Whenever winter appears out comes the free flu shots, for some. Some swear by the jab and have yearly shots, while others decline the offer - but every winter the flu shot offer becomes a community debate.
This year the brochures have added, in very small print, advice to contact your doctor for any query or problem. But in order to identify any issue your doctor needs to know the batch number, type and date of the vaccine that was given.
The question is does the flu vaccine work?
Are you better off having the jab or not? No-one really knows. What we do know is the flu vaccine’s preservative base is thiomersal, listed with our medicine regulator Medsafe as a registered pharmacy-only substance.
Thiomersal is a derivative of eythl mercury and listed as being toxic to those who have any type of immune disorder, are elderly or have compromised health and especially children. I once asked the Minister of Health if they had a crystal ball, as the department orders the production of the vaccine two years ahead of the flu season.
Given there are several types of flu strains, it can be a little like playing Russian roulette.
The Minister replied it was always a scientifically calculated guess? Given the four main flu vaccine strains, you have a 75 per cent chance of being injected the wrong variety and will end up with the flu. Plus, thiomersal should never be used in conjunction with immunosuppressant pain drugs, like aspirin. Even the American Food and Drug Administration has been actively addressing the issue of thiomersal in vaccines, with NZ recently removing the substance from childhood vaccines. Be proactive though; wash hands before eating, top up with good hearty soups, wear wool clothing and stay home if you develop a cold. My aunties used to swear by a shot of a hot toddy (whisky), a eucalyptus rub or steam inhalation, taking a warm lemon, ginger and honey drink and our native herb kumerahou is helpful with coughs and congestion.
Dr Janice Priest, naturopath, Tauranga City.
Editor’s Note: The Sun asked Bay of Plenty District Health Board to answer Janice Priest’s claims.
Best flu protection
The National Influenza Specialist Group is a group of medical, laboratory and vaccine experts which provides advice to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, the health service, and the general public about influenza and how to prevent it, including details around the annual influenza vaccine programme.
The full range of their advice for 2015 is available at www.influenza.org.nz
Unfortunately, Janice Priest’s letter contains a number of errors and misleading statements.
The influenza vaccine significantly reduces the chance of getting influenza. It prevents influenza symptoms in healthy adults aged 18-65 by about three-quarters.
So yes, the vaccine does work and will prevent many cases of influenza illness. The influenza vaccines are free of preservative; they do not contain thiomersal.
An expert sub-committee of the World Health Organisation advises on the composition of the annual influenza vaccine based on which strains of influenza virus are causing the bulk of illness around the world – because this often changes, the strains which are represented in our vaccine can also be different from year to year.
This is a very scientific process.
Orders for our seasonal influenza vaccine are placed each year as soon as the WHO committee confirms the make-up of the following season’s vaccine for the Southern Hemisphere.
Immunisation is your best defence against influenza. Practical measures such as frequent hand-washing and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing can help to reduce the chance of getting or spreading influenza, and other viral illnesses.
Staying away from work or school while infectious helps prevent others becoming unwell.
Apart from the vaccine, there are no remedies, pills or lotions which will make any difference to your chance of getting influenza.
Dr Phil Shoemack, Medical Officer of Health
Toi Te Ora – Public Health Service,
BOPDHB’s public health unit.