If you’ve been following the news lately, you know there’s been a lot of concern surrounding vaccines. Should parents have the choice of deciding whether or not their children receive vaccinations? Do adults have the right to deny vaccines for themselves? While this article is going to focus on some of the facts you may not know about vaccines (influenza vaccines, specifically), hopefully it will raise questions that will keep you thinking about the politics and health effects of this very controversial health issue.
Top Facts about the Flu Vaccine
The 2014-15 flu season appears to be slightly more severe than normal, according to the CDC who recently declared the illness an epidemic.  43 states have reported a high number of cases of influenza this year, but it may not be due to a decline in flu vaccinations. Here are some surprising facts you need to know about the flu vaccine.
1. The Flu Vaccine Isn’t Working
Our current flu vaccine is one of the least effective within the past decade, with reports indicating it’s only 23% effective against preventing the flu.  While proponents of vaccines blame parents of unvaccinated children on the widespread cases of influenza, the fact is that the vaccine is simply not doing its job for the majority of people who are being immunized. Past vaccines have reported a 50-60% efficacy rate for the flu vaccine; however, this still presents a 50/50 chance of developing the flu.
2. Predominant Flu Strain Overrides Current Vaccine
The predominant influenza strain this season, H3N2, wasn’t noticed until after this season’s vaccines were developed. That being said, the current influenza vaccine matches for only 48% of H3N2 strains, offering minute protection from the main infectious strain.  According to the CDC, 95% of the cases reported were H3N2 strains.  What’s more, this strain is associated with more deaths and hospitalizations compared with other common strains of influenza.
3. Flu Vaccine Raises Guillain-Barré Syndrome Risk
Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or GBS, is a rare disorder where a person’s own immune system damages nerve cells. Symptoms include muscle weakness, temporary paralysis, and even permanent nerve damage. Influenza vaccines have correlated with increased incidence of GBS. The supposed outbreak of swine flu in 1976 saw a number of recipients receiving immunization from H1N1. According to reports, 8.8 cases per million of those receiving the vaccine developed the disorder.  It’s unsure the number of cases that went unreported, but health officials continue to monitor vaccines in case of widespread complications.
4. Common Influenza Antivirals Promote Serious Side Effects
Tamiflu, a common antiviral used against influenza type A and type B, is a common product used by people all across the world during the flu season. Ingredients include artificial coloring and flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners. Side effects of this drug includes psychiatric distress, vomiting, headaches, liver issues, allergic reactions, seizure, confusion, poor blood sugar health in diabetics, and colitis. According to a Cochrane review, if a million people take Tamiflu, 45,000 will experience vomiting, 31,000 will have headaches, and 11,000 will experience psychiatric side effects. 
How to Protect Your Health During the Flu Season
As you can probably tell, the flu vaccine is offering very little hope for protecting people from the flu. Its dismal efficacy rate makes it virtually worthless, and nothing but good, old-fashioned lifestyle changes will offer equal, if not greater, protection. Research has shown that vitamin D, vitamin C, and exercise are three components that will support the immune system, priming your body’s defenses against attack by influenza.   Washing your hands after being in a public place, eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, and getting plenty of quality sleep also supports the body’s immune system. What are your thoughts about the flu vaccine? Do you have any techniques you employ to keep your body healthy during this time of the year? We’d love to hear your comments!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know for the 2014-2015 Influenza Season.CDC Fact Sheet.
- Honor Whiteman. CDC: this season’s flu vaccine only 23% effective. Medical News Daily.
- Beth Skwarecki. The flu shot isn’t a good match this year. Is it ever? PLOS Blogs.
- Nadia Kounang. The flu spreads to more states. CNN.
- Matthew E. Wise, Milissa Viray, James J. Sejvar, et al. Guillain-Barre Syndrome During the 2009-2010 H1N1 Influenza Vaccination Campaign: Population-based Surveillance Among 45 Million Americans. Am. J. Epidemiol. (2012) doi: 10.1093/aje/kws196.
- Ben Goldacre. What the Tamiflu saga tells us about drug trials and big pharma. The Guardian.
- Kim Y, Kim H, Bae S, et al. Vitamin C is an Essential Factor on the Anti-viral Immune Responses through the Production of Interferon-α/ß at the Initial Stage of Influenza A Virus (H3N2) Infection. Immune Netw. 2013 Apr;13(2):70-4. doi: 10.4110/in.2013.13.2.70.
- Walsh NP, Gleeson M, Shephard RJ, et al. Position statement. Part one: Immune function and exercise.Exerc Immunol Rev. 2011;17:6-63.