By Dr. Mercola
Flu season in Australia, located in the Southern Hemisphere, occurs while residents of the U.S. in the Northern Hemisphere are enjoying summer. What happens in Australia is a good bellwether for how bad the flu season in the U.S. will be come winter. And if this holds true for the 2017 to 2018 flu season, influenza vaccine experts are warning that the U.S. could be in for a doozy.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, health officials with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the World Health Organization (WHO) and in Australia described "record-high numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications and outbreaks and higher-than-average numbers of hospitalizations and deaths" during Australia's 2017 influenza season.1
What's more, the influenza vaccine, which is still described by public health officials as the best tool to stay healthy during flu season despite years of dismal failures, turned out to be mostly worthless in Australia this year. The predominant circulating flu viruses were influenza A (H3N2), against which the 2017 to 2018 flu vaccine had a preliminary effectiveness of just 10 percent. Health officials have admitted that this season's influenza vaccine is likely to be a major flop in the U.S. and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
"Given that … the composition of the 2017–2018 Northern Hemisphere vaccine is identical to that used in Australia, it is possible that we will experience low vaccine effectiveness against influenza A (H3N2) viruses and a relatively severe influenza season if they predominate," they noted.2 As of early December 2017, more than 7,000 U.S. influenza cases have been lab confirmed, which is more than twice the number confirmed one year ago at this time,3 and 90 percent of states have reported some type of influenza activity.4
Multiple Reasons Why the 2017 Flu Vaccine Is Likely to Fail
There are many reasons why flu vaccines are often ineffective, starting with vaccine mismatches. Each year, health officials make educated guesses as to which influenza virus strains will be circulating in order to include them in that year's vaccine.
For the past 12 years, influenza vaccines have failed to work more than half the time.5 "Even in years when influenza vaccines are well matched to circulating viruses, estimates of vaccine effectiveness range from 40 percent to 60 percent, which is lower than that for most licensed noninfluenza vaccines," the researchers wrote in NEJM.6
But in cases when they're not well matched, the flu shot's effectiveness is even lower — such as this year's preliminary estimate of 10 percent, or less. Another factor is the substrate used to produce the flu vaccine, namely eggs. In the U.S., for decades most selected influenza viruses for influenza vaccine production have been grown in eggs.
Now researchers are reporting that use of eggs to grow influenza viruses can cause the vaccine-strain viruses to mutate, which can render the vaccine ineffective in preventing infection with circulating influenza viruses. According to the NEJM report:
"During the egg-based production process, the vaccine virus acquires amino acid changes that facilitate replication in eggs, notably changes in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein that mediates receptor binding. Since the influenza HA is the primary target of neutralizing antibodies, small modifications in this protein can cause antigenic changes in the virus and decrease vaccine effectiveness.
Egg adaptation has been postulated to contribute to low vaccine effectiveness, particularly with influenza A (H3N2) viruses [the type predicted to be most widely circulating this year]."7
Studies have repeatedly shown that, since 2005, in most flu seasons influenza vaccines have been from zero to less than 50 percent effective in preventing type A or B influenza.8 Yet, even as the flu vaccine's effectiveness for the 2017 to 2018 flu season appears to have a dismal outlook, public health officials continue to push vaccination harder than ever and recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu shot every year.
"However imperfect, though, current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated," the researchers wrote,9 although they gave no rationale for this absolute statement. Perhaps they don't want to admit that the long-term effects of annual flu vaccination on human health and the evolution of influenza viruses are not known.
Now, this closed-minded approach appears to be backfiring, as evidence mounts to suggest that people who get flu shots every year are actually less protected and more likely to get a serious case of influenza than those with no prior flu vaccination history.10
Research presented in 2009 at the 105th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego revealed that children who get seasonal flu shots are more at risk of hospitalization than children who do not. Children with a history of receiving the flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization as children who had not been vaccinated. Among children with asthma, the risk was even higher.11
Most Influenza-Like Illness During Flu Season Is NOT Influenza
The CDC states that, "Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death."12
An important point to remember that gets lost in the CDC's promotion of annual flu shots is that most of the time when you get sick with a respiratory infection during the flu season, you do not have type A or B influenza. In fact, the vast majority of "influenza-like illness" (ILI), which often includes symptoms like fever, fatigue, body aches, runny nose and cough, is caused by other kinds of viruses and bacteria.
The only way to positively identify whether or not you have influenza or another type of infection is for your doctor to send a respiratory specimen to a lab to be tested.13
Statistics from the 2015 to 2016 flu season show that only 3 percent to 4 percent of suspected cases of influenza that were lab tested were actually positive for influenza virus infection.14 This year, for the week ending December 2, 2017, the CDC reported there have been 170,372 influenza specimens tested and 7,178 specimens have come back positive for influenza type A or B, with 74 percent of those testing positive for influenza A.15
That means that so far this flu season, about 4.2 percent of all suspected influenza infections that were lab tested turned out to be another type of viral or bacterial infection not caused by a type A or B influenza virus. So just how much respiratory illness are flu shots really preventing during a given flu season, especially when the vaccine is only 10 percent effective against selected influenza strains in a season like this one?
Noncompliance Becoming a Crime
Should you go to jail or lose your job because you make an informed decision to opt out of a medical procedure like vaccination for yourself or your child? This is increasingly becoming the reality in the U.S. Recently, there have been reports of people who have been jailed, lost jobs or been refused registration in college classes if they declined various vaccines for themselves or their child, from the flu shot to the meningitis vaccine.
