I don’t know if you’re a glass half full kind of person, or a glass half empty kind of person, but a vaccine that is 48% effective does not sound remarkable, especially given the side effects that can come from the flu shot.

According to the CDC’s most recent Seasonal Influenza report, flu vaccines this 2016/2017 season are reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of getting sick and having to go to the doctor by 43% for influenza A and 73% for influenza B viruses. What they aren’t telling us is how many people are having to go to the doctor because of flu shot side effects.

The CDC’s website states that since October 1, 2016, a total of 9,444 laboratory confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported (in a country with 318 million people). The vast majority of those hospitalizations, more than 80%, are in people over 50 years old with at least one underlying health condition. In all, there have been 34 pediatric deaths from the flu for the 2016/2017 season as of February 18, and some of those children were vaccinated against the flu.

Performing a VAERS search for flu-vaccine related adverse events for a similar, although shorter, time period (October 2016 to January 14, 2017), there have been a total of 4,962 events reported. A surprising number of these are patients being given the wrong vaccine for their age, like a 2 month old receiving a flu shot by mistake (but that is another story). Of the nearly 5000 adverse events reported, 214 were serious, life threatening events. There are 16 reported deaths after vaccination, including 5 pediatric deaths. Keep in mind, this is how many have been reported to VAERS and as we know with all voluntary reporting systems, there could be hundreds, even thousands more that aren’t reported.

When I was young there was no flu shot in the vaccine schedule, and likewise no horrendous fear mongering over the dangers of influenza. I had the flu a few times, just like everyone else, and don’t recall it being any more than just inconvenient. Being sick sucks, don’t get me wrong, but I never landed in the hospital. And I never considered myself especially lucky. And it turns out, a lot of people with influenza infection don’t have any symptoms whatsoever. This 2014 study found that 75% of people who tested positive for influenza antibodies had no discernible symptoms of being ill at all. No cough, no runny nose, no fever, nothing. It’s great news for their immune systems, because it demonstrates their immune system is working extremely effectively, but also bad news for the possibility of spreading infection to someone with a less than favorable immune system. Which brings me to my next point, why would some people’s immune systems be working less than favorably?

The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone 6 months of age and up, but studies have shown that getting an annual flu shot actually increases your chance of getting the flu. And studies like this one actually show that children who are unvaccinated against the flu develop more virus-specific CD8+ T cell responses, which play a central role in fighting viral infections and cancers.

Scanning the real-world side effects of the flu shot this 2016/2017 season in the VAERS database, many of the adverse events are far more serious than the flu they were designed to prevent.  For perfectly healthy people, with no pre-existing condition the majority of adverse events tend to include things like: cellulitis, hives, seizures, rash, fainting, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, inconsolable crying, fever, and itching, red hot and swollen limbs. But when you sort for the life-threatening reactions to the flu shot, you get things life: guillain-barre syndrome, anaphylactic shock, Kawasaki disease, grand mal seizures, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, SIDS, and death.

Here are a few adverse events / side effects from the flu shot from this 2016/2017 season:

VAERS ID: 667075-1
Female, 4 years old. She received Sanofi Pasteur Fluzone Quadrivalent on October 22, 2016. The next day:
“Patient had a seizure on the morning of 10/22. The day after getting the flu shot. She had to be air lifted to hospital where she was in ICU for a few days. When she was taken off the vent and woke up she was paralyzed on her Right side and unable to speak. The MRI, EEG, EKG, Spinal tap and other test came back negative. We are currently on the therapy floor due to the paralysis. The doctors are puzzled as to why she still has all of these symptoms.”
VAERS ID: 673761-1
Female, 5 months old. She received Pediarix (DTAP, HepB and IPV), HIB, Fluzone, and Prevnar13 on December 8, 2016. The next day:
“Pt received vaccines (6 month vaccines) on 12/8/16 at wellness appointment in clinic. Other than mild runny nose and labial adhesion and rash (candidal) under neck, exam was normal. MGM notes that pt did well that night but was a “”little whiny””. No respiratory distress. No fever. Woke up Friday (12/9) and was “”pale””. TYLENOL given, went to Health Department and noted to have “”stopped breathing””.” She died December 9, 2016.
VAERS ID: 675986-1
Female, 5 months old. She received Pediarix (DTAP, HepB and IPV),Fluzone Quadrilavent, and Prevnar13 on December 29, 2016. The next day:
“Pt deceased of suspected SIDS on the day following administration of routine 6 month vaccines as well as flu shot.”
VAERS ID: 666583-1
Female, 62 years old. She received Fluarix Quadrivalent on October 13, 2016:
“10:13 had pre-op work for upcoming knee surgery. Took flu shot after had to stop along road twice on way home to throw up stayed sick 14th 15th of Oct. Got her in bed about 11:30pm on the 15th. Went in to get her out of bed at 10:00 AM on the 16th, she had passed away several hours prior to. Patient had taken flu shot for years. She felt good morning of 13th.”

Bottom line, every person and parent needs to do what is best for their families and themselves. Only you know the particular’s of you and your family’s health. Science is starting to take into consideration herehere and here that not all people are identical in their genetic makeups and predispositions, and some genetic polymorphisms are associated with adverse events. Some people will have reactions, and those reactions can be extremely severe. Don’t let medical professionals bully you into doing your “civic duty” because by being an informed person and parent, you are doing your civic duty.