… that is the question: Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer. The Slings and Arrows of public pressure, Or to take Arms against flu infection, …
It’s flu season again, and with that our busiest season of answering the question: Should I get the flu vaccine?
To be clear, the flu vaccine is not within a naturopathic doctor’s scope of practice, and as such, it is not appropriate for us to either prescribe the flu vaccine, or advise a person not to have it.
We do endeavour to be helpful, and offer people the information they need to make an educated decision in matters of health they may be confused by, and in search of some manner of “expert” opinion.
This blog entry is actually in support of a Wellness Wednesday video we posted last week, but because it’s so “numbers heavy”, we decided to lay out the numbers (and our references here so readers can follow-up if they want to learn more).
Weighing whether or not to make any health decision based on research is not simple, and the flu vaccine is no exception.
In order to gather this information, I considered the four questions most people are considering (even if unconsciously) when making this (or any) decision:
Getting the flu: an unpleasant, but usually short-lived infection that resolves on it’s own.
The worst case scenario is development of “flu-related complications”, which can result in death.
The number of Canadian deaths attributed to flu annually according to Health Canada is 3’5001, but this number is based on computer models, not confirmed cases of flu that resulted in deaths. An investigative report by the CBC in 2012 reported that in 2009 when confirmation of suspected flu cases was mandated in response to H1N1 flu- tracking, the number of confirmed flu-related deaths was 4282.
Considering this range of possibilities, and assuming the population of Canada is 35’000’000, your risk of death from flu is between:
Firstly, there are complexities inherent to reviewing medical research. In the case of the flu vaccine, among the complicating factors:
Studies are not always “comparing apples to apples”.
Again, not an “apples to apples” comparison.
To find research findings that are useful for answering this question, I considered three factors:
Creation of a review article involves gathering all available research on a topic, removing studies of poor quality, assigning greater weight to more meaningful studies, and finally producing “a final answer”.
NNT considers not only the people who benefit from a treatment (which is usually how the media reports on medical research), but also other factors such as placebo effect.
For example, if 95% of patients in a group given a particular treatment recover, it would appear that the treatment is very effective. But, if 90% of patients given placebo also recover, the studied treatment is actually contributing very little to recovery (i.e., it’s only 5% better than doing nothing).
Statistically, NNT for this treatment is 20, meaning the first 19 people receiving this treatment would not benefit from it – 20 people have to receive this “very effective” treatment before anyone actually benefits from it.
In the case of the flu vaccine, the NNT represents the number of people who need to receive the flu vaccine to prevent one case of flu.
Vaccination using the flu vaccine also:
Common side effects of having the flu vaccine are flu-like symptoms lasting one to two days5.
Rare side effects include life-threatening allergies, and development of an autoimmune condition in which nerves are damaged called Guillain-Barre syndrome5.
Well, this is where it gets dicey. Yes and no.
There is no “natural flu vaccine”. A vaccine has a very specific mechanism of action of “pre-raising” antibodies to a specific infection that cannot be replicated by any other known means.
There certainly are other means to prevent flu infection. Hand-washing is considered by public health professionals an uncontroversial “alternative” means of preventing infections, including flu infection.
There are natural medicines that will stimulate general immune system activity that can be similarly used to reduce (all, not specifically flu) infections.
I will discuss these next week (this video and blog entry are already waaay too long).
Yes. If you plan to have the flu vaccine:
Until next week.
Posted: 2016 December 8