In other countries, such as Australia, a law beginning in January 2018 will fine day care operators more than $4,000 if they admit unvaccinated children. In Italy, parents may also be fined for not vaccinating their children, starting in 2018.16 Vaccine orthodoxy dictates that humans must believe vaccination is safe and effective, and that government-mandated vaccines are always a good thing.
In the beginning, it was just one vaccine — smallpox — but now the U.S. childhood vaccine schedule calls for 50 doses of 14 vaccines given before age 6.17
But the fact is, although vaccines may be tolerated by some people, they can be devastating for others.18 The U.S. government claims it does not impose vaccine mandates for adults, except for those entering the military. However, it's not unusual for hospitals and other employers to fire workers who refuse certain vaccines, such as annual flu shots — even though research has shown, for instance, that vaccinating nursing home workers had no effect on lab-confirmed influenza cases among the elderly residents of nursing homes.19
According to Dr. Meryl Nass, an internist and vaccine blogger with expertise in vaccine-induced illnesses, it appears American hospitals do not actually have a legal leg to stand on when firing health care workers over vaccine refusals, although they do have financial incentive to do. In short, hospitals that have higher vaccination rates for patients and health care workers get higher Medicare reimbursement rates.
Vitamin D Much More Effective Than Flu Vaccine
If health and safety is the first priority of public health officials, why not implement a universal public health program for vitamin D testing and optimization, since vitamin D supplementation has been shown to cut the risk of respiratory infections in half for those who are vitamin D deficient?20,21
In fact, in one systematic review of 25 studies, "Vitamin D supplementation was safe and it protected against acute respiratory tract infection overall," researchers noted.22 In a study published in 2010, researchers also investigated the effect of vitamin D on the incidence of seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. The randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study included 430 children, half of whom were given 1,200 IUs of vitamin D3 per day while the other half received a placebo.
Overall, children in the treatment group were 42 percent less likely to come down with the flu. According to the authors, "This study suggests that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren."23 Another study published that same year concluded that infection-fighting T-cells need help from vitamin D in order to activate.24 This is yet another mechanism that helps explain why vitamin D is so effective against infections.
I believe sensible sun exposure is the ideal way to optimize your vitamin D levels. Taking a vitamin D3 supplement is only recommended in cases when you simply cannot obtain sufficient amounts of sensible sun exposure. In the latter case, you may need 8,000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day (or more) in order to reach and maintain a clinically relevant level of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).
The only way to know how much vitamin D you need is to get tested at least once or twice each year. If you've been supplementing for some time and your levels are still below 40 ng/mL, you then know you have to increase your dose further (or strive to get out in the sun more often). If using an oral supplement, also make sure to boost your vitamin K2 and magnesium intake for proper balance. Optimizing your vitamin D level is a basic step that virtually everyone should take year-round, but especially during flu season.
How to Protect Yourself Against the Flu Without Vaccination
Public health officials now recommend every person over the age of 6 months get an annual flu shot, whether the person is healthy or not, low risk or high. But what will receiving a flu shot, which may have an effectiveness rate of 10 percent or less, every year for decades on end do to your immune system? No one can answer that question because it has never been studied.
Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take to avoid getting sick during the flu season that do not require getting a flu shot every year. By following these simple guidelines, you can keep your immune system in optimal working order so you're far less likely to acquire the infection to begin with or, if you do get sick, you will be better prepared to move through it without complications.
Optimize your vitamin D levels. As mentioned, this is one of the absolute best strategies for avoiding infections of all kinds, and research suggests vitamin D deficiency may actually be the true culprit behind the seasonality of the flu — not the flu virus itself.
Raising your vitamin D to a therapeutic level of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) is probably the single most important and least expensive action you can take to avoid getting the flu.
Avoid sugar and processed foods. Sugar impairs the function of your immune system almost immediately, and a healthy immune system is one of the most important keys to dealing with viruses and other pathogens so you can stay well or return to health more quickly and without complications if you do get sick.
Get plenty of rest. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you're tired, if your body is overly fatigued, it will be harder for it to maintain health or heal. Be sure to check out my article "Guide to a Good Night's Sleep" for some great tips to help you get quality rest.
Address your stress. When stress becomes overwhelming, your body will be less able to fight off the flu and other illness. If you feel stress is taking a toll on your health, consider using an energy psychology tool such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which is remarkably effective in relieving stress associated with all kinds of events, from work to family to trauma.
Exercise. When you exercise, you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of naturally responding to and resisting illness.
Consume animal-based omega-3 fat. Increase your intake of healthy and essential fats like the omega-3 found in sardines, anchovies and krill oil, which is crucial for maintaining health. Also avoid damaged omega-6 oils and trans fats found in processed foods as they will damage your immune response.
Wash your hands. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, however, and cause far more harm than good. Instead, just use a mild, toxin-free soap and warm water.
Use natural immune boosters. Examples include colloidal silver, oil of oregano and garlic. These have potent antibiotic activity, boosting your body's ability to fend off harmful bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, they do not appear to lead to resistance.
Avoid hospitals. Last but not least, I recommend staying clear of hospitals unless you're having an emergency and need expert medical care, as hospitals are prime breeding grounds for infections of all kinds. The best place to get plenty of rest and recover from illness that is not life-threatening is usually in the comfort of your own home.