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When the weather gets colder, I have dozens of parents asking me if they should give their children a flu shot. When it comes to the flu vaccine for kids, there is no right or wrong answer. Every parent needs to weigh up the risks and benefits for their kids.
To make an informed decision about the flu vaccine, you need to know the facts about the flu, how the vaccine is made, and what it contains. Whether you decide to vaccinate or not, the focus needs to be on supporting your child’s immune system.
Watch the video (part 1 and 2!) or continue reading below to learn more about the benefits and risks of the flu vaccine for kids.
The flu vaccine is quite a controversial topic. The theory of vaccination is great – you put a virus into the system to elicit an immune response, and prepare the body for future infections. But the problem with the flu vaccine is how it is developed, the lack of safety studies, and the inclusion of questionable ingredients.
The flu basics
Mainstream media can make the flu sound terrifying. But the flu is simply a virus. There are many different strains of flu, and different strains will become dominant from one year to the next. It is most commonly caught over the wintertime, but people can still catch it during other seasons.
There are many signs that you’ve come down with the flu. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Congestion of the nose and sinuses
- Sore throat
- Digestive symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea
The flu is transmitted from person to person via droplets from the respiratory tract. This can be by coughing and sneezing, making direct hand contact with someone who has coughed or sneezed into their hands, or even touching objects they have touched.
Despite what the news suggests, the majority of flu cases will pass naturally without any significant health consequences. More severe cases can lead to dehydration and pneumonia. But most people who suffer serious health issues do so due to a secondary infection such as pneumonia, rather than the flu itself.
About the flu vaccine
Unlike other vaccines, the flu vaccine changes from year to year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies the strains most likely to spread the following year. These strains are what the flu vaccine is designed to prevent.
These strains are injected into the body, which triggers an immune response. Antibodies for those particular strains are produced, giving the body some protection from those strains.
Most of the vaccines for this year contain 4 strains. That means that the vaccine is not 100% protective, as there are dozens of flu strains every year.
How effective is the flu vaccine for kids and adults?
It’s difficult to get firm figures on how effective the vaccine is, as it changes from year to year. It all depends on which strains are circulating, and how well WHO guessed the dominant strains.
A Cochrane review showed that compared to placebo, the flu vaccine reduced the risk from 30% to 11%. It also suggested that up to 12 children need to be vaccinated in order for one to be protected from the flu.
Other research shows that the vaccine offers up to 60% protection. Australian government websites cite 30-60% reduction in the chance of flu. So the majority of research suggests that vaccinating will halve the risk, if that.
What is the real risk of serious complications and death from flu for a generally healthy family?
Every year, the media tells us that it’s the worst flu season yet, and pushes people to get vaccinated. The news covers deaths reported to be due to flu. But are those deaths actually from the flu?
There isn’t much information about Australian deaths. But over in the US, they have been known to group deaths from pneumonia (a much more serious bacterial infection) and flu together, and claim that both are death caused by the flu.
The vast majority of serious complications and death from flu are in the elderly. Kids have a slightly increased risk, but older people are at a much higher risk.
People with chronic health issues such as conditions of the heart and lungs or immune deficiency also have a higher risk of complications. But the average healthy, well-nourished family are unlikely to have a problem with the flu.
What is in the flu vaccine for kids?
In 2019, there are 4 flu vaccines for kids. They are:
FluQuadri Junior – for kids under 3 years old
Fluarix Tetra – for anyone over 6 months old
Flu Quadri – for anyone over 6 months old
Afluria Quad – for anyone over 5 years old
All of these options have the same 4 strains of flu recommended by WHO for this year. What varies is the other ingredients.
The good news is that none of the flu vaccines this year contain mercury or aluminium. But there are a few other questionable ingredients included in the 4 flu vaccines for kids.
All 4 formulations contain formaldehyde, a preservative. It is a known carcinogen, and is associated with kidney damage and genetic damage. It is in minuscule amounts, but it is injected straight into the body.
Pharmaceutical companies say that such a small dose is not a problem. But I do question whether it will add up in the increased toxic load our kids already have to deal with. It could be tolerable in a healthy child, but a potential concern for kids with impaired detoxification pathways.
Another worrying fact is that the FluQuadri Junior has less than 50 micrograms per dose, but the Fluarix Tetra has less than 5 micrograms. That means it the Junior could have up to 10 times the dose of formaldehyde, with no explanation as to why.
