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Should I Get A Flu Shot?

Written by Jenny Thompson   
Tuesday, 07 October 2008 13:33
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It happens every year - the days grow cooler and shorter, Fall prepares for winter and someone always asks this question:

"What is your advice on getting a flu shot?"

This year, that question came from an HSI member named Karen. And my answer to Karen, and to everyone who asks that question, is that I'm not in a position to give advice about flu shots. Only a doctor or other qualified health care provider should offer such advice. So while I'm not going to recommend or discourage you from a yearly flu shot, I do have information you can use to weigh the pros and cons of the vaccine, along with some useful insights about how to help your immune system prepare for the seasonal attack of virus and bacteria.

No extra charge for the antifreeze

There is no doubt that many thousands of the people who receive flu shots this season will make it from Labor Day to Memorial Day without coming down with a case of influenza. So taken at face value: if it works, it works - enough said. But you should stop reading now if you'd like to remain unaware of the complete contents of a flu shot. I'll tell you this: it's not pretty.

Each year the flu vaccine is newly redesigned, using several strains from different types of flu that were common the season before. So basically you're getting a vaccine that is, in theory, ideal for protecting you from last year's primary flu types. Meanwhile, vaccine developers cross their fingers and hope that whatever new flu mutation comes our way this season is not much different than last year's flu.

But that shot at your doctor's office contains much more than just flu strains. The vaccine is prepared with chicken embryo fluid, inoculated with the living flu strains. The fluid is then treated with formaldehyde to inactivate the virus.

Thimerosal, a mercury derivative, is injected to help preserve the mixture. Ethylene glycol (better known as antifreeze) and another chemical called phenol are added to disinfect. And because animal cells are used for this process, animal viruses are sometimes introduced into the vaccine, undetected. This has happened as recently as 1995.

Now ask yourself: If you were intending to purchase a dietary supplement, and the label offered this warning: "May contain traces of formaldehyde, thimerosal, phenol, ethylene glycol, and animal cells," would you buy it?