Flu Vaccines: Know the Facts

By Laura Condon, New Hampshire Director of Advocacy for National Vaccine Information Center

The flu reports have been non-stop this season. You can’t miss them on the radio, on the TV, or even in The Andover Beacon. Last month there was an update on flu count for all schools within the district. It seems that diagnosed flu cases in local schools are few or non-existent. That’s great news.

There was additional advice from New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) promoting the flu shot. At that time it was reported that there were 14 “influenza-related” deaths. The public should be aware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DHHS utilize a calculated average of pneumonia deaths as “influenza-related” deaths, even if the individual never had the flu. Unfortunately, this misrepresents the risk that flu presents.

Death from various causes can be found at the CDC National Vital Statistics Reports. The 2011 preliminary reports indicate that in the US, 52,136 died of pneumonia, but only 1,532 died from influenza. DHHS’s report that an average of 25,000 people dies each year due to influenza is not an accurate representation of the facts.

It has often been reported that vaccination is the best and/or most important step to take to prevent the flu. However, there has been no scientific study comparing vaccination to the many other healthful and safe measures an individual can take to prevent flu and promote wellness. A healthy lifestyle, a nutritious diet, plenty of water, exercise in the sunshine, sufficient sleep, stress reduction, hand washing with soap, and staying away from sick people are all proven, safe, and effective measures to prevent not only the flu but other illnesses as well.

For those who wish to consider influenza vaccination, it is important to consider the value and the risks of this medical procedure. While flu shots are given out like candy everywhere you turn, the public should be aware that vaccines are no assurance of protection and are associated with risks to health from side effects. The decision to vaccinate or not is a serious medical decision.

While it is required that every patient be provided with a Vaccine Information Sheet (VIS), that information is limited and condensed. Every vaccinator should also have available for you the prescribing information provided by the manufacturer. It would be good to ask for that information and then go home and read it and consider if you have further questions before consenting to vaccination.

You may consider these resources as well:

We all play a role in preventing the spread of illness by keeping ourselves healthy and strong, be it by healthy lifestyle practices or vaccination. The important thing is to ask questions so you can make the best decision for yourself. Get the facts. It’s your body. It’s your health.