Believe it or not, flu season starts up again shortly. And that’s when the government will start trying to sell all of us one of the biggest lemons going.
After all, would you buy a car from me that only started once out of every five times you turned the key? Of course not! And yet this past year’s flu shot was just such a car.
By the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) own estimates, the 2014-2015 flu shot only worked 1 out of 5 times! In the end the vaccine was only effective in a dismal 19 per cent of cases. And although the numbers vary from year to year, this is by no means an isolated incident. In fact, in the 2003-2004 flu season the results were even worse.
In the UK, a study revealed that the 2014-2015 flu shot was just 23 per cent effective, meaning that three quarters of the flu vaccines administered were ineffective.
Before you decide whether to roll up your sleeve this year, it’s important to understand why the flu vaccine continues to fail us – and the six simple things you can do to stay healthy this season. No shot necessary.
Blind guessing can lead to big failures
Why are these statistics so low for a drug that conventional medicine feels so strongly about? First, influenza viruses are notoriously hard to replicate. There are many strains of the virus, and the flu vaccine manufacturers, in cahoots with government scientists, have to quite literally guess which strains will appear in a given year.
That’s right, the contents of each year’s flu vaccine is very much a hit or miss approach. In some years, the major strains of influenza virus were missed entirely, leading to a situation in which millions of vaccines were given without any positive effect, even though there’s some evidence that government health agencies knew ahead of time that they were guessing wrong.
Mutations mean even correct flu shots can still fail
But bad or good guesses aren’t the end of the story. Even if the strains are guessed right, the vaccine can lose effectiveness due to something called antigenic drift. The virus itself can mutate as it goes through the population. It remains the same virus, but looks different enough so that our immune systems don’t recognise it as the same virus that was contained in the flu shot.
This is what happened this past winter, when the H3N2 strain was the prevailing influenza virus strain causing the flu, but was altered enough so that the flu shot was ineffective. And this antigenic drift isn’t always a natural phenomenon either. In 2012-2013, in the process of creating the vaccine the drug manufacturers actually introduced mutations of the H3N2 virus into the vaccine.
And then there’s the problem of actually evaluating the vaccine’s ability to do the job. When my patients get sick during the winter months, they tend to report it as ‘the flu’. This is despite the fact that the most common flu symptoms are fever, muscle ache and (sometimes) a cough. On the other hand a stuffy or runny nose, bronchitis symptoms, stomach aches or sinus issues are far less likely to be influenza, and more likely to be triggered by a different virus or bacteria. And, of course, the flu tends to be more severe and last longer. By one US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimate, only 20 per cent of so-called cases of ‘flu’ actually turn out to be the influenza virus.
Follow the money
Up until a few years ago, annual flu shots were generally only recommended for the elderly, people with severe respiratory illnesses and children. But then, with zero hard evidence that the vaccine had more widespread applications, the recommendations were suddenly extended. Now, the flu shot is recommended for everyone, and we are pummelled by ads trying to shame us into rolling up our sleeves for it every time we turn on the TV or go to a chemist or doctor’s surgery.
So why are we being harassed to get the shot for months on end starting as early as September? Well, to paraphrase the bank robber Willie Sutton: it’s where the money is. Producing a different flu vaccine every year is expensive and the pharmaceutical companies are hard-pressed to make the profit they want if only those people who truly may need the shot get it. So they started putting pressure on the government to expand the flu shot mandate. And it worked. Their profits have ballooned, and there’s no end in sight.
At the same time, another factor is at work. Doctors are trained to believe that vaccinations are ALWAYS good medicine, and that even includes dubious ones like the flu shot. And most of them simply choose to ignore serious issues like occasional neurological problems linked to the vaccine; questions about the dangers of contamination and preservatives used in the shot; and whether our immune systems may be overstimulated by the sheer volume of vaccinations we’re receiving these days.
Six steps to foil the flu
Getting a flu shot is, of course, a personal decision. But if you do decide to not get one this year that doesn’t mean you need to remain unprotected. The flu can be a serious illness in some people, and even life-threatening to those at the highest risk. So it’s important to take measures to avoid catching the bug. And I have six drug-free steps that can help you stay flu-free this season.
Foil the flu step #1: The flu virus is a ‘droplet’ virus, meaning it spreads in droplets when people cough and sneeze, or from exposure to nasal discharge followed by touching the mouth or nose. To combat this you should wash your hands well and frequently. You may even want to consider wearing a mask if you’re going to be in a situation where you might be exposed. (And if you get sick you can help stop the spread by always covering your mouth or nose when sneezing or coughing.)
Foil the flu step #2: Watch that sweet tooth. Sugar found in fizzy drinks, desserts, ice cream and many processed foods is a well-researched immune suppressor.
Foil the flu step #3: Get plenty of sleep, at least eight hours a night. Sleep is a great immune booster, and can help keep you from getting sick even if you’re exposed to the virus.
Foil the flu step #4: Make sure you’re getting enough daily zinc. Try a zinc supplement. I typically recommend 25-50mg a day of zinc citrate, picolinate or other chelated form.
Foil the flu step #5: Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Moist mucous membranes are powerful barriers against viruses and other infections.
Foil the flu step #6: Try homeopathy. Certain homeopathic remedies are designed to be taken at the first sign of the flu. Oscillococcinum, the most well-known of these, is as safe as a remedy gets. We use influezinum in our surgery, and homeopathic formulas like these have been shown in studies to modify the symptoms of infections such as influenza.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 9, Issue 8, August 2015