To Get the Flu Shot—Or Not
By Jeff Roslow
Be informed and decide for yourself.
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, we reflect on the fact that there was an outbreak of the Spanish Influenza, which killed up to 100 million people around the world that year.
It was known as one of the deadliest outbreaks of the flu virus to hit the planet as it made the rounds three times in 1918 and 1919.
Today, coming off a particularly busy season last winter, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), many doctors, and organizations are recommending people get the flu vaccine. However, even still after nearly 80 years since the flu vaccine was formulated, people still hesitate to get it.
The Polk County School District teamed with Healthy Schools to provide students with a free vaccine. Offers are all over for cheap or free flu shots in places like Walgreens, Publix, and many pharmacies. The county’s Health Department offers free flu shots.
The CDC reports the flu can be a serious illness, especially for young children and adults older than 65. It can also be more damaging to pregnant women and those with health issues, it claims. Flu vaccines protect people from a number of strains of the virus.
The CDC and the World Health Organization recommend a yearly vaccination for nearly all people older than 6 months. And a European prevention and control center recommends two vaccines per year for pregnant women, elderly, children from 6 months and those with health conditions.
Critics of the vaccine point to the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit research organization on scientific medical information. It concluded “vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.”
The Cochrane Collaboration says there is no evidence that its effect for those younger than 18 or older than 65 makes it more necessary for them. For those between 18 to 65 years of age, it fails 50 to 70 percent of the time. There has been no decrease in flu transmission rates or hospitalization rates for those who got the vaccine, according to the Cochrane reports.
Reasons people give in various surveys show they do not get vaccinated is because they don’t believe it’s effective, they will get sick and they are already being healthy.
With information flooding both the pro and con columns of the flu vaccine, it leaves people wondering whether or not to get one.
One woman says she never got the flu vaccine until about seven years ago. She got the flu then wound up with a cold that lasted “about six or seven months.” From then she has gotten a vaccine every fall. She was out of work for a couple of weeks, but says she felt sick for a long time when she got back to work.
“I don’t think it was flu,” says Bartow resident Jacki Poole, “But it just wouldn’t go away.”
Getting the Vaccine
“The flu does not discriminate,” says Nicole Riley, a spokesperson for the Polk County Department of Health.
She says the health department here goes all over the county in the fall and winter to give and tell people why they should get the flu vaccine. Booths are set up at farmer’s markets and other outdoor events. Last month at the Lakeland Farmer’s Market the traffic was steady there, she says.
“It went well,” Riley says. “We strongly encourage Polk residents (to get vaccinated).”
The Department of Health will vaccinate those of any age and provides different strains of the vaccine. Those 18 and younger are free and adults are covered under a specific program.
“I got mine in September and it’s good through the flu season,” she says. She encourages people to get vaccinated before Halloween. However, getting it later is OK too. According to the Department of Health the virus’ numbers and strength can be more severe as the season continues into the spring.
While last year provided a nearly record-setting in outbreaks, there is nothing on the horizon that will bring on a stronger flu, a virus that mutates often.
“Every year the flu changes,” says Dr. Gordon Rafool, “It evolves and because it can evolve those flu viruses out there can mutate and become something different.”
This year, Riley says, there are no strange outbreaks but there is no way to dictate how this season will fare. She adds that by getting the vaccine you are safer from the potentially deadly virus, especially to the higher risk pregnant women, children and the elderly.
“I was pregnant and I saw that studies the vaccination can protect young babies in being born. It can build up their immunity,” Riley says.
Dr. Rafool says the 2017-18 winter brought a flu season that saw about 80,000 deaths and 900,000 people hospitalized in the US.
“It was a real tragedy. Over 180 children were killed by it,” he says. Add to that, hospitalizations of people 65 years and older was the highest in 18 years.
Part of the reason for this is the declining number of people who do not get a flu vaccine. From 2009-2016, the CDC reported the number each year who get the vaccine is about 54 percent from 6 months to 17 years and in adults the percentage is about 41.
