by: Jaty Tam, ND
First published Oct 2010

The season flu vaccine will be rolling out to Ontarians in mid-October. Get ready for the commercials and ads encouraging you to roll up your sleeves and bare your arms for the shot. If you’re unsure about whether to get the flu vaccine this year, I hope to provide a balanced view to help you make a well-informed choice for you and your family.


WHAT is in the Flu Shot?

The influenza virus, which causes the flu, is a fickle little thing. It is a virus with rapidly changing genes, thereby changing itself slightly to evade our immune systems. Like many viral infections, the immune system remembers the virus after the first infection, making you immune to further attacks. The influenza virus is constantly changing and can therefore infect you over and over again, each time with a slightly different genetic mutation or “strain”.

Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies 3 strains of influenza virus that they think will cause the worse symptoms or fatalities, or with a quickest rate of spread. For the 2011-2012 flu vaccine, they have chosen the 2009 H1N1 A virus, and 2 other influenza strains – an H3N2 influenza A Perth and influenza B Brisbane.

WHO should get the Flu Shot?

The Public Health Agency of Canada is encouraging all children over 6 months and adults of all ages to get the seasonal flu shot. They have stated that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women. They have encouraged special groups to get vaccinated, including health care workers, and household contacts of persons who cannot be immunized, including those living with children under 6 months old.

WHO should NOT get the Flu Shot?

The following individuals should NOT get season flu vaccine:

  • Infants under 6 months
  • Those with a previous anaphylactic to any element of the vaccine
  • Those with hypersensitivity to eggs (vaccine is made on an egg base)
  • Those with an active high fever (wait until fever is resolved)
  •  Those with previous Guillan-Barré Syndrome within 8 weeks of a seasonal flu vaccine


Is there MERCURY in the flu shot?

The Canadian season flu vaccine contains a preservative called “thimerosal” which is used to prevent contamination of the vaccine. Thimerosal is made up of about 50% mercury, and has been speculated to contribute to neurological disorders such as autism, ADHD, and speech/language disabilities. It is also the component of the vaccine most likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Thimerosal has been in use since the 1930’s, but has since been removed from most childhood vaccines. It is still used in the flu shot because it is a multi-use vaccine, and therefore more susceptible to contamination. The flu vaccine contains about 25 micrograms of mercury. It is considered a non-toxic dose. The government has trivialized this amount by stating that it is “significantly less than you would find in a can of tuna” – however, I’d like to point out that we don’t inject the mercury from tuna into our veins.

Despite its thimerosal content, the flu vaccine continues to be recommended for pregnant women and children over 6 months of age.

Why did I get sick from the flu shot? And how do I prevent it?

The flu shot is made from killed virus and is not supposed to cause an influenza infection, however many people report feeling flu-like symptoms after getting the flu shot. This may be because your immune system is over-reacting to the virus in the vaccine, or because the shot has temporarily weakened your immune system, making you susceptible to another viral infection (like the common cold).

If you decide to get the flu shot, it is important to boost your immune system, starting at least 2 weeks before you get pricked. This will ensure your body responds in an appropriate manner and lessen any side effects.

Can I still get sick if I get the flu shot?

The flu shot only protects you from the 3 influenza strains included this year. There are many other circulating influenza strains that can still make you sick. Also, the flu vaccine does not protect you from the common cold, which has symptoms similar to the flu.

Getting the flu shot does not make you invincible. The best way to protect yourself and keep yourself healthy is to make sure your immune system is strong.

Is it dangerous NOT to get the flu shot? Can I die from the flu?

Although influenza causes a small number of deaths annually, these fatalities are typically in individuals who have weakened immune systems. By keeping yourself healthy and your immune system strong, you should be able to fend off most cold and flu attacks, and if you get infected, you should be able to fully recover within a 2 week period. If you live or work with people who have weakened immune systems and are thus more susceptible to serious complications or fatality if exposed to the flu, you may want to protect yourself in order to minimize the risk of passing it on to them. But again, the shot doesn’t prevent ALL strains of flu.

Final thoughts…

There are obvious pros and cons to getting the flu shot. No matter what you chose for you and your family, remember that the best protection, whether or not you get the flu shot, is to build and maintain a strong immune system. This will protect you if you get the shot, and protect you from ALL strains of the influenza virus and viruses that cause the common cold.


To find out more about the flu shot and/or your immune health, contact us today.

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