To prevent the flu there is a choice on whether or not to take the influenza or flu vaccine. This choice applies to healthy adults, but not necessarily to children, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic conditions, who are more susceptible and could suffer worse consequences from the flu.
The flu vaccine can prevent infection from some strains of the flu virus, or at least help mitigate the duration and symptoms of illness. However, no vaccine is effective against all types of the influenza or flu virus, and the vaccine itself can be detrimental. I will explain both of these points. Let me begin by telling you about the influenza virus.
More About the Influenza or Flu Virus
The influenza virus has caused global pandemics in humans with serious consequences. The worst pandemic was in 1918-1919, which killed 20 to 40 million people (Lerner & Davidson, 2013). The first widespread use of flu vaccines was in 1976, when an emergency immunization program was implemented, and it is believed that the incidence of flu has decreased since then (Lerner & Davidson, 2013).
There are three kinds of influenza viruses, namely types A, B, and C. Type A can cause the most harm to humans because it changes easily and mutates into new strains (Lerner & Davidson, 2013). Type A viruses infect both humans and animals, such as “wild birds, chickens, ducks, and turkey (collectively called avian or bird flu)”, as well as “pigs, horses, ferrets, whales, seals, and dogs” (collectively known as swine flu) (Lerner & Davidson, 2013, p. 382). When these viruses live in animals they often recombine to create different strains. New and old strains pass from animals to humans, although many of the recombined strains do not survive in humans. When the new strains do survive in humans, the body is not able to mount a proper defense because it treats the new viral strain as a new antigen. As a result, “no single vaccine is completely effective against all types of A viruses” (Lerner & Davidson, 2013, p. 382)
Type B viruses are more stable, not changing much, and infections are more effectively prevented through vaccines. Type C viruses have a mild effect, and do not pose much threat to humans (Lerner & Davidson, 2013).
Benefits of Influenza Vaccines
The flu vaccine is meant to prevent the flu, or at least produce milder symptoms of infection, particularly in young children, elderly adults, and those with chronic health conditions, all of who are at risk of further serious illness or death from the flu virus (CDC, 2016). The CDC stated that the flu vaccine reduced the death rate from flu by 90% (Bystrianyk, 2014), reduced hospitalizations in the 2014-2015 flu season by 6.5%, and prevented around 67,000 flu-related hospitalizations (CDC, 2015a).
The 2014-2015 flu vaccine ranged in effectiveness from 10% to 74%, depending on the age group. The least effectiveness was in those aged 18 to 49, which is the population group that takes the least number of flu vaccinations (CDC, 2015a). The CDC believes that if this group got more vaccinations, the effectiveness would be higher.
It is necessary to take the flu vaccine every year because the circulating viruses change from year to year. The vaccine available on a particular year is based on the viruses expected to be circulating and are often based on predictions made from the previous year. Although the flu vaccine does not protect against all types of flu viruses circulating in a given year, it is believed that the annual vaccinations give the immune system a boost (CDC, 2016).
Detriment of Flu Vaccine
Bystrianyk (2014) claimed that the statistics on the reduction of death rate from flu vaccines throughout history are not accurate because they did not consider the number of deaths per 100,000 people. Before the flu vaccine was widely used in the 1970s, deaths as a result of influenza were already declining. In 1900, 200 people out of every 100,000 died from the flu compared to 20-25 people out of every 100,000 in the early 1970’s (Bystrianyk, 2014). However, despite the widespread use of the flu vaccine, in 2001, 897 out of every 100,000 people died from the flu (Bystrianyk, 2014).
Even though the vaccine’s effectiveness ranged from 10% to 74%, the CDC claimed the influenza vaccine for the 2014-2015 flu season was on average 23% effective (CDC, 2015b). That means that 81% of people who got the vaccine still got infected with the flu virus. Last season’s vaccine was not as effective as in previous years, and the reason is believed to be from the viruses changing more than in past seasons (CDC, 2015a). In addition, the flu vaccine can have side effects, and cause serious allergic reactions (CDC, 2016).
The 2014-2015 flu vaccine protected against most known viruses spreading that season, but not all (CDC, 2014). Two versions of the vaccine were available. One, the trivalent influenza vaccine, protected against three viruses, namely influenza A H1N1-like, influenza A H3N2-like, and influenza B Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus (CDC, 2015b). The other, the quadrivalent influenza vaccine, protected against the same three viruses and an additional B type virus called Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (CDC, 2015b).
A review of 75 randomized controlled studies conducted on healthy children showed that flu vaccines were “not significantly more efficacious than placebo” (Bystrianyk, 2014). A 2012 study compared the 2008-2009 trivalent influenza vaccine to a saline placebo and showed “there was no statistically significant difference in the risk of confirmed seasonal influenza infection between recipients of (trivalent vaccine) or placebo” (Bystrianyk, 2014).
It is interesting to note that there were a limited number of vaccinations produced. For instance, in 2009, only 900 million doses were produced globally (Lerner & Davidson, 2013). Wealthier populations and nations got a majority of the doses, and poorer populations and nations were often prevented from getting the vaccines due to shortages and costs (Lerner & Davidson, 2013).
Incidence of infection from the flu is up when compared to historical figures, despite the development of the flu vaccine. Flu vaccines do not protect against all available viruses, and although the CDC promotes flu vaccines despite their lack of assured effectiveness, people have a choice on whether or not to take the influenza vaccine to prevent the flu. A person’s health and age greatly influence the course of action, and those much younger, older, or less healthy could greatly benefit from influenza vaccine, particularly if they have serious health conditions. However, for a healthy adult, vaccines are not always effective, and their efficacy cannot be guaranteed. Instead, a course of herbal protocols, supplements, and lifestyle modifications could work effectively. I will cover this topic next week.
Bystrianyk, R. (2014). Effectiveness of the flu vaccine against influenza? Global Reasearch: Center for Research on Globalization. Retrieved from http://www.globalresearch.ca/effectiveness-of-the-flu-vaccine-against-influenza/5376190
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Understanding how vaccines work. Vaccine. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/patient-ed/conversations/downloads/vacsafe-understand-color-office.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015a). Estimated influenza illnesses and hospitalizations averted by vaccination- United States, 2014-15 influenza season. Seasonal Influenza (Flu). Retrieved on September 19, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/2014-15.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015b). What you should know for the 2014-2015 influenza season. Seasonal Influenza (Flu). Retrieved on September 19, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pastseasons/1415season.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Seasonal Influenza (Flu). Retrieved on September 19, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm#benefits
Lerner, B. W., & Davidson, T. (2013). H1N1 Influenza A (2009). The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health. Longe, J. L. (Ed.). Detroit, MI: Gale. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX2760200125&v=2.1&u=lirn12711&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=fbaaa39a5ed76068175bf5500abac11f