Dad, Should I Get a Flu Shot?
"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.
...it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men.
But I'm tryin, Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd." - Jules from Pulp Fiction
Entering the Fray
As I walk into the drug store, I notice my precision-forged emotional walls going up with familiar ease. The intellectual armor envelops my body like a robotic exoskeleton – tactfully covering every inch of perceived psychological vulnerability. A blessing and a curse.
I feel the combination of fire in my soul and ice in my veins, and I remind myself how lethal a pairing those can be when unchecked. With great power comes great responsibility. I remember the past damage caused by my misplaced words spoken in anger, and I dig deeper for the strength to retract my claws before someone gets hurt. No one needs to bleed today.
Except maybe my son – caught in the crossfire between two warring factions and deftly dodging shrapnel like an elite soldier in the heat of battle. Lucky for him, he’s a strong kid. Right now he’s going to need it.
My son walks with his mother, who’s also my ex-wife, towards the pharmacy at the back of the store. Her attempts at subtle bribery with technicolor plastic gadgets in the toy aisle provides him only transient distraction from the main event soon to come. I follow slowly behind, alongside my partner, an exhausted man resigned to his current fate.
We tell the pharmacist we’re here for my son’s flu shot, and the knots in my stomach tighten another notch. I ask for the ingredients list to verify what’s about to be injected into his body - one last attempt to feel a small semblance of control in a situation where I feel overpowered by the stranglehold of the conventional medical regime. The pharmacist curtly directs me towards the brand name of the flu shot on the package, which is what apparently in this world passes for transparency.
As we enter injection room, the fear beings to wash over my son as he sees the needle headed towards his 6 ½ year-old arm. His mother does her best to comfort him and hold him still, while I stand like a statue of stoicism – neither helping nor impeding.
Memories of his infant vaccine injections flash across my mind. I remember helping to hold and comfort him in years past. I would tell him things like “It’s ok son, you can trust us” and “I know this is going to hurt, but it's necessary for your health and safety”. I offer no such assurances today. My ongoing commitment to integrity prohibits me from speaking anything but my absolute truth, and consequently, I bite my tongue.
As the needle comes closer to his arm, he begins to struggle more violently and screams out in protest. He says, “I’m not ok with this! I don’t want this shot!”. He looks around the room at the three adults in an appeal to their humanity, wanting to trust but conflicted and overwhelmed by fear, as if to say: “Is the pain of this procedure really worth it?!”
An excellent question, son. In my world, when someone asks me a good question, I take the responsibility for due diligence very seriously. So, let’s pause for a minute and unpack this story to find him a suitable answer, shall we?
Doctor Knows Best?
Rewind two weeks. After my son’s acute emergency health crisis a few days earlier (read: minor seasonal viral infection with a mild / manageable 102-degree fever and standard immune response), on his mother’s insistence I’m driving to a follow-up appointment with the highest level of presumed medical authority in the land: his Conventional Medical Doctor. A pediatrician, no-less, so no place to push the lines here with hippie-bullshit rhetoric – this is about the safety of the world’s children.
As I turn through the bullet-pointed agenda of carefully prepared information in my head, I see the glass-walled monolith of the Temple of Disease coming into view, otherwise known as the Kaiser-Permanente building. I watch well-intentioned people shuffling to-and-fro, hobbling towards their appointments with white face masks – fearfully obedient to the doctrine of Sick Care and all its promises of treatment salvation.
As I ride up in the elevator towards the upper levels of the sterile labyrinth, I see the first of many “information sheets” (aka propaganda) with “helpful tips” regarding the many reasons you, and virtually everyone else, should most definitely get your seasonal flu shot. On second thought, better get two just to be sure – don’t want to take any chances.
Or you will most likely die. Seriously, the flu kills most everyone it touches, especially small children. Did we mention the children?! In fact, that’s the leading headline on their helpful handouts – the absolutely frightening and shocking statistic that ALMOST 200 INFANTS DIE of flu complications every year!!! What kind of cold-hearted bastard would advocate for the death of babies?! The humanity!
With the fear of God, ahem, Medicine now firmly asserted to me, as a conscientious parent I now most certainly had something to think about. On to the appointment, where we all chatted with the doctor about advanced health topics such as which flavor of fruit juice to help with constipation and the undeniable yumminess of gluten, diary, and goldfish crackers. My attempts to collaborate around the finer points of creating a strategy to optimize my son’s long-term microbiome diversity, blood sugar regulation, neurochemical stability, and immune system tolerance were… let’s just say met with less-than enthusiasm.
What was sternly recommended by his doctor, however, was the flu shot. In fact, there was another helpful poster right there in her office to remind us about that one. How fortuitous and convenient!
If 1000 out of 1000 conventional docs / insurance companies recommend it, then it must be true, right? Probably even reckless child-endangerment to even consider doing anything less than the double-shot of pharmaceutical goodness every growing child needs.
