Fall is here and with it comes flu shot season. Last year, almost half (48.6%) of all Americans flocked to get their seasonal flu shot, with 76% of children between the ages of 6 and 23 months receiving a flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recommendations for who should receive the flu vaccine have changed a lot over the years. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) now recommends that all Americans six months of age or older get a flu shot every year throughout life. The CDC states that babies between six and eight months old should receive two doses of influenza vaccine one month apart.
In a press conference last week, (now former) U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) Secretary, Dr. Tim Price, urged everyone 6 months and older to run out and get their flu vaccines as soon as possible. What he didn’t mention was the possibility of vaccine injury.
As of October 4, 2017, there have been over 141,206 reports of adverse reactions, injuries, hospitalizations, and deaths following influenza vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 1,347 related deaths, 11,620 hospitalizations, and 2,659 related disabilities.
Reported moderate reactions to influenza vaccine include, joint and muscle pain, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, fatigue, nasal congestion, local reactions (pain, redness, swelling at the site of the injection), and nausea.
Reported serious complications include brain inflammation, limp paralysis, neuropathy, convulsions, shock, Bell’s palsy, asthma/wheezing and other respiratory complications.
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a crippling neurological disease in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system resulting in temporary or permanent paralysis which can lead to death and has been casually linked to influenza vaccines.
And what about pregnant women? Public health officials have recommended flu vaccines for pregnant women since the 1970’s, but it wasn’t until 2006 that flu shots during pregnancy became the norm. So, what happened in 2006 to change this? The CDC strengthened recommendations that all pregnant women, healthy or not, should get a flu shot in any trimester, never citing a single safety study or concern.
Up until this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed influenza and Tdap vaccines as either Pregnancy Category B or C biologicals, which means that adequate testing had not been done in humans to demonstrate safety for pregnant women and that it was not known whether the vaccines caused fetal harm or affected reproduction capacity.
This year the literature in the vaccine inserts changed, dropping the Pregnancy Category completely and opting instead for this verbiage in ALL flu vaccine inserts, “There are no data for (SPECIFIC FLU VACCINE NAME) administered to pregnant women, and available data for SPECIFIC FLU VACCINE NAME (SPECIFIC TYPE formulation) administered to pregnant women are insufficient to inform vaccine-associated risks in pregnancy.”
As for flu shot effectiveness, the CDC itself says that “recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” Meaning that even when they match the strains correctly, the effectiveness of the flu shot is comparable to getting heads in a coin toss.