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The Flu Shot: Solution or Problem?

by Kelly Brogan, MD

The idea behind vitalism and holistic healthcare is that an environment for wellness can be cultivated once we recognize the body’s inherent complexity, wisdom, and its inextricable connection to the world it inhabits.

Immunity and microbial synergy

While it is powerful to see studies like the one I am about to describe, our ability to support immunity is about so much more than throwing a supplement at a problem. It goes without saying that we will never “win the war on microbes.” Not with antibiotics. Not with vaccines. Not with bleach and hand sanitizers. The dawn of the our awareness of the microbiome has changed medicine for good. Somehow, despite the face of every other field being rechiseled by science supporting the role of inflammation and the gut microbiome, infectious disease and vaccinology are still living in the early 1900s when the idea of rubbing the pus of a milkmaid’s sore onto a little boy seemed compelling.

In a study entitled Effects of probiotic Lactobacillus brevis KB290 on incidence of influenza infection among schoolchildren: an open-label pilot studyresearchers divided 1,783 subjects into two groups in an open-label trial conducted in two 8-week periods at a 1-month interval in winter 2013/2014. They state:

Group A was provided with a bottle of the test drink containing KB290 (about 6 billion colony-forming units) every school day in the first period and had no treatment in the second period, and vice versa for Group B. Epidemic influenza was not observed during the first period and only two of 1783 subjects were diagnosed. In the second period, the incidence of influenza in Groups A (no treatment) and B (provided the test drink) was 23·9 and 15·7%, respectively, and the difference was statistically significant (P < 0·001). The reduction in the incidence of influenza by KB290 consumption was especially remarkable in unvaccinated individuals.

What is remarkable about this study is not that probiotics may be immune supportive, but that vaccines may actually interfere with the potential benefits of a synergy with the microbial world.

Do we have it backwards? Are vaccines part of the problem instead of being part of the solution?

But unvaccinated children spread disease, right?

Recently, I was privy to a discussion on a Reproductive Psychiatry email list that suggested a pregnant patient should leave her unvaccinated children at home because of the risk that they pose to the vaccinated. Here is what I wrote in reply:

Dear colleagues,

I understand that there is a natural concern for the spread of infectious disease when there may seem to be an obvious means for mutual protection beyond supporting natural immunity with clean food, water, air, and sunlight.  I’ve been researching this topic in detail for 7 years and wanted to offer a few points that strongly challenge the prevailing view that unvaccinated children spread disease and vaccines are indispensable for protecting individual and public health.

I’m happy to share more data/resources with anyone who might be interested in this topic. I recognize this format isn’t an ideal forum for discussion of such a complex issue!

Here are some of the issues raised by the available data (primary sources hyperlinked):

Do the unvaccinated spread disease? Most salient to the concern at hand is the idea that unvaccinated patients “threaten” the vaccinated. Apart from this being illogical if vaccines are actually as effective as they are presumed to be, it is at odds with what is demonstrated by available data which suggests that the vaccinated may, in fact, represent asymptomatic and occasionally symptomatic “shedders” of viral illness (this has also been demonstrated for measlesmumpsnasally administered live flurotavirus, and varicella with a comprehensive discussion here).

Information from the Centers for Disease Control website indicates “that both children and adults vaccinated with live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) can shed vaccine viruses after vaccination, although in lower amounts than occur typically with shedding of wild-type influenza viruses.”

Additionally, “A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed in a daycare setting in children younger than 3 years of age to assess the transmission of vaccine viruses from a vaccinated individual to a non-vaccinated individual. At least one vaccine strain was isolated from 80% of FluMist recipients; strains were recovered from 1-21 days post vaccination. One placebo subject had mild symptomatic Type B virus infection confirmed as a transmitted vaccine virus by a FluMist recipient in the same playgroup.” source

Does the vaccine make children more vulnerable? Beyond the risk of spreading the virus to unvaccinated children and adults, the flu vaccine has been documented to increase viral susceptibility in the recipient. The data suggests the the vaccine hampers the development of virus-specific CD8 T-cell immunity, induces a three-fold increase in hospitalization for pediatric flu vaccine recipients, a 4.4 RR for non-influenza viral infection after the trivalent flu vaccine and up to 2.5 fold increased risk of medically attended H1N1 after receipt of the 2008 trivalent flu vaccine.