Well, hold on here partner. This ain’t my first rodeo, and this whole scenario is starting to stink more than a compost bin full of fish heads and rotten eggs in a summer heatwave. Time to put on our detective hats and get to work.
Reading Your Opponent - Big Pharma
Full disclaimer: prior to my deep dive into the methodology, efficacy, and necessity of influenza vaccines, I admit was inherently suspicious given my chosen vocation as a functional health consultant. That being said, I am still open-minded to using conventional medical interventions when actually indicated. If I break my leg in four places trying a new-fangled snowboard trick I saw on the X-games, I’m still headed to the ER for a cast and maybe a nice shot of morphine to take the edge off the pain. Whether the flu shot is an indicated medical intervention is the hypothesis I aim to test here.
First things first, given my initial impression: WTF is up with all the blatant propaganda, bro? Being a fairly serious Texas Hold’Em poker player and having a few decades of experience in corporate and retail sales work environments, I can tell when someone is pulling a “hard sell” on me with a little too much enthusiasm. Are those really Aces you’re holding there, Buster, or are those trash cards you’re trying to bluff as pocket rockets? Since I can see you sweating profusely and squirming in your seat like a kid on an 8-hour road trip with no bathroom break, I think I just might put in a big raise to see if you can take the heat.
So before we even get down the nitty-gritty of immune system science and the flu vaccine’s proposed benefit to said system, how about we learn a bit about who’s super-duper concerned that you and your family get one. Or else, The Shame.
After making a few calls, I found out that the primary flu shot option currently offered locally in the Seattle area is the Flulaval Quadrivalent vaccine made by the big-pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline. When I’m thinking of recommending a new supplement in my practice from a company I’m not familiar with, I always research the quality standards, ingredient quality, and safety record of said company. After all, it’s my professional reputation on the line, and I don’t feel comfortable recommending products from manufacturers with sub-par ways of doing business.
A quick search found that in 31 separate settlements over 24 years, GlaxoSmithKline paid $7.9 billion in financial penalties to federal and state governments for improperly marketing drugs and not reporting critical safety information, double what any other pharmaceutical company paid. This is not the kind of company I would trust to manufacture anything I would put in my body, let alone my 6-year old son's. And if a supplement company acted repeatedly in this manner, I wouldn't use their products either.
The Business of Selling the Flu
Additionally, there's the question of why the flu vaccine specifically is being marketed and pushed across media and governmental sources so incredibly heavily? Why don't we hear the same push for other vaccines?
This is where the business side of vaccine manufacturing comes into play. In Episode 7 of The Vaccine Conversation podcast, the hosts tell an illuminating story of the yearly production and promotion cycle for the flu vaccine. Since the vaccine formulations are changed by necessity each year to guesstimate which 4 of the 10,000 flu subtypes to include, the pressure on this cycle is greatly increased.
Since US Vaccine manufacturers produce around 165 million doses each year, and only about half are used, at $20 per dose of unused product, that's about $1.6 Billion in lost revenue when enough of us "lazy, troublemaking, whistleblowers" decline the vaccine.
Plus, there's the cost of disposing of the unused vaccines, which in the case of those containing mercury / Thimerosal, are considered toxic waste. Think about that one for a second: if vaccine formulations are too hazardous for the trash can, why should we consider putting them into our children's bodies?!
For a very deep dive into the the story of how vaccines became a profitable business, check out this detailed article. The author charts a course over the last 15 years of how big pharma leveraged the fear of the H1N1 swine flu to rebrand the entire public opinion about the need to "fear the flu". Here's the most relevant excerpt:
"In a matter of a few years, flu shots have gone from being a marginal, money-losing business to a massive profit generator for a small number of global companies, as governments and the public hasten to protect themselves from getting sick. Between 2004 and 2007, vaccine sales across the industry soared an average of 32 percent each year, with flu vaccine leading the way. That is roughly four times faster than any other pharmaceutical product.
In a year that will be remembered for widespread public worry about the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, vaccines have become a $24-billion business. Analysts predict the global vaccine industry will top $40-billion by 2012. For companies like Glaxo, Sanofi-Aventis, Merck & Co., Novartis AG and Pfizer Inc., the fear of a pandemic has translated into a financial windfall that has been years in the making. Worldwide, nearly 1 billion doses of H1N1 vaccine have been ordered in 2009."
The status-quo business model of conventional Medical Doctors, which currently goes hand-in-hand with insurance company policies and compensation, is also a point of concern here. For example, the fact that Blue Cross will pay doctors $40,000-$80,000 per year to fully vaccinate at least 63% of their patients under the age of 2 seems to me a conflict of interest. Pushing a specific intervention for profit is much different than letting doctors make decisions for individual patients that take into account their specific risk factors and immune system integrity.
