Debating the flu vaccine
Doctors recommend that everyone, starting with children as young as 6 months old, receive an annual influenza vaccination.
We discuss both sides — those who say that routine yearly vaccination for everyone is a must, and those who say no to the flu vaccine.
You’ve seen the signs everywhere imploring you to get an influenza vaccine — at your doctor’s office, your neighborhood drugstore and even retail superstores like Walmart. You may not hesitate to get one for yourself, but aren’t sure about the risks for pregnant women or children. We talked with parents and experts from both sides so you can decide where you stand.
Flu vaccines for everyone
Influenza is a contagious respiratory infection that is caused by viruses. Healthy people generally suffer no complications, but the very young, the very old, pregnant women, and those with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or cancer (among others) are at a greater risk of serious complications, hospitalizations or death.
The CDC’s current recommendation reads, “Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year.” But some pregnant women, parents and even experts don’t agree.
Not a fan
Cammi Balleck, Ph.D, a naturopath with 10 years of experience, doesn’t believe that flu vaccines are necessary. “The truth is that all vaccines are immune suppressing, meaning they affect immune function for a period of time and can make some people more susceptible to coming down with a viral or bacterial infection,” she explained. “The chemicals, lab-altered viruses and bacteria and foreign DNA from animals and human cell substrates in the vaccines may compromise immune system function and depress immunity — that is the trade-off you are risking.”
Hurley, mom of one, has experienced just that. “I always get the flu after getting the vaccine and never when I skip it,” she told us. “It’s weird — I know the vaccine itself isn't giving me the flu, but it must weaken my immune system to the point where I get sick anyway.” Leah from Massachusetts felt the same. “Definitely not,” she said. “Lots of people still get sick from the strains that it doesn't protect against.”
Others felt that the flu vaccine was necessary for everyone. Dr. Glade Curtis, author of Your Pregnancy Week by Week, feels that it should be a normal and important part of prenatal care for every pregnant mother. “The flu is five times more likely to cause severe illness in a pregnant woman than in a woman who is not pregnant,” he shared. “The normal physiologic changes in a pregnant woman to the heart, immune system and lungs make her more prone to severe illness from influenza.”
Ana, mom of one, also feels that the vaccine is a good idea for all. “I don't vaccinate for my own benefit, but for everyone else who can't,” she said. “Obviously a vaccine isn't going to give 100 percent protection, but I feel it is my duty to try to prevent serious illnesses to the best of my ability. If I know of someone locally who hasn't gotten a flu vaccine on purpose, I will do my best to keep away from them because as a cancer patient, if my husband gets the flu, it's a one-way ticket to the hospital.”
Talk to your doctor
Talk to your doctor — or naturopath — to get more information. If you opt out, or are interested in boosting your immune system , there are measures you can take to improve your family’s health. “I recommend a diet of immune-boosting foods and taking vitamin D, vitamin C, a good probiotic every day and a whole food multivitamin,” said Balleck. She recommends foods like spirulina, eggs, protein, coconut oil, chlorella, berries, garlic, ginger and cinnamon, as well as mushrooms and kefir.
And Dr. Curtis urges pregnant women, “If your doctor doesn’t offer you the vaccine, ask for it! Do this for your health and for the well-being of your baby.”