I definitely don’t consider it my place to tell a patient whether they should get the flu vaccine or not. As a naturopathic doctor I view my role as a consultant. I provide the facts and figures, and my patient can then decide what they consider to be the best course of action for themselves. Of course I give my professional opinion, but I am well aware that I could never force a patient to exercise, eat brown rice or even take a vitamin. My personal philosophy is that patients need to be well informed in order to make the best decisions for their own health. I think this applies to all forms of treatments, whether someone is taking homeopathic medicines or antibiotics. It’s important to know the benefits as well as the possible side effects, especially because often times the side effects can be counteracted. Using the example of antibiotics, if a patient takes “friendly” bacteria such as Lactobacilus Acidophilus during the course of their treatment, they can avoid possible unpleasant side effects like diarrhea, gas and bloating.
In the case of the flu vaccine, and vaccines in general, there is much heated debate from both sides of the argument. It is a very sensitive subject, one which is impossible to fully address in this brief blog post. I will take the opportunity however, to talk about some very important information you can research in order to make an informed decision about the flu vaccine.
1. Your child: The number one thing to consider is your child. Your child’s body is unique and how their body reacts to different substances like vaccines is also unique. Ask yourself, how was his or her previous vaccine experience? Were there any strange symptoms like incessant crying and screaming? Did your child become unresponsive, limp? Did they develop a persistent high fever (40°C)? Or sleep for excessive periods of time? If this is the case, discuss these concerns with your doctor. Trust your instinct. You know your child best!
2. Ingredients: Read the package inserts for the vaccines you plan to give your child, just as you would read the ingredient list of a packaged food item before you buy it. You can ask for the package insert from the hospital or clinic, but often times it is written in Chinese. It’s best to do your homework before your appointment. If you know the name of the vaccine beforehand you can look it up online. Here is the package insert for Fluarix. Look at the ingredients in the vaccine. In flu vaccines the growth medium often used is egg based albumin. If you know your child has an allergy to eggs, it’s probably best to avoid this type of vaccine. Another ingredient which one should be aware of is thimerosol. It contains approximately 50% mercury. Mercury is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. Thankfully it has been phased out of many vaccines, especially those given to children; however some flu vaccines still contain it. Other ingredients to be aware of are formaldehyde, octoxynol-9, and polysorbate 80.
3. Timing: The conventional view is that it’s perfectly fine to give a vaccine to a child when they are sick with the cold or flu. My suggestion is to wait until they are well. When a child receives a vaccine their immune system is called to action to mount an immune response. The more effectively this response is mounted, the better the immunity conferred on the child, in other words the vaccine will work better. When their immune system is already busy fighting off another infection, it’s easy to see how their bodies might not be able to optimally react to the vaccine. Another suggestion I give to my patients is to not give more than one vaccine at a time. Again, this differs from the conventional view, but if we consider how our bodies function in nature we can see how separating the timing of the vaccines might be a good idea. We are never exposed to a barrage of life threatening diseases at once. When we get a vaccine our immune system reacts as if it were afflicted with the actual disease. Again, the idea is not to overwhelm the immune system and allow the body to deal with one shot at a time. This is especially important for young children. Also, clinical trials do not test multiple vaccines at once, it is assumed that each is safe individually therefore together there shouldn’t be a problem.
I should also mention that recently the Cochrane Review published some very interesting research pointing to the fact that the flu vaccine is not as effective in preventing the flu or it’s complications as was previously believed. According to their research for children under the age of 2 the vaccine was just as effective as a placebo (meaning a sugar pill). Click here to read more. The Cochrane Collaborative is a highly regarded, authoritative reviewer of medical literature and research.
You might just be asking yourself, are there any alternatives? The answer is yes! And since this blog post is much longer than I anticipated, I point you to another fantastic blog post on this site for more information.
Hopefully this blog post has given you something to think about. It all comes down to risk assessment, what is a greater risk, the disease or the vaccine? Ultimately the decision is up to you, so be sure to do your research, ask questions, and choose the course of action that’s right for you and your family.
Dr. Melissa Rodriguez is a Naturopathic doctor who lives in Beijing with her family. Arrange a consultation with her at International Medical Center (6465 1561) or visit her website, www.drmelissarodriguez.com.