Flu Shots: Pros and Cons of Employee Vaccination Programs
“Do I need a flu shot?” This question always comes up repeatedly this time of year, and I will attempt to present an unbiased review of the pro and con opinons of being vaccinated against influenza.
In the second part of this article we will examine the ethics behind employee mandated flu vaccination programs, and the questionable ulterior motives of flu vaccine manufacturers promoting these mandatory programs.
First of all, I would NOT like my honest critical eye on the cons of the flu vaccine to stop anyone from getting a flu shot. If you feel you need a flu shot—then by all means please go get one right now.
However, if you are a person that prefers to thoroughly examine new medications or vaccines before implementing them, then this discussion is for you. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) makes blanket recommendations based off the research conducted by flu vaccine manufacturers.
These recommendations are designed with the intention to keep as many people healthy and free of influenza as possible, however they address the needs of a POPULATION, whereas this discussion is intended to weigh the benefits vs the risks for the INDIVIDUAL.
Remember that if you do opt out of having a flu shot you have a certain ethical responsibility to the immunocompromised people that can die from influenza related complications. If you indeed get influenza, you should STAY at HOME.
Can a Flu Shot Give Me the Flu?
Before I start my discussion I just need every single person reading this article to wrap their brains around the fact that the flu shot does NOT give you the flu…the flu shot does not even contain a live virus, it just contains an inactive component of the virus so that your immune system can easily recognize the flu virus before it makes you sick. If you get the flu a few days after getting vaccinated it is likely that you CAUGHT the flu in the exact place that influenza is likely proliferating—your doctor’s office.
If you feel ill immediately after having the flu vaccine you are probably having an allergic reaction because you are allergic to eggs; are experiencing normal side effects as your immune system forms antibodies; or are the unlucky one to end up with a rare but very severe and serious condition thought to be related to vaccines called Guillan Barre syndrome.
What are the Side Effects of the Flu Shot?
Typical side effects of the flu shot are fatigue and muscle aches. It is perfectly normal for this to occur for a short period of time while your immune system creates antibodies to the newly introduced vaccine particles. Occasionally some may experience cold like symptoms or soreness at the injection site. Extreme symptoms may occur if you are allergic to eggs. Extreme and (rare) numbness and tingling, or paralyzing symptoms such a Guillan Barre should be reported to your doctor immediately.
How Many People Develop Guillan Barre?
Although only about 2 in 100,000 develop Guillan Barre Syndrome (GBS). There has not been a clear connection between the development of GBS and flu vaccine since the 1976 swine flu vaccine. Most cases develop for unknown reasons. The disease is thought to be autoimmune in nature and the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body, including the nervous system which then may result in paralysis.
Currently the CDC is more concerned about the meningococcal vaccine causing GBS and is investigating complaints related to the administration of Menactra. While GBS is a rare and highly unlikely side effect of influenza vaccine, it may occur with the administration of ANY vaccine. Symptoms typically start with numbness in the hands and feet which may continue to paralysis.
If you think you have these symptoms, or have ever had these symptoms after receiving a vaccination you should notify your doctor immediately, most doctors will not administer vaccinations to anyone suffering from or recovered from GBS.
How Does the Flu Shot Work?
The shot simply primes your system to the new protein sequence of THIS YEARS flu. Early recognition is how the vaccine works to prevent the flu. However, if scientists are unable to correctly identify the new molecular sequence of the flu they anticipate will afflict people in the northern hemisphere this year– six months in advance, then the shot will not be effective in preventing the flu you are exposed to through coughing, sneezing, and other close contact.
How Effective is the Flu Shot?
If researchers pick the correct flu sequences for their vaccines, then the shot is estimated to be preventative for up to 70-90% of HEALTHY people under the age of 65. That is pending of course that the antigenic strains were chosen appropriately. So those numbers are rarely seen, do not promise protection for the immunocompromised, and are the BEST case scenario. Flu vaccine is 80% effective in PREVENTING death from influenza related pneumonia in the elderly.
Why do I Have to get a Flu Shot Every Year?
The influenza virus is constantly changing…thus the vaccine must change each year as well. Effective vaccines provide protection for up to a year and a half. Ineffective vaccines still provide partial protection and typically lesson the severity of the flu.
Who Decides if I Need a New Flu Shot?