Working as an auto technician for 12 years and striving to balance the needs of my "patient" (the car), the owner, AND the warranty / insurance company who many times was paying the bill, I do know that the tension between ethics and profitability is a daily practice. However, if our collective goal is to cultivate a productive and cooperative capitalist global society, I think most people would agree that when a conflict arises between ethics and profit, ethics must prevail.
What's in this Stuff? - Flu Shot Side Effects
But maybe this flu shot is the anomaly, and the ingredients list aren’t so bad? Sadly, no. The multiple-dose vials of Flulaval use Thimerosal, a clever way a saying Mercury. Thimerosal rapidly breaks apart into ethyl-mercury compounds that have an affinity to bind to other compounds inside in the body. This results in increased body and brain inorganic mercury concentrations, increasing the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children and neurotoxicity in adults. Whoops.
While the single dose options don't have that preservative, both options contain the following ingredients per the manufacturer: ovalbumin, formaldehyde, sodium deoxycholate, α-tocopheryl hydrogen succinate, polysorbate 80. There are toxic concerns with many of these ingredients, which while often denied by conventional medicine I personally think are a big concern. This journal article states:
"Formaldehyde is an environmental pollutant that is also generated in substantial amounts in the human body during normal metabolism. This aldehyde is a well-established neurotoxin that affects memory, learning, and behavior. In addition, in several pathological conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, an increase in the expression of formaldehyde-generating enzymes and elevated levels of formaldehyde in brain have been reported."
While small amounts of toxins in isolation might not be a huge problem, the cumulative load of “chemical cocktails” we’re all exposed to in modern life can add up to a huge burden. I see this daily in my practice, where decades of sub-clinical toxin exposure can eventually add up to significant inflammatory cascades and advanced disease progression.
And if this takes decades, you’re one of the lucky ones with robust genes and resilience. Those not so fortunate get the immunological punch-in-the-face even sooner. The worst cases can be seen here at the NVIC Memorial for Vaccine Victims. The flu vaccine is also the most compensated vaccine through the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which has awarded nearly $4 billion dollars to victims of catastrophic vaccine injuries.
In this article by Andre Angelantoni, he explains the finer points of how heavy-handed vaccination regimes recommended in the US can over-burden and push a normally functioning immune system towards the downward spiral of autoimmunity: the "invisible" side effect of vaccines. He makes the following points, which I find most relevant:
Exaggerated Flu Mortality Statistics
Yeah, yeah, never mind the skyrocketing rates of autoimmunity with “unknown causes”. We’ll worry about that later (likely when we get desperate enough to go see a functional medicine practitioner). What about all the dead babies?!
Fine. Let’s address that point next. I looked up the flu death statistics for infants and adults, which research directly from the CDC showed to be 185 nationwide in 2017-2018 for infant deaths. For reference, in 2016 there were 1,500 infant deaths for SIDS, and 1,219 deaths from accidents like suffocation and drowning. Birth defects and Preterm birth were number 1 and 2, with 4,816 and 3,297 deaths respectively. The flu was claimed to be responsible for 80,000 total deaths, of which infant deaths would account for 0.2%.
Even worse, the yearly statistic of 36,000 -80,000 “flu deaths” is another misrepresentation of data using creative math incorporating other co-infections. When looking at verified data reported by the National Center for Health Statistics, the real number of confirmed flu deaths is around 1,000 per year. Damn, now that is some creative accounting indeed.
Kelly Brogan, who spends more time reading peer-reviewed research on health topics than anyone else I know, is also not impressed. In this article she explains the following:
"I'm sure you don't know a single person who has died of the flu, and if you think you do, I can almost guarantee you that the diagnosis was not confirmed in a way that ruled out the 150-200 infectious pathogens that cause flu-like syndromes, none of which would be "covered" by the vaccine.”
Call me crazy, but it seems like if the goal of a well-intentioned and kind-hearted insurance company like Kaiser-Permanente was to educate the populace about the most dangerous risks to children’s health, perhaps they should have fliers talking about safety covers for pools and effective strategies to avoid birth defects?
Either way, surely an unbiased government agency like the CDC must be looking out for the interests of public safety, right? Never mind the fact that the CDC owns 56 patents related to vaccines. Nothing to see there.
In another of Kelly Brogan's articles called CDC: You're Fired, she quotes the following:
"After Dr. Brian Hooker’s requests through the Freedom of Information Act for original MMR study documentation, a CDC Immunization Safety Researcher, Dr. William Thompson has buckled under the pressure of his conscience and come forth as a whistleblower. These documents demonstrated a 3.4-fold increase in the incidence of autism ... expunged from the final study results in a violent act of scientific fraud. Dr. Thompson has since corroborated the CDC’s retroactive alteration of the data to eliminate the signal of harm. In light of a 2004 letter confirming CDC awareness and suppression of these findings, CDC head, Dr. Julie Gerberding committed perjury before moving onto her position at Merck in the Vaccine Division."
