The flu shot has long been a staple of the seasonal transition between fall and winter. After all, 36,000 people were dying annually when flu deaths were at their recent peak in 1999. As of 2010, however, NPR reported via the CDC that 23,607 annual deaths on average is closer to today’s trend.
The current CDC report states that seasonal flu deaths have ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 between 1976 and 2007; they add that 80 to 90 percent of flu deaths occur in people 65 years of age or older. So receiving the flu shot should be a no-brainer, right? The backlash tends to come from individuals who have had adverse reactions from the shot, with some even reporting full-blown flu symptoms after receiving the vaccine.
David Williams, a medical researcher, biochemist, and chiropractor, has recently written staunchly against the flu shot, alleging that they contain “suspect ingredients” and “flat-out don’t work.” He also sees the push for flu shots as a way for biopharmaceutical companies to profit.
Vaccines deliver either live or dead viruses directly into your body tissue, short-circuiting your body’s normal front-line immune defense system in your respiratory passageways and mucous membrane linings. If your immune system is weak or out of balance when the virus is introduced this way, you could have serious health consequences.
Additionally, proponents of the anti-vaccination movement often cite thimerosal as a reason to forego the shot; the compound is a preservative derived from mercury and is known to be associated with brain and immune system impairment. The CDC quickly counters this; thimerosal is added to vaccine vials to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. Additionally it is easily broken down and eliminated by the body’s natural metabolism.
Thimerosal does not stay in the body a long time so it does not build up and reach harmful levels. When thimerosal enters the body, it breaks down to ethylmercury and thiosalicylate, which are readily eliminated.
The CDC continues in their report that there is no scientific evidence to show harm in the use of thimerosal in vaccinations. They firmly advocate those above 6 months of age in good health to receive the flu shot, in order to prevent those with compromised immune systems from perishing from the influenza virus. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recently voted down the use of Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV), a nasal spray version of the flu shot, over concerns regarding its efficacy.
Hospital workers must wear protective masks if they refuse the annual flu shot, with TIME reporting that hospitals in Indiana are going so far as to fire their workers for refusing the shot. With the current U.S. population at just over 324.5 million as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, the scientific consensus appears to advocate for anyone able to receive a flu shot. An epidemic among a populace of this size would surely prove to be catastrophic.
In an ever-shrinking world with strengthening global ties and travel abroad that the Huffington Post reports is cheaper than ever, the risk for a flu epidemic or even pandemic may be higher than ever before. While there may be discomfort or risks associated with receiving a flu shot, as with any vaccine or medication, the overall importance of “herd immunity” takes precedent in our modern environment, which Dr. Bill Miller discussed in an article for the Buffalo News.
Miller continues by saying that this collective immunity is crucial for the few who are not healthy enough to handle the flu shot or other vaccinations. It is among these vulnerable few that illnesses like the flu or or even measles can prove deadly. As the Administration for Community Living reports that the number of Americans age 65 and older continues to grow – 46.2 million, or 14.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, a number expected to more than double by 2060 – the protection of elderly citizens and infants becomes more and more important.
The flu shot and vaccines in general prove to be controversial, hot-button issues in 2016. It is up to the scientific and medical communities and the prudent judgement of citizens around the world to decide whether the protection vaccines offer is worth the few days of that “under the weather” feeling that may result after getting a flu shot.
[Featured image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]