protect the baby from the flu for several months after birth
The flu shot might still cause some minor side effects, such as nausea and swelling.
The CDC estimate that flu vaccinations between 2017 and 2018 prevented:
- 6.16 million illnesses
- 3.18 million medical visits
- 90,904 hospitalizations
- 5,747 deaths
Flu vaccinations are vital for anyone at risk of severe complications. Other benefits of flu shots include:
- reducing the severity of symptoms in those who do get the flu, potentially preventing the symptoms from disrupting daily life
- lowering the risk of passing the flu onto high-risk individuals
- reducing the risk of death in people with hypertension
- preventing tens of thousands of trips to the doctors each year
There are certainly plenty of experts who still endorse the influenza vaccine. One is immunologist Mary Ruebush, Ph.D., best known for her book, Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends
(Kaplan Publishing, 2009). “Getting the flu vaccine is like taking your immune system to the gym,” Ruebush says. “Your immune system is activated when it responds to the vaccine, keeping it primed for
a response when the actual virus hits.”
Ruebush and others believe the best course is for the healthy among us to get vaccinated, not so much to protect ourselves from a bout of influenza, but for the benefit of seniors and others who don’t mount
enough of an immune response, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. The tactic invests a population with what public health experts refer to as “herd immunity.’”
Still, even in healthy populations, vaccines typically protect against just three or four strains, not the multiple strains that are constantly mutating in the wild. So, even if a vaccine boosts immunity, it can never protect against the full range of a constantly shifting illness.
After weighing the benefits of this marginal level of coverage, you might well decide to skip this year’s trip to the clinic. Then again, you may decide something is better than nothing, and elect to follow the
advice of mainstream medicine and the CDC.
If you choose the latter path, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, the flu vaccine is prepared in hen eggs — so if you are allergic to eggs, you could have a reaction. You should also ask questions about the chemical makeup of your shot. The majority of flu vaccines come in multidose vials preserved with thimerosal, a form of the heavy metal mercury that has been widely implicated in neurological and inflammatory disease. (Single-dose vials and the live flu-vaccine mist are generally thimerosal-free.)
Doshi also wants people to know that flu vaccines are biologics, “meaning they are made with living materials,” he says. “Problems with the manufacturing process continue to crop up,” he notes, because dealing with living material presents challenging complexities, and contamination is a near-constant threat.
Jefferson also points out that advisers on government vaccine committees vested with product approval have suspect ties to the manufacturers. With many of pharma’s most profitable drugs coming off patent in recent years, new vaccines, including influenza vaccines, have taken on an added luster. Experts predict that the seasonal influenza-vaccine market will grow to a $4 billion a year industry by 2015.
Ways of Natural Flu Prevention
Whether or not you choose to get a flu shot, many experts stress that simple, commonsense measures are the best way to prevent most strains of the flu.
Here are some basics to consider embracing:
Avoid close contact with sick people whenever possible.
When you are ill, stay home from work, school, and errands in consideration for others.
Urge your friends, family, and coworkers to do the same.
During flu season, wash your hands frequently to protect yourself and others from germs.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Keep your hands away from your face. Germs routinely spread when a person touches something contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Stick to a nutrient-dense, toxin-free diet, and avoid foods that tend to weaken the immune system, such as sugar, refined grains, industrial vegetable oils, and processed and refined foods.
Support your immune system by getting plenty of sleep and avoiding chronic stress. Constant anxiety at work or in your relationships suppresses the immune system, opening the door to the flu.
Get plenty of sunshine and supplemental vitamin D. High levels of vitamin D have long been linked to lower rates of flu.
Get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day to prime the immune system.
Avoid antibiotics and antibacterial cleansers and sanitizers whenever you can. They can weaken your natural defenses and entice your “immunity muscles” to atrophy. By steering clear of chemically
antibacterial agents as much as practical, you’ll encourage your body’s immune system to get smarter and harder-working over time. As a result, it will stand a better chance of effectively vanquishing infections and diseases of all kinds, including influenza.
Ultimately it is up to you unless there is some sort of mandate for you or your children to get a flu vaccination. I just hope there is enough information in this article for you to make the best choice possible. I wish you a safe and healthy life.
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