Well only YOU can decide if you need a flu shot (unless you are a government employee or work at certain hospitals). Many doctors and nurses push flu shots heavily on patients because that is simply all they know and are what they are taught by the CDC. However, the guidelines made by the CDC are ultimately put together with research done by the producers of the flu vaccine, therefore of course the guidelines are going to be erring on the side of OVER vaccinating everyone in our population.
It all boils down to selling more flu vaccines. This is a major money making industry and should therefore for ethical purposes be cast a critical eye as flu vaccinating is becoming more common yet many previously healthy people are complaining of side effects. Protection from the flu is also nowhere near a guarantee. The vaccine is brand new every single year and is nowhere near as efficacious as most other vaccines we commonly administer.
Are Vaccines Safe?
While vaccines are great preventive medicine, and prevention is the name of the game here at Kitchen Table Medicine, I still think that vaccines are not perfect, and the safest vaccines are the ones that have withstood the test of time, and cycled through multiple generations without incident. Because influenza is constantly modifying it’s own structure, scientists creating a flu vaccine also have to update the flu shot every single year.
This means that the flu vaccine you are given this year is entirely different from last year. This prevents us from ever really knowing if the flu shot can withstand the test off time, because it is essentially a new shot each and every year! Anything new always gets a critical review from me, which is why I choose to exercise extreme caution before administering any new vaccine.
The Hippocratic Oath advises we “First Do No Harm”. In most healthy individuals side effects from flu vaccines can be reportedly quite miserable, and while we are still looking at how vaccination practices may be affecting our children with autism, I think it is better to be cautious in our thinking. With that word of caution being said the most important thing for you to do is READ ON and decide if you or your close contacts are at risk of DYING from influenza…and if so then the benefits likely outweigh the risks.
What is Influenza?
Now influenza is not the stomach flu we commonly refer to as “the flu”. This shot is not preventing you from developing symptoms of a viral gastroenteritis that commonly causes diarrhea and vomiting for 2-3 days. Influenza is “the flu” and influenza causes a high fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting and fatigue–and may develop in to a life threatening case of pneumonia for the elderly and immunocompromised.
How Many People Get Influenza Each Year?
According to the Center for Disease Control 10-20% of the American population will be afflicted with influenza each year.
Who Dies from the Flu?
Although most people feel like they are going to die from the flu, chances are they won’t. Typically the very young, the very old, and those that have weakened immune systems from chronic disease such as HIV, cancer, diabetes as well as chronic heart or respiratory problems are at risk of developing secondary infections such as pneumonia that result in death. Influenza doesn’t typically kill people, it just sets the stage for pneumonia to take over.
How Many People Die from Influenza Each Year?
According to the CDC an estimated 36,000 people die from pneumonia related to influenza. These deaths are not your average healthy people. They are the very old, the very young, and the immunocompromised by chronic disease. If you are in this high risk category then you likely should get a pneumococcal vaccination as well.
Who Should NOT have a Flu Shot:
- People currently ill, feverish, or symptomatic.
- People with previous allergy or extreme reaction to the flu shot.
- People that have developed Guillan Barre from a previous vaccination.
- People with allergies to eggs should absolutely under no circumstance have a flu shot. Even if you suspect that you have an egg allergy you should be cautious with most vaccines as some are grown inside chicken eggs.
It is therefore possible to have a severe anaphylactic allergic reaction to the flu vaccine. Always notify your physician of food allergies for this exact reason. Chances are your food allergy doesn’t really matter that much, except in occasional cases like the flu shot.
Better to be safe than sorry though, right? If you fall in the high risk group and are uncertain if you have an egg allergy ask your doctor to be tested, and if negative for egg allergy you are then able to get the flu vaccine.
CDC Highly Recommends Flu Shots for:
- Immunocompromised people: HIV, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases that suppress the body’s ability to fight infections such as influenza.
- People with chronic respiratory problems: Asthma, COPD, emphesema, lung cancer, babies with respiratory problems.
- People with chronic heart Problems
- Children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years (new change this year, previously was only for children over the age of 6 months and under the age of five).
- Women that will be pregnant during the flu season (get it before you are pregnant if you can, pregnant women should always be cautious about taking ANY medicine while pregnant).
- People who live or work in nursing homes.
