Flu shot and long-term effects

While talking to a friend, the topic of vaccinations and flu shots came up. During the discussion, he said that the flu shot was harmful in the long run. According to “a study” he read about, receiving an annual shot prevents one’s immune system to developing its own resistance to flu strains. His position was that over the long term one would become “addicted” to the flu vaccine, so to speak, and can’t skip a year without getting sick. On the other hand, those who had gone without the vaccine would have stronger immune systems that can handle any flu strain without assistance.

That sounded pretty dubious to me. In casual discussions with others, this view seems to have a decent number of believers. I always thought the quick mutation rate of flu strains negated vaccination immunity as well as independently developed immunity on a pretty much equal basis.

Perhaps I’m one who need my ignorance fought. I’ve never read of this long-term “weakening of the immune system” effect. A Googling of this turned up some obvious quack sites saying “Yes” mixed with some “myth-dispelling” sites that just stated “No” without any evidence.

Is there really scientific evidence for this? Are the people who get regular flu shots actually worse off over the long term?

  1. Getting the actual flu causes cummulative long term damage to one’s health. I got pneumonia from it over 10 years ago. I’m at much higher risk for getting it again. For the rest of my life. The more you get it, the sooner you die. It is in fact a major killer. Eventually, some people just can’t fight it off and die.

  2. The whole freaking point of a flu shot is to strengthen your immune system. It doesn’t reduce your bug fighting abilities, it enhances it.

  3. Don’t ever believe your friend about health (or other) matters. Too gullible for words.

Someone who thinks vaccinations weaken the immune system by preventing it from ‘developing its own resistance to flu strains’ obviously has no idea whatsoever about even the most basic concepts behind vaccination.

The whole point of a vaccination is to allow your body to develop resistance to a virus. By itself. A vaccine contains a virus which is somehow stripped of its ability to cause serious disease. When it’s introduced into your body, your immune system gets a chance to develop its own resistance to the virus by producing antibodies for it. Then, if you’re infected with the real virus, your own immune system is already equipped to fight it. (I can’t find a really adequate technical explanation online, but there might be one out there. A biochemistry or immunology textbook would have one too.)

Your body is not going to ‘get used to’ vaccinations. If anything, someone who has received influenza vaccines in previous years might have an increased ability to fight future strains because antibodies for a similar strain already exist. When I ignorantly submitted to the hazards of vaccination a few days ago, I was told that there was a possibility I might be infected with a strain of influenza that hadn’t been anticipated when the vaccine was prepared, but that there was a possibility I might gain some resistance even to that strain because a similar strain had been included in the vaccine.

I think most opposition to vaccination is based on one of three things:

  • A religious objection to vaccination, such as was formerly espoused by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (but isn’t currently), and probably by other groups.
  • The idea that drugs and vaccines ‘decrease the body’s natural ability to fight disease’, which is essentially a rejection of Western allopathic medicine. For those ignorant of basic medical principles, this seems rather intuitive. Unfortunately, this is one of many cases where empirical evidence goes against intuition.
  • A legitimate scientific concern with a specific vaccine. Examples include the improperly prepared polio vaccine that caused many children to be afflicted with polio, and the evidence that a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal may be linked to autism.

While I agree with the rest of your post, I just must clarify that there really is no evidence that has stood up to critical analysis that thimerosal (or vaccination) is linked to autism. But a large body of good evidence now does exist that does not show vaccines and thimerosal are not having a demonstrable link to autism.

Wow, I garbled that last sentence. I meant to say there is a large body of good evidence which finds no link connecting thimerosal and vaccinations to autism.

Need weekend. Soon.

And just how does your friend explain the high mortality rate of the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic? There were no flu shots back then. So why did so many young, otherwise healthy people die if their supposedly “stronger” immune systems could “handle any flu strain without assistance”?

Your friend clearly has NO idea what he’s talking about.

Has anyone done a cost effective study on flu shots. I get one simply cause I got the flu in 96 and it was bad. But I haven’t had it since. I have gotten the flu shot every year but two since.

By cost effective I mean monetarily wise. I mean if you spend $20.00 on flu shot and say 1,000,000 people get it that is $20,000,000.00.

But for simplicity let’s say 5,000 get the flu and the cost for them taking the week off of work is $1,000.00. So that is $5,000,000.00.