The flu vaccine is developed in an egg, so there will be traces of egg protein in the vaccine. Clinic immunologists consider it to be safe for those who are anaphylactic to eggs. But if you’re concerned about your child, check with their allergy specialist or GP before vaccinating.
Polyscorbate is an emulsifier and stabiliser that is in all 4 vaccines. The pharmaceutical companies do need to have something in the vaccine to stabilise it, but the choice of polyscorbate is questionable.
Research has found that in mice, it accelerates sexual maturation and infertility. Another study showed that it can increase the risk of anaphylactoid reactions (a type of non-immune reaction with anaphylactic symptoms).
This is another preservative used in the flu vaccine. Sometimes spelled octoxinol, it is also used as a spermicide.
Like the other ingredients, it is in minute amounts. A healthy child will probably not have a problem with detoxifying small amounts of these ingredients. But kids with neurodevelopmental issues such as autism and ADHD are known to have a reduction in detox pathways, and could struggle to detoxify them properly. The same issue occurs in kids with MTHFR.
So if you do you decide to vaccinate your child, you want to ensure you’re supporting their natural detoxification processes.
Controversy over the flu vaccine for kids
A lot of the fear about flu vaccines peaked in 2010. Hundred of Australian kids had reactions to the vaccine that year. The most publicised case was Saba Button, who suffered serious brain and organ damage. The family settled out of court, and the vaccine was suspended for kids under 5 years old.
That particular vaccine is not available in Australia anymore. But it does bring up the question – how much safety research is actually conducted on the vaccine before it is used? As they change yearly, there isn’t time for multi-year studies that are common with other vaccines and pharmaceuticals.
Note: After writing this it was bought to my attention that Fluvax is now called Afluria, more info here
Research findings around the flu vaccine for kids
When it comes to the research around the flu vaccine and children, it’s not all positive.
One study showed that in a group of 115 kids, the children who were vaccinated had a higher risk of non-influenza respiratory infections in the weeks after vaccination. This suggests that the vaccine may increase the risk of other infections.
Another found that those who were given the vaccine annually over a number of years were more likely to get the flu compared to those who only got the vaccine that year. With vaccines, there is usually an accumulative effect that strengthens the protection. But the research suggests this is not the case with the flu vaccine.
A third study showed that having the flu vaccine in one season increased the risk of the flu the following season.
There is simply not enough long-term research into the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, for kids or for adults.
Tips for preventing flu and supporting immunity
When it comes to the flu vaccine for kids, it’s a personal decision that depends on your family’s health and situation. But whether you decide to vaccinate or not, you’ll want to support your child’s immune system to minimise their risk of falling sick. Here are a few simple tips to get you started.
Look to nutrients that support the immune system
Over winter, you want kids to eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods that can support immunity. You might also want to include nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D and a good quality probiotic. If you want to vaccinate your kids, it’s best to use these supplements for 1-2 weeks before and 2-4 weeks after vaccinating.
Consider herbs for detox support
If you do vaccinate your kids, you might also include herbs to support the detoxification of the vaccine ingredients. Milk thistle and slippery elm are two gentle options. There are some stronger detoxification herbs available, but it’s best to seek professional advice before using these. If you’d like personalised advice about the herbs that will suit your child, book an express consult here.
Encourage good hygiene
Kids can be grotty little creatures! Winter is the time to make sure they are washing their hands with soap and water regularly. Get them to wash their hands after school, playdates and other places where they might be exposed to flu germs.
Be sensible if someone does get sick
If you or your kids do get the flu, be smart! Stay at home to minimise the spread of the virus. Get plenty of rest, keep well hydrated, sip on some bone broth, and include as many nutrient-dense wholefoods as possible. If you get on top of a viral infection quickly, it’s less likely to lead to serious consequences.
No matter what your choice is when it comes to the flu vaccine for kids, the most important thing to focus on this winter is boosting your child’s immune system.
The biggest struggles I see parents pulling their hair out over are ALWAYS related to constant viruses and infections and how to build their immunity against these constant attacks. They come to me with questions like:
- Which supplements should I give my kids to help build their immunity?
- How do I get my kid to eat the nourishing food I make instead of total refusal and meltdowns?
- Why does it take so long for my kid to get over colds, what am I doing wrong?
- What can I do to give my kids more energy and overall health through winter?
Keep your kids healthy this winter!
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