- Family members and household contacts of babies under six months of age (six months is the earliest you can vaccinate a child).
- Anyone working with or living with people in this category that are at risk for dying from the flu.
Flu Shot is Considered Optional for:
- Those between the ages of 18 and 50. (CDC changed the pediatric recommendations this year, previously it was 6 to 50. Although two subsequent years of study in the efficacy of flu vaccine in children under the age of five found that the vaccine was ineffective as noted in the research study listed below. Your child does not have to be vaccinated against your wishes. If a doctor or nurse tries to insist on this–find a new doctor!)
- Those that are healthy and without chronic disease.
- People that are NOT in frequent close contact from the aforementioned people that die from the flu.
Flu Shots are Mandatory For:
- Government Employees
- Employees of certain companies: Thanks to some great marketing tactics by the makers of the flu vaccine, flu shots are now mandatory for employees of many hospitals.
Can Employers Mandate Flu Shots?
- Currently 48 states allow exemptions for those that do not believe in vaccination for religious purposes.
- Otherwise, chances are your options aren’t that great for getting out of an employer mandated flu shot. Some hospital’s go as far as to demand allergy testing if you claim you are allergic to the flu shot. If you are allergic to the shot your employer may request that you go in for testing and if you prove negative to allergy, you may still be vaccinated. If positive allergy for the shot (egg proteins) is determined you then will be told you have to take an anti-viral influenza prophylactic medication for six months that has known severe side effects including depression and suicide per certain NEW hospital protocols.
I understand why a hospital would want to force flu shots on nurses and doctors in close contact with critically ill patients. However, isolated telephone receptionists, IT help desk people, delivery drivers, and other people that don’t even work inside the hospital are also affected by these blanket flu shot policies.
What are Employee’s Rights with Mandatory Flu Shots?
Many employees that have had bad reactions to a flu shot feel that being forced to have a flu shot is against their constitutional rights. Nurses filed a lawsuit against the hospital I previously worked for and WON, flu shots then became optional for nurses, as the hiring contract only mandated a current measles vaccination, and even Hepatitis B was considered optional upon hiring. So you can always sue for your rights.
However, in my experience working for a hospital that made this mandatory–you really don’t have a whole lot of a choice and are just “stuck” with your shot.
Your best option is to just quit. That is exactly what happened at the hospital I worked at for 8 years. People were in such an unbelievable tirade over being forced to have a flu shot that many of them just gave notice after working there for decades. On the final day that employees had to get their flu shot–there was an organized walk out.
What are the Legal Concerns around Employers Mandating Flu Shots?
We don’t know the long term consequences of each new flu vaccine developed and administered each and every year–employers mandating flu shots may be at serious legal risk if ever a bad vaccine batch were to come out, and harm ensued to employees as a result of an employer’s blanket policy. Employers risk class action lawsuits if harm results from flu shots they mandate. Employer’s that want to promote vaccination should do so while making it optional.
Why Do Employers Make Flu Shots Mandatory?
Money of course. Money is what drives most corporate decisions in business, and health care just like everything else is unfortunately a business. Keep in mind that certain employers are only making influenza inoculation mandatory because flu shot manufacturers want to sell more vaccines. Money is almost always the bottom line. The hospitals in return get a break on the cost of vaccines, or “free vaccines for ALL of their employees” by jumping on the “mandatory flu vaccine wagon”. The more hospitals persuaded in to this program for financial reasons, the more inevitable it shall be that other employers will follow suit. The hospital I previously worked for was used as a “role model” in presentations by the flu shot manufacturers that provided our free flu shots.
This is the long term goal of flu vaccine manufacturers–to create a larger distribution of there product. It is not for public health concerns–it is simply for marketing. It is highly unethical for hospital employers to force vaccines on their employees simply because they want to get a break on the price of their flu shots. It is also highly unethical for employers to force flu shots on their employees simply because they want to cut down on the number of sick days used during flu season. A GOOD employer will offer flu shots. A BAD employer will make flu shots mandatory.
Most hospital employees upon hire are only REQUIRED to have their MMR vaccine updated for public health reasons. These new flu vaccine protocols are highly unethical and violate employees rights. Even the Hepatitis B vaccine comes “strongly recommended” and is not mandatory by many hospitals.