Based on this body of evidence, it's my interpretation that public health organizations, media outlets, and insurance companies citing 185 "flu-related" infant deaths is fear-mongering and propaganda at its worst. I'll leave you to judge for yourself.
Flu Shot Effectiveness - Questioning Propaganda
Despite all this blatant corruption and drug-dealing hijinks, does the flu shot even work?
The short answer, from unbiased science, is NO.
The main issue here is that mechanisms of action on which current vaccine formulations and recommendations are based on antiquated models of the immune system. In a shocking news flash, conventional medicine is yet again the slow kid lagging behind in the race to truth. Here’s some of the updated theories about how vaccines affect the immune system:
“Is it possible that vaccinology has applied a reductionist – one disease, one drug/vaccine – model to an evolutionarily adapted system with built-in complexities we have barely begun to appreciate? Is it possible that we have misapprehended immunity, or are still fundamentally learning about its most basic principles? If we are to accept that billions of years have gone into priming our physiology for interface with pathogens, as enemies, but also as commensals, then we must acknowledge that there is more to immunity than antibody response.” 
“Heterologous immunity roughly means “unequal immunity” and it’s the concept that the immune system is programmed in a directional way. This can sometimes work in the body’s favor if a subsequent antigen is similar enough to the one for which antibodies have just been made. In this case, the directionality means that the body is already prepared to some degree because it has encountered a pathogen “similar enough” to the new one. However, often it works against the body, too, as in the case of the flu vaccines. The body learns how to protect against the strains given in the shot and thereby—by design—becomes less able to handle other strains and other invaders. Vaccine-proponents would like you to believe vaccines only boost and have no immunological downsides but that is false. In reality, one part is boosted while another is diminished. You gain protection in one way but lose protection in another.” 
In terms of flu effectiveness statistics, as usual, my colleagues in the functional medicine field have already done most of the heavy-lifting in sifting through the best research on this topic. So in the interest of time in this already long-winded (and not slowing down yet) article, I’ll summarize in referenced bullet points my collection of their most illuminating findings:
Whew, who else needs breather after that barrage of truth bombs? After this seeing the facts, sizing up the opposition, and weighing the options, I'd seen enough. The time for an assertion was at hand. And I was ready to make one.
Resolution and Acceptance
"My son in twenty years will say to me: Wait a minute, you knew this was a problem but you didn't do anything about it? ... I apply that to all manner of circumstances in life and in the world." - David Letterman quoting Barack Obama
As I stood there in the injection room, watching my son do his absolute best to set personal boundaries around what medical procedures he would consent to, I felt an overwhelming feeling of pride for his courage and strength. When his mother and the pharmacist continued to push him, just as she had pushed me with threats of legal battles and stripping me of the right to have joint decision-making power over his health care choices, my ability to remain silent was finally pushed to the limit.
So I spoke up, and raising my voice over my son's fearful pleas for help, I told her "I hope you're happy with yourself. How could you do this to our son?". The tension in the room could be cut with knife. The pharmacist offered a FluMist Quadrivalent nasal spray version of the vaccine instead, and his mother and I both agreed to that option.
Having already done my research, I knew that the FluMist was live attenuated formulation which contained monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a neurological excitotoxin known to overstimulate and damage brain cells. As much as I would prefer NOT to put any amount of MSG into my son's body, as well as hijack his immune system for questionable and ineffective "protection", I also realized that I had played every card in my hand.
While my goal is always to shoot for optimal health for myself, my family, and my clients, I do realize that perfection is an unrealistic goal. We do the best we can to educate and advocate, but we cannot control other people and their decisions. I think this situation was a perfect example of doing my best to "win", but being ok with settling for a draw. Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war. I accepted this outcome, and Iived to fight another day.
Naturally Boosting the Immune System
While I've spent a lot of time here discussing the merits (or lack-thereof), of getting a flu vaccine, missing from this discussion has been the largest point of all: What can we do to effectively support our immune systems from all types of infection?
That will be the subject of an upcoming article where we'll dive into the immune system from a functional medicine prospective, and do a deep dive into the science and mechanisms behind the best natural remedies and supplements to keep everyone in your household healthy and resilient year-round.
For now, here's a few links to our personal favorite supplements we use to fight off acute infections and boost general immunity:
As always, cheers to optimal health and vitality. I appreciate your solidarity in continuing to fight the good fight - knowledge is power. If you've found this article useful, please share it with someone you think it could help. If my work here helps one child avoid an unnecessary flu shot that might have sparked an autoimmune cascade, it will have been more than worth all the effort.