The flu vaccine battle has been raging for years. It’s a complex issue… and neither side seems to be telling you the whole story.
On the one hand, you have mainstream medicine pushing vaccines. In spite of their own data showing flu vaccines can be as little as 23% effective. On the other side, doubters claim the vaccines simply don’t work. In fact, many opponents say they can give you the flu.
And just to make matters worse, the mainstream sent you mixed messages this summer about the effectiveness of the different types of vaccine.
So what’s the real story about flu vaccines? And should you get one this year? Here’s what you probably haven’t been told about the controversial flu vaccine.
Flu Vaccines Are a Best Guess
Influenza – or flu – describes a group of viruses. Viruses that mutate very quickly. Almost as soon as you figure out how to knock one down, it’s changed. And the tool you used to knock out the old version may or may not help with the new one.
There are four major types of flu virus, conveniently called Types A, B, C, and D. Type D is newly discovered, and – so far – has only been found in cattle and pigs. So we won’t be dealing with Type D flu.
Type C flu viruses are fairly common. But they’re weak, and cause mild symptoms. So Type C flus don’t figure into vaccine calculations. They just don’t make you sick enough to worry about
That leaves Types A and B. Type A flu can affect both humans and animals. Type B is found only in humans. But both can cause severe symptoms. And I mean severe. The flu kills up to 49,000 people annually – just in the U.S.
Within Types A and B, there are dozens… hundreds… even thousands of variations. So, each year, epidemiologists – docs who study widespread disease – make their best guess as to which strains are likely to hit your country. The best candidates go into vaccines.
In other words, flu vaccines are a “best guess” based on past experience. Which leads to a couple of problems.
It’s Not Easy to Hit a Moving Target – Especially With Only 3 Bullets
Imagine you’re hunting rabbits to feed your family. You have a good rifle… but only 3 bullets. Rabbits are fast and well camouflaged. With just 3 bullets, you’d better be a pretty good shot, or you’re going home empty-handed.
That’s pretty much the challenge scientists face with the flu. Most flu vaccines are “trivalent” – that is, they stimulate antibodies against only 3 strains. If the best guess for a season is wrong, lots more people will get the flu – vaccinated or not.
But if the best guess for the season hits the jackpot, the flu vaccine may cut your risk by as much as 60%. For children and mature adults, that may be the difference between life and a very unpleasant death.
Keep in mind flu viruses constantly mutate. New variants crop up almost every year. This helps explain why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found so much variation in the effectiveness of flu vaccines.
Basically, when the best guess is good, protection may reach 60%. When it’s off the mark, protection may drop to as little as 23%.
Plus, there’s another reason flu vaccines are sometimes more – or less – effective. It’s people.
Vaccines: One Size Does Not Fit All
Flu tends to hit some people harder than others. The very young, the very old, and the very sick are especially vulnerable. Basically, anyone with a compromised immune system is at a greater risk.
These are the people most likely to seek help when they get sick. And also the people most likely to get sick. So they tend to be over-represented during flu season.
You may “tough it out” when you get a flu. But your grandmother – or grandchild – may not be able to. Since these are exactly the people vaccination programs target, they may be over-counted as “failures.”
As are people with flu strains not included in the most recent vaccine. And – sometimes – people with “flu-like” symptoms who don’t actually have the flu.
Flu vaccines can’t include every variant of a flu strain. Most have two Type A strains and one from Type B. Doctors try to guess which strains are most likely to prevail.
When they get it right– as they did during the 2010 – 2011 season – vaccine fans look to be right. But when they guess wrong, you end up with a season like 2014 – 2015… when the vaccine was only 23% effective.
Your Bottom Line for Flu Defense
If you have a strong immune system, you may be able to ignore the issue. Unless we have another year like 1918, when millions of healthy young and middle-aged adults were cut down by the flu.
And that’s the problem with the flu. You never know when a strain will be especially nasty. Most years, influenza kills thousands. But the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 – 1919 killed millions.
Finally, two important points to consider.
First, the flu vaccine can’t give you the flu. One form of flu vaccine uses dead virus cells, which can’t give you the flu. The other uses weakened cells that can’t survive in your body.
Either way, you won’t get the flu from a vaccine. Most reports of people catching the flu after getting the vaccine can be linked to non-flu viruses.
Finally, the “doesn’t work” argument can be explained by what I’ve covered above.
Yes, the flu vaccine could be better. (Four-strain vaccines are already available.) Yes, our measurements could be better. And – yes – we could do more to prevent flus.
But, should you avoid flu vaccines? That strategy may be safe for healthy adults. But the evidence still seems to say those with weaker immune systems may benefit from the vaccine.
After all, if you could cut your risk of death – even by just 23% – wouldn’t you do it?
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
“Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness, 2005-2016,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jul 20, 2016.
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