Monday, January 18, 2016

The Flu Shot: Is it worth the risk to your unborn child?

It's been a while since I've written a post.  However, this is probably the most important one I've written.  As usual, I will do my best not to report my personal opinions in this article.  I will further caution you, as the parent or future parent of a child, to do your own research when it comes to the flu vaccine.  Don't take anyone's word (mine included) as the primary factor in your decision-making.  As always, I will list my sources at the end of the report.  They include a copy of the package insert from the flu shot from the FDA, which I will reference later, as well as various other reputable sources.  

A number of claims have been made of illnesses sustained after receiving the flu vaccine.  You can read more about these claims on the US Department of Health and Human Services website, listed below1.  However, our focus in this article is specifically on the potential risks to your unborn child.  I'll start by quoting the package insert for the flu vaccine2.  It reads "It is also not known whether Fluzone can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman or can affect reproduction capacity. Fluzone should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed2." It is commonly claimed by various medical professionals that EVERYONE should get the flu shot.  For most procedures, practitioners are legally required to inform each person receiving a medical procedure or treatment of potential risks and side effects, as well as alternative treatment options.  However, there is no federal requirement to give informed consent for vaccinations3.  What does that mean? It means that you do not legally have to be informed of the potential risks and side effects of a vaccination before having it administered3.   In other words, it is not a legal requirement that pregnant women are informed of potential risks associated with receiving a flu shot. 
            Having said that, what are the potential risks associated with the flu shot on pregnant women? The insert doesn’t really tell us much because, quite frankly, there isn’t a lot of research (if any) available on how the flu shot affects certain populations, in this case pregnant women.  The insert states explicitly that we just don’t know what the risks are2.  Having said that, we do know what the side effects of some of the ingredients in the flu shot are.  One of them is mercury2.  Here is another excerpt from the package insert: “The 5 mL multi-dose vial presentation contains thimerosal, a mercury derivative, added as a preservative. Each 0.5 mL dose from the multi-dose vial contains 25 mcg mercury. Each 0.25 mL dose from the multi-dose vial contains 12.5 mcg mercury.”  It is generally recommended that pregnant women avoid eating white fish due to the high mercury content4.  Four ounces of swordfish contains about 147 micrograms of mercury4.  The FDA advises us that women who are pregnant and children should completely avoid consuming this fish because of the high level of toxicity of mercury.  Although the amount of mercury found in white fish is significantly higher than that found in the flu vaccine, keep in mind that the fish is being ingested and not shot directly into the body.  Ingesting the mercury is a lot less toxic because the majority of the toxic compound is excreted and not absorbed.

As an added bonus, here is a list from the CDC of all of the available forms of the flu vaccine5.  Note that NONE of the shots listed indicated that children under the age of 2 should receive the vaccine.  Also note at the top of the chart it states that individuals who have been previously vaccinated should not receive another dose of the vaccination.  So, based on the research (however limited) and recommendations from the drug manufacturers, as well as the CDC, pregnant women should not be vaccinated unless “clearly needed”2.  What is clearly needed?  Well, that’s up to interpretation.  Note that there are some vaccines now available that do not contain mercury.  If you feel that your immune system is not strong enough to fight off the virus and that you MUST get the flu shot, be sure to ask your physician about the mercury-free option.  Keep in mind though, that even this option is not recommended for children under 2 years of age according to the manufacturers. 

1.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Report from the Department of Justice.

2.  Fluzone Package Insert

3.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention. State Vaccination Requirements

4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know.

5.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Seasonal Influenza Supply for the U.S. 2015-2016 Influenza Season. 

6.  Natural Health and Wellness Chiropractic.  Check out the website for more health information and how to boost your immune system naturally to help prevent illness.