The mandatory nature of flu shots is a publicity stunt organized by flu shot manufactures. As more hospitals get on board with this deal then flu shot manufacturers will have that much more leverage to persuade other large corporations to also make flu shots mandatory for employees. This means big bucks for the flu shot manufacturing industry. For Americans it means an unnecessary violation of our constitutional rights. First your employer tells you flu shots, then what’s next for your employer to decide about your health? Forcing flu shots on employees that do not work with critically ill patients is not only unnecessary it is unconstitutional, and sadly unethical.
On the other hand, if you are working closely with critically ill patients such as those with cancer, HIV, severe respiratory problems, and the ICU–it truly is in their best interest that you are vaccinated against the flu, and in my opinion as a health care provider your moral obligation and responsibility. There is no way to know if you are in a prodromal infectious early state of influenza and if you work in the ICU, with HIV or cancer patients you can kill them by exposing them to the flu.
Flu shot manufacturers should be allowed to promote mandatory vaccine programs for only those types of settings. Business owners absolutely have NO right to make decisions about their employee’s health care especially when we move this discussion outside of health care. Most doctors don’t even tell patients what to do when it comes to the difficult decisions that surround vaccinations these days.
What Does an Immunologist Recommend about Vaccine Decision Making?
As taught by Dr. Sheryl Berman, an esteemed immunology professor and researcher, “the best doctors educate patients on the facts about vaccines and let the patient decide.” When Berman was then asked what her personal recommendations are for each vaccine she replied, “As an immunologist I get asked all the time what the right choice is around different vaccines. The answer I give is always the same–the right decision is the decision that is right for you. Only you can make that decision. Educate yourself on all the facts, risks, and benefits before making your decisions about vaccinations.”
CEO’s of businesses should never be allowed to make health care decisions. And they furthermore should not be making health care decisions because they want to save a few bucks.
A flu shot is absolutely ethically warranted for health care employees of in-patient settings. If you don’t want to get a flu shot–then simply find a job somewhere else that does not involve the critically ill. If you REALLY care about your critically ill patients–you will get a flu shot. For everyone else, it should be optional.
What are my Community Responsibilities?
Remember that just because you got vaccinated from the flu does not mean you still can’t get the flu. I believe it is an important MORAL obligation to stay at home if you are sick with the flu. Your doctor will also agree and will be happy to write you or your child a note.
Just because the flu won’t kill you, doesn’t mean that it can’t kill someone else that you are exposing your germs to. Be sure to quarantine yourself or your children until you are no longer symptomatic. If more people would be considerate in this manner we likely would not have as many influenza related deaths. If you are unable to take time off when ill, then you should heavily consider vaccination.
Is it Healthy to get Sick?
Yes, actually being sick according to nature cure philosophy inspires your immune system to do a thorough “clean up”. A good solid sickness where you cough out and blow out and sweat out a bunch of junk is actually quite detoxifying. Suppressing symptoms typically inhibits the natural healing process of our systems and prevents the “Extreme Home Makeovers” that many of us need in order to prevent chronic disease. Chinese Medicine also agrees with this belief in their saying “Many disease long life. One disease short life.” Although acute illness such as the flu may seem like a short term set back, it likely is preventing greater diseases in your system by allowing your immune system to run full force and do a thorough clean up job.
What if There is a Shortage on the Flu Vaccine?
Remember, if there is a flu shot shortage please be considerate to those that truly need the flu shot and skip your vaccination until it is available to the general healthy population. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist to put you on a waiting list and notify you when new shipments come in.
How Else can I Prevent the Flu?
Keep your immune system healthy, don’t smoke, get adequate sleep, cover your face when you cough and sneeze with your ELBOW–not your hands, reduce stress during flu season, take vitamin C 1000mg three times a day, eat immune support breakfast, and immune supporting foods, consume 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, use preventative herbs such as astragalus daily (not echinacea–that is for when you first develop symptoms), increase fish oil and vitamin A (not for pregnant women); decrease alcohol, caffeine, sugar, processed foods, and animal fats.
PLEASE wash your hands regularly before and after touching your face, coughing, sneezing, or being in close contact with someone that is ill. For the third and final time I would like to remind everyone that regardless if they get the flu shot or not–if you come down with symptoms that appear to be influenza you need to STAY at home to protect those at risk of influenza related deaths.
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~Dr. Nicole Sundene