Does the flu vaccine work?   The frank efficacy of the flu vaccine has been called into question by the only meta-analytic authority, the Cochrane database, who have assessed this parameter in children under twohealthy adultsthe elderly, and those who work with the elderly.

Most salient to this discussion within the Cochrane review on flu vaccines in healthy adults is this passage: “Over 200 viruses cause influenza and ILI, producing the same symptoms (fever, headache, aches, pains, cough and runny noses). Without laboratory tests, doctors cannot distinguish between them as both last for days and rarely lead to death or serious illness. At best, vaccines may only be effective against influenza A and B, which represent about 10% of all circulating viruses.”  Clearly, validated conclusions from the most credible evidence-based organizations reveal it is nearly impossible to prove that flu vaccines protect against influenza in any particular vaccinated child given its clear limitations vis-à-vis the immense immunological and virological complexities involved.

Why might it not work? The reasons for this noted inefficacy may include forced strain evolution from serial passage of a virus through multiple animal tissues and the important notion of original antigenic sin or epitope suppression. This phenomenon relates to the programmed response by the immune system to a virus that then represents skewed immunity upon reexposure. This paper describes the phenomenon with regard to influenza, although it is relevant to all vaccine-induced “immunity.”

“Using two related strains of influenza A virus, we show that original antigenic sin leads to a significant decrease in development of protective immunity and recall responses to the second virus. In addition, we show that sequential infection of mice with two live influenza virus strains leads to almost exclusive Ab responses to the first viral strain, suggesting that original antigenic sin could be a potential strategy by which variant influenza viruses subvert the immune system.”

Inefficacy may also relate to the now antiquated notion of using antibody response (quantified by titer numbers and in vitro plaque reduction neutralization tests) as a surrogate for immunogenicity, which has been challenged by the peer-reviewed literature suggesting that antibodies may play an inconsistent and unpredictable role in immunity, and do not correspond to protection against real world exposures to infection which are the only true measure of effectiveness and which can only be proven through clinical end points

Are there special concerns for the pregnant population? Lastly, I would bring your attention to a literature that supports a signal of harm in the form of fetal demise in women who received the two season flu shot, and potentially those who are exposed to amounts of thimerosal/mercury far exceeding that allowed by the EPA through an oral (not injected) route, although the effects of the other ingredients including undetectable zoonotic (exogenous) retroviruses is impossible to ascertain. The mercury in the thimerosal-free flu vaccine is 300 ppb relative to the 2ppb that EPA suggests is “safe” for oral ingestion. Of course, the toxicological assessment of injected quantities has never been examined, but without liver-based detoxification mechanisms direct versus oral injection of heavy metals can be presumed to be far more harmful. On September 27, 2012, the Human & Experimental Toxicology Journal published a study by Gary Goldman reporting a 4,250 percent increase in the number of miscarriages and stillbirths reported to VAERS in the 2009/2010 flu season.

As clinicians deeply invested in informed consent and whose prescribing practices may be called into question in the event of adverse maternal-fetal outcomes, I believe it to be in your best interest to acquaint yourself with the data that contradicts what the CDC and FDA might suggest with regard to efficacy and safety of this one-size-fits-all pharmaceutical product. We all know that these agencies are inefficient with regard to assimilation of available data.


A true appreciation of of microbial origins, coevolution, and the imperative to work with the natural world to overcome the assaults of post-industrial living will lead us to a new health care. I hope to continue to chip away at the encrusted illusions obscuring our true path toward health freedom.

It’s time for us to get out of our own way…

Kelly Brogan, MD is the Medical Director for Fearless Parent™. She’s betting on microbial intelligence.


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