Going Gluten-FreeOctober 25, 2011

To Get a Flu Shot... Or Not

Well, we tried. I took my son Joseph to his allergist to get a scratch test for the flu vaccine—and possibly the flu shot for the first time in his 8 years of life. My chest has been tight with worry since I made the appointment a week ago. I was concerned about the possibility of Joseph having a life-threatening reaction if he received the vaccine, yet also worried about yet another stressful flu season for my asthmatic son if he didn't receive the vaccine's protection.

When talk of the flu begins each season, I can feel the anxiety building. I had never considered getting a flu vaccine for Joseph because he is allergic to egg, an ingredient in the vaccine, along with peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk and soy. Of course, as an asthmatic he unfortunately also is in the high-risk group for complications from the flu. For the past few years, he’s had rough winters with the flu and other respiratory viruses.

This year's venture into the land of flu shots was based on the latest recommendation from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that many people with egg allergy could safely receive the seasonal vaccine. I read the recommendation and many people's stories about successfully getting the flu shot even with an egg allergy. But with all we do to ensure that Joseph avoids all of the allergens that threaten his life, it freaks me out to think that something that contains egg would be injected into his body. So after his allergist suggested we try it out with certain precautions, I turned to my local support group, NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely), for a bit more advice. As always, they delivered. It was because of their tips and support that I was able to walk into that office, knowing that it could be a rough visit either way.

The plan was that if Joseph didn't react to the scratch test, he would get 10 percent of the vaccine and then the other 90 percent if he didn't react from the first part of the dose, as recommended by the CDC. Because he hadn't had his food allergies tested in more than a year, the nurse did a scratch test for several foods and the flu vaccine. As Joseph lay on his stomach, playing his Nintendo DSi, I watched the hives develop. This is nothing new for us. I'm used to watching big hives grow on Joseph's back during allergy testing. He's used to it, too, and never complains about how bad his back itches during the 15 minutes the allergens are creating a design on his back. But this time, I was looking for a specific result to see if he could receive the vaccine.

The flu vaccine spot wasn't a huge hive like the spot with egg and the other spots with Joseph's known allergens, but it also wasn't a completely negative reaction. Joseph's doctor decided that the flu vaccine would be too risky in light of the scratch test results.

Joseph smiled and jumped off of the exam table, ready to head to the lab for his blood work. He was happy not to get the flu shot. He wasn't concerned about the needle since he receives regular immunotherapy shots for his environmental allergies, but he, too, had been a bit worried about how his body would react to the vaccine. I was partly relieved about not dealing with a potential reaction. But the tightness in my chest did not go away as quickly as I had expected after the appointment. After all, my asthmatic son is still facing a long flu season ahead. 

Living Without contributor Wendy Mondello blogs about food allergies at http://tasteofallergyfreeliving.blogspot.com.

Comments (17)

The effect of vitamin D levels on immunity to the flu virus was first proposed by Robert Edgar Hope-Simpson in 1965. He proposed that the cause of influenza epidemics during winter may be connected to seasonal fluctuations of vitamin D, which is produced in the skin under the influence of solar (or artificial) UV radiation. This could explain why influenza occurs mostly in winter and during the tropical rainy season, when people stay indoors, away from the sun, and their vitamin D levels fall.

Per the CDC, 8.5% of all pneumonia and influenza deaths and 2.1% of all respiratory and circulatory deaths were influenza-related, so the oft-quoted '36,000 annual flu deaths' is over-inflated as these other categories are lumped together to give the impression that the death rate from influenza is much greater than it actually is. The actual numbers are less than 1,000 people per year and most of these deaths occur in the elderly population and other immune-compromised groups, not to mention from the flu vaccine itself.

Flu shots have never been proven to be safe and their efficacy rate is less than 11% if at all. By the time the flu $hot reaches the marketplace, the ever-mutating flu viruses have morphed into other strains and the $hot cannot possibly confer immunity.

The elephant in the room, although not profitable for drug co$, is the immune system. Keeping yourself healthy by eating organically whenever possible, drinking pure water, avoiding sugar and dairy, both mucus-forming foods, getting sunshine either outside or via a tanning bed which emits the necessary UVB spectrum that the body needs in order to produce vitamin D, and hence calcium, exercise, etc. are all factors which will keep one's immune system functioning properly. However, healthy patients do not contribute to the bottom line of drug co$ profits. "Womb to tomb, a customer for life" is the drug cos' motto per my sister-in-law, a former pharma rep, now pharmacist.

Vaccines cause damage and over $91 million was paid out in 2007 to vaccine-damaged individuals. Close to $2 billion since '86 when Congress enacted legislation to indemnify drug co$ from the numerous lawsuits filed on behalf of families whose children suffered permanent damage from the DTP shot, including death, which paid out $250,000, small change for a precious life. These numbers are under-represented in that less than 10% of vaccine reactions are reported. So exponentially speaking, the numbers are much greater as doctors are remiss about reporting these reactions to VAERS. It's not good business to have a patient die or become damaged on your watch from vaccine reactions, hence the under-reporting.

Posted by: Unknown | July 12, 2012 10:51 PM    Report this comment

Here's something to consider about the flu shot. In 2009, the Cochrane Collaboration (an independent research organization) reviewed every influenza vaccine study conducted between 1948 and 2007.

Their conclusion: "There is no evidence whatsoever that seasonal influenza vaccines have any effect, especially in the elderly and young children. No evidence of reduced cases, deaths, complications."