So that is $15,000,000 then you add back in the people who got the shot and got the flu anyway.

yadda yadda yadda is it cost effective?

“yadda yadda yadda is it cost effective?”

It depend on the population you have in mind. Swedes? Argentinians? Young? Old? Healthy? Infirm?

Here are citations for a few flu vaccine cost-benefit analyses. There are many more.

1: Nichol KL, Margolis KL, Wuorenma J, Von Sternberg T.
The efficacy and cost effectiveness of vaccination against influenza among elderly persons living in the community.
N Engl J Med. 1994 Sep 22;331(12):778-84.

2: Mullooly JP, Bennett MD, Hornbrook MC, Barker WH, Williams WW, Patriarca PA, Rhodes PH.
Influenza vaccination programs for elderly persons: cost-effectiveness in a health maintenance organization.
Ann Intern Med. 1994 Dec 15;121(12):947-52.

3: Campbell DS, Rumley MH.
Cost-effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in a healthy, working-age population.
J Occup Environ Med. 1997 May;39(5):408-14.

4: Nichol KL, Goodman M.
Cost effectiveness of influenza vaccination for healthy persons between ages 65 and 74 years.
Vaccine. 2002 May 15;20 Suppl 2:S21-4.

5: Nichol KL.
Cost-benefit analysis of a strategy to vaccinate healthy working adults against influenza.
Arch Intern Med. 2001 Mar 12;161(5):749-59.

6: Bridges CB, Thompson WW, Meltzer MI, Reeve GR, Talamonti WJ, Cox NJ, Lilac HA, Hall H, Klimov A, Fukuda K.
Effectiveness and cost-benefit of influenza vaccination of healthy working adults: A randomized controlled trial.
JAMA. 2000 Oct 4;284(13):1655-63.

7: Hak E, Nordin J, Wei F, Mullooly J, Poblete S, Strikas R, Nichol KL.
Influence of high-risk medical conditions on the effectiveness of influenza vaccination among elderly members of 3 large managed-care organizations.
Clin Infect Dis. 2002 Aug 15;35(4):370-7. Epub 2002 Jul 19.

8: Kumpulainen V, Makela M.
Influenza vaccination among healthy employees: a cost-benefit analysis.
Scand J Infect Dis. 1997;29(2):181-5.

In Canada we have socilized health care and the government insists “Hell, yes! It’s more const effective!”

The government sends out health nurses at free clinics all over the place (we had one in our building). You get your free flu shot and go away. The cost effectiveness is the fact that our hospitals and emergency rooms aren’t clogged up during flu season. The cost of admitting a person to the hospital overnight, far, FAR exceeds the cost of everyone in my building getting a shot in the arm.

Plus, since SARS presents with the same symptoms, there is even a greater cost burden, because every case of the run-of-the-mill flu is going to have to be approached with the same precautions as SARS. It’s extremely unlikely to be SARS, but hospitals are going to have to play it safe until they are quite sure it’s not.

You estimated the cost per person, but there is also a ripple effect – while you may lose $1000 for taking the week off work, your absence may adversely affect your employer who may find a slow down in productivity and increased costs in overtime for the people who have to pick up the slack.

Plus, that’s also $1000 you’re not spending on your X-mas shopping etc. etc. etc. <yawn>

So flu shots are recommended, mostly to keep the hassles down.

That being siad. This year was my first flu shot ever and I’ve only had flu like symptoms once in my life (when I was a kid).

You didn’t factor in the thousands that die each year from the flu. Doesn’t that count as well?

My coworkers and I recently had this very discussion, and I felt like the only sane person in a spooky episode of the Twilight Zone. I asked my doctor for his professional opinion, and he told me they’re all full of shit and don’t understand how the immune system functions. Every reputible medical association recommends the vaccine.

I have never been very suceptible to influenza. I think I had it a couple times as a kid and perhaps a couple times very mildly in recent years. Then, a couple of winters back, my boss arranged for a health nurse to come and give everyone the flu vaccine at company cost, so I got one. That evening, I started to feel very weak and tired. By the time I got up the next day, I was quite sick. By mid-day, I was crouching from the stabbing pains in my stomach and other problems with my innards.

I’ve been told that the flu vaccine contains only dead virii, and therefore there is no way that it could have caused the flu that I developed only hours after I got the shot. True? Is it even remotely possible it made me sick?