The Flu Shot: Good Idea or Bad?

“The debate is damaging because it asks us to consider vaccination as good or evil” (Biss, 2014). With this phrase Eula Biss, the author of three books on human organism’s immunity, begins her deliberations about flu vaccination. Thus, this essay proves that flu shots are not bad and, simultaneously, it is a matter of perspective.

Eula Biss has a negative reaction on flu vaccination, as “not only a sore arm, but also extensive body aches and a several days of sickness” (Biss, 2014). Therefore, before she started studying the science behind vaccination practice, she believed that flu shots are poisonous to her body. However, after thoroughly considering all the pros and cons of flu vaccination, she realized that her symptoms are a consequence of “the robust immune response”, after which her system is reliably protected against flu. Nevertheless, Eula Biss understands that “the influenza virus is notoriously unpredictable” (Biss, 2014). Therefore, the public opinion and a number of medical professionals question the usefulness of flu shots. Moreover, the latest studies suggest that the flu vaccine does not work very well because nobody knows the course of virus mutating from season to season. Hence, nobody can predict the intensity and preferences of a new virus that makes flu shots unnecessary, ineffective and even dangerous. Nowadays, the effectiveness of flu shots is “good as the educated guesses of vaccine researches” (Clachar, 2007). On the eve of every flu season, the group of flu vaccine researches is trying to predict the direction of virus’ mutation. Thus, these three leading strains of virus became the basis for the vaccine of a new season. However, as CDC claims, they will be effective only in 70 – 90% cases against these exact three strains of virus (Clachar, 2007). Hence, nobody is able to predict the odds of effectiveness of this vaccine for the cases related to other strains of virus. For example, in 2003-2004, the CDC acknowledged that they totally overlooked the Fujian influenza strain that struck the North Americans, especially hard that winter (Clachar, 2007). Fortunately, the virus was not something special; it was a mutation of Panama’s strain, so the current vaccine was able to partially protect from the virus (Gagnon, 2004).

Although the influenza shots are virtually benign, in comparison with alcohol and drug abuse, people with weak immune system have to be very careful with vaccination. The vaccine, for some people, has to be properly regulated in order to prevent the immune response to the vaccination from harming the health of an individual (Biss, 2014). However, Eula Biss admits that food and water can also be dangerous for some people if they are not regulated properly. Nevertheless, Tom Jefferson, doctor and coordinator of the Vaccines Field, raises a concern that he was able to find only 6 limited studies on the safety of flu shots after reviewing 206 scientific papers on vaccination. Taking into account the quantity of negative publicity on flu shots, in his opinion, it is a really small number of studies, considering “the widespread use of the vaccine and its mixed bag of ingredients” (Clachar, 2007). One more concern about vaccination is a content of a thimerosal in it, which is 49% mercury, a well-known neurotoxin. Although the latest studies do not confirm the link between the thimerosal and autism in children, the debates about harmfulness and effectiveness of flu vaccine are far away from being resolved. Whereas, the influenza is a risky and insidious disease that could claim human life, the chances of catching a banal cold are much higher than catching a strain of influenza virus. The studies conducted in 2005 showed that only 13% of those claiming to have flu actually had it.

Considering all above mentioned facts, it is impossible to give the unequivocal answer to the question, whether it is a bad or a good idea to do flu shots. On the one part, the harmfulness of the vaccine itself was not confirmed. On the other part, the effectiveness of vaccine cannot be proven affirmatively. In both cases, it is gambling. In case of non-vaccination, an individual places a bet on not catching the flu or having enough strong immune system to resist the virus. In case of vaccination, the individual puts his/ her trust into the competence and intuition of the scientific group that creates a vaccine.