Posted by: CHRIS G | October 28, 2011 12:07 AM    Report this comment

Oh Wendy I feel for you and the spot you are in, go with your gut, I have not had the flu shot nor any of my 4 kids, nor my husband and we don't get the flu!! The problem at hand however is your son and his allergies. The GM factor to our food supply in the US has indeed raised an entire generation of kids that have high levels of food allergies!! What you have to do is increase your child's immune system. Get him on a good probiotic that is alive, 90+ % that are out there are dead on arrival and not worth the expense. Vitamin C, 1000ml's of vitamin D3 everyday, multivitamin. Getting the flu shot only weakens our own immune system and it only is effective (the shot) against the lab created bugs at 25% at best!! And yet not effective against the mutated ones that come out new each year. Good luck!!

Posted by: tl D | October 27, 2011 1:40 PM    Report this comment

In Canada there are alternative, in which the vaccine, has been grown in a medium other than egg. Can you try that?

Posted by: Rosemary M | October 27, 2011 1:13 PM    Report this comment

My daughter is 17 and has never had a flu shot, she has diary allergies, eggs, red meats. I make sure she gets Vit D and a multivitamin. She stays very healthy without them. She also uses hand sanitizer when she goes shopping and is touching things lots of others have touched.

Posted by: Sandra S | October 27, 2011 12:56 PM    Report this comment

I do NOT get the flu shot for many reasons but the most important being that this years flu shot only protects you from last years strain of flu. That's why those that choose to take the shots must get them every year. I am not a doctor so would never try to influence anyone one way or the other. It must be each persons own choice, hopefully after reading and learning as much as possible about the shot. Good luck!

Posted by: Wanda S | October 27, 2011 12:28 PM    Report this comment

For years I haven't gotten a flu shot, but every now and then (five years or more between shots) the doctor would talk me into getting one and I would get deathly ill - until I read recently that the flu shot contains gluten, the lights went on and I said, no wonder I got so sick all those times. I would never ever get the shot and would tell everyone I know NOT to get the shot.

Posted by: Cromaxgal | October 27, 2011 12:23 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for running this article. Very helpful. I didn't know the flu vaccine granules were available OTC, and years ago my immunologist told me not to have the shots - ever.

Posted by: gwink | October 27, 2011 12:08 PM    Report this comment

Wendy, I too am sorry that your son has so many algeries. I agree with others who say Vit D is extremely important. As for the flu shot....NEVER. Every Fall I take Homeopathic verson of the flu shot. They are small vials of nice tasting granuals that melt in your mouth. You take one per week for 5 weeks. There is also a homeopathic flu shot from a Naturopathic Dr. I asked my Naturopath which was best and he preffered the granuals as they are spread over time. You can purchase these at any health food store.

Posted by: Diane B | October 27, 2011 11:58 AM    Report this comment

Allergy Associates of La Crosse (WI) gives the flu shot as an interdermal (just under the skin) application as opposed to subcutaneous. They also have developed a protocol using less vaccine which has shown to be as effective. They also treat allergies with sublingual immunotherapy drops under the tongue (used at home) rather than weekly shots at the doctor's office! www.allergyassociatesoflacrosse.com

Posted by: sarake | October 27, 2011 10:42 AM    Report this comment

No flu shot is worth the risk. At best it only provides a 25% chance that the type of flu vaccine administered will be the same strain as you might encounter. You could take a flu shot and still end up with the flu! Flu vaccines are hazardous to the immune system. Anyone with allergies should not have them. You are better off with taking a good daily dose of vitamin D, (1,000 mg for children, up to 5,000 for adults) Vitamin C, Sambucol elderberry extract, combined with frequent hand washing. Do not take the CDC's advice, they are more interested in pedaling vaccinations than they are in your son's health. Follow the money.

Posted by: ByGrace | October 27, 2011 10:16 AM    Report this comment

My five year old daughter is also allergic to eggs, as well as peanuts and soy. I was very worried about her getting the flu shot. Our allergist did a scratch test for the vaccine and she only got a small hive, so they divided the flu shot into five doses, administered with a shot every ten minutes. She did fine, although it was hard to give five different shots. She did have a hive at each of the needle sites, but since we were worried about a stronger reaction, it wasn't so bad. She was carefully monitored the entire time. I'm glad she will be protected against the flu this season. We'll probably have to do the flu shot like this every year, though.

Posted by: Katie P | October 27, 2011 9:36 AM    Report this comment

Wendy, I am so admiring of how thoughtful and careful you were with this whole decision around the vaccine. And now that you've concluded that it is not worth the risk involved, it seems clear that you will find other methods for protecting your son Joseph this season. I see some good ideas above, and I trust you'll find more in your research. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and giving voice to yet one more of a mother's dilemmas in parenting!

Posted by: The WSW C | October 27, 2011 9:05 AM    Report this comment

What about using Homeopathic Flu Vaccines? These are taken orally and are very effective against protecting one from the flu. You can purchase these at most Health Food Stores. They work by stimulating the immune system. It's worth a shot.

Posted by: Chriss S | October 27, 2011 8:56 AM    Report this comment

I so not tak flu shots because I am allergic to egg whites. I have had the flu twice in my life --the Asian as well as the Hong Kong variety. Since then I do not get the Flu. I also take Sambucol eldery extract during cold and flu season to help my immune system and that works.

Posted by: Mary E M | October 27, 2011 8:56 AM    Report this comment

I so not tak flu shots because I am allergic to egg whites. I have had the flu twice in my life --the Asian as well as the Hong Kong variety. Since then I do not get the Flu. I also take Sambucol eldery extract during cold and flu season to help my immune system and that works.

Posted by: Mary E M | October 27, 2011 8:56 AM    Report this comment

I so not tak flu shots because I am allergic to egg whites. I have had the flu twice in my life --the Asian as well as the Hong Kong variety. Since then I do not get the Flu. I also take Sambucol eldery extract during cold and flu season to help my immune system and that works.

Posted by: Mary E M | October 27, 2011 8:56 AM    Report this comment

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