“The reason it’s declining is ridiculous,” Dr. Rafool says. They have their reason, but it cannot cause the flu because it is a killed virus. A killed virus does not cause the flu. People can get achy, but that’s part of the immunization.”
The relatively recent pandemic that swept the world 100 years ago was the outbreak of the Spanish flu. More people died from that than did in the World War I, the Korean War and Vietnam, Rafool points out.
“The U.S. lost 50,000,” Rafool says. “This was one we have not seen in a hundred years. It will probably show its head in the near future.”
Finding it though, in 2018 is much easier than it was then, Rafool adds.
“We can detect the flu in 15 minutes. Take a swab, and get it out of the nose. There is a system in place from the CDC if we get the Spanish flu.”
Dr. Rafool also cites people believing the vaccine may cause autism.
“Some say it causes autism and that is wrong,” Dr. Rafool says. “It’s been refuted a couple of times.”
Dr. Rafool, who says he has been getting the vaccine for 50 years, says there are different strengths and people should know what they should get. Also, which type to get.
“I don’t recommend the spray for anyone over 49,” he says. “It’s not as effective with some things they have.”
At Gessler Clinic in Winter Haven, where Dr. Rafool is employed, shots are given in the clinic and insurance pays for it. There are many other places to do it cheap or free. The point, he says, is to get it done.
“I can’t imagine a medical doctor trained in traditional medicine would be opposed to it,” Dr. Rafool says.
Riley urges people, regardless of what they’ve heard, to get a vaccine.
“Always get protection for everybody regardless of if the season is going to be the worst or not. People should get it,” she says. “It’s come a long way since the development of a flu vaccine. The numbers have not drastically decreased, but we don’t want to back to where we were. One death is too much.”
Not getting the Vaccine
There is at least one medical doctor that has publicly denounced the absolute necessity for getting the flu vaccine. That is Dr. Cammy Benton, of Benton Integrative Medicine. She has through the years decided the flu vaccine should not be regarded as mandatory.
As she was first raising her family, doctors advised her getting a flu shot was potentially ‘lifesaving,’ and only irresponsible and unintelligent people refused it.
She says her mother, brother and sister all got high fevers, body aches and upper respiratory infections within 24 hours of taking the vaccine for three years in a row.
She says she is a “conventionally trained medical doctor.” She dismissed the notion the vaccine was the cause of their sickness. She coupled that with the her never getting ill after taking the vaccine, though she did suffer from colds. She says if you look at the science epidemiology studies in humans means the vaccine can and does make you sick.
Dr. Benton says in medical school students don’t look critically at vaccines of all kinds. They never spoke about the adverse events, the ingredients or the vaccine’s efficacy rates. Instead, she says, students are taught to what is little more than propaganda about vaccines.
The scientific evidence does not support having a yearly flu vaccine
One place where she was previously employed the company mandated flu vaccines. When she called the chair of the committee to ask to see evidence that would lead to a mandate, she was not offered any articles to read, but was told the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Heart Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommended strongly getting the flu vaccine, she says.
“I will put it to you that any conventionally trained medical doctor who is willing to impartially research the science behind the influenza vaccine safety, efficacy and necessity is in for a surprise,” she writes in her blog.
Dr. Benton called the Cochrane Collaboration, the “gold standard” of medical research, she says. It takes a less than urgent view on the flu vaccine than what is generally heard.
It finds a lack of evidence showing that it is effective for children younger than 18 and adults older than 65. Those from 18 to 65 it is about 30 percent to 50 percent effective.
Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost, Cochrane Collaboration reports. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission. There has also been no meaningful decrease in transmission or hospitalization rates for those who have gotten the vaccine.
Mulberry resident Zee Ash says when she was 9 years old she got the flu after getting her flu vaccine. She had a fever of 102 for four days. She couldn’t eat and spent a lot of time in bed. Her mother, a licensed practical nurse, never got her a flu shot since and she’s glad not to do it.
“I haven’t gotten it since,” she says. “I’m scared I’d get sick again.”