Vaccinated, Revisited. Veganism and Vaccines.

by Gena on January 16, 2013

It’s flu season. And it’s a very bad flu season at that. In light of this, I thought it would be a good time to revisit last year’s controversial post on my choice to get the flu vaccine.

Many of you may have read about Carla Brock, a nurse in Springfield Missouri, was fired for refusing the flu shot and refusing a mask (which is sometimes the alternative offered to those who do not choose to vaccinate). Ms. Brock pleased spiritual and religious grounds for her choice, so this was not a vegan issue, per se, but she did cite her holistic perspective on health as the primary motive.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am in favor of vaccinations—a stance that makes me unpopular in some circles, but by which I stand. There are complications associated with vaccines, as there are with nearly any medical intervention, but on the whole, I believe that vaccines are one of the most significant and successful innovations of modern medicine. Where things get really complicated for me is the conflict between veganism and vaccinations, because most vaccines (unless one opts for the live virus vaccine) are developed in eggs.

So what’s a vegan to do? Well, this year, I did not get a flu vaccine (a choice I may ultimately rue, given the incredible rates of infection this year), because I’m not currently working in a hospital environment with vulnerable patients. But as I discussed last year, I will get the flu vaccine whenever I’m working in hospital environments. This is not an easy or a perfect choice, but it’s one that I am at peace with. If I work at a hospital with a mask option, I will look into their efficacy and consider them instead. If you’re vegan and you’re torn over this issue, I encourage you to revisit the post and the excellent comments it received last year. Really great discussion, with a wide range of opinions.

In that post, I questioned whether non-religious moral belief, rather than religion, should be among the grounds for exemption. Right now, one can be exempt from a vaccine for religious reasons, but not as a vegan. If flu shots are indeed a matter of life and death, shouldn’t we make them a universal rule? Or if we do allow for religious exemption, shouldn’t we also consider allowing exemptions for ethical world views, like veganism?

Interestingly, this very issue recently popped up in Cincinnati, and Vegansaurus covered it. Again, it seems to me to come down to consistency: if flu shots are mandated on the grounds that people may die from exposure, then any exception seems like too great a risk. But if exceptions are to be made for religion, I think veganism deserves consideration as well.

But let’s move beyond this discussion for a moment here, and talk about a solution that is a lot more potent than debating meanings and policy. That is the development of a vaccination that is not created with eggs. One of my readers, Katelyn, emailed me last year with a link about a new flu vaccine from Novartis, which is grown in mammalian cell cultures. These cell cultures are almost certainly non-human (I could not find confirmation of this, but it strikes me as likely), so this is not vegan progress, per se. But I’d be curious to know whether this method might soon lead to innovations in vaccine development that are actually vegan.

In the end, I can only hope that the next breakthrough in vaccination development might be a vegan breakthrough. Call me foolishly optimistic, but I strongly suspect that it’s possible. And in the words of my friends at Our Hen House, sometimes indefatigable positivity is just what the doctor ordered. (Womp womp.)

Stay safe this flu season, friends, and however you choose to approach the vaccine, know that others are facing the same choice, and that this is a safe space in which to be honest about your thoughts.

xo

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda January 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I work for the state, and we have to take regular training classes on equal opportunity employment and avoiding discrimination. Veganism and vegetarianism are actually protected characteristics (under religion, and on the same level as race or gender), as long as it’s for ethical reasons.

However, there are certain bona fide occupational qualifications (for heavy construction labor, obviously, you have to be physically capable, and expecting a certain education level is totally OK for most jobs, because a certain level of knowledge is vital to do the job). In your case, I’m sure taking the shot or wearing a mask is a BFOQ. I kind of wish it weren’t, but it probably is. If it weren’t, I’d encourage you to talk to your HR representative and ask if you could be exempted for religious reasons. Morality doesn’t have to have a label like the name of a widespread religion. But for a hospital job it sounds like this is more than a reasonable accommodation.

Question: are they…fertilized eggs? I don’t get the shot because my body seems resilient to the flu (not to colds…sadly) and I’m cocky. But it would certainly give me impetus never to get it if it’s in growing eggs. The ones I eat have no baby chicks. Poor itty bitties.

Thanks for your awesome thoughts. You’re always an intelligent reprieve from the slush that’s online.

-Manders

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Gena January 16, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Manders,

Thanks for sharing. I’m not working in the hospital this winter, so it’s a moot point, but I agree that this would likely be a BFOQ. GUH didn’t make me aware of a mask option last year, but that’ll be worth asking about. To be clear, if masks aren’t an option, I likely still won’t seek out exemption, because of the risk I’d be putting immunosuppressed patients in. But I can cross fingers for a mask, for now.

Unfortunately, yes, fertilized. A company called Novovax is looking into a vaccine that uses VLPs (virus like particles) with similar surface proteins to viruses instead of fertlizing vaccines in eggs. Interesting info here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=better-flu-vaccine

G

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Amanda January 16, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Saaad. Poor little fellas.

Hey, I’m totally with you. I know we’ve discussed animal-based medicine lately, and honestly I’m much more in favor of using that to increase your quality of life than just eating meat because you like it. Not that it’s my place to encourage or discourage you from getting a vaccine, but I wholeheartedly support you. It goes back to the definition you often share – avoiding animal products when possible. The millions of people you have helped/are helping/will help is quite valuable. I choose to focus on that and would do the same thing myself. :)

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Debbie January 21, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Gena, I am a nurse who doesn’t believe in flu vaccines. I spent 6 months, hiring an attorney etc. to try and get an exemption from the vaccine or loose my job. Thankfully I finally received an exemption.
While I respect your right and decision that you believe in the medicine of the vaccines, I was a little surprised. It’s not the eggs that even bother me in the vaccines as much as the other toxins. I wonder what you think about the thermisol and other harmful ingredients? Again, I respect everyone’s choice to put in their body what they think is best. For me a mandated vaccine wasn’t one of them. I blogged about the journey if anyone is interested.

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melissa January 16, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Thanks so much for this post. I had always been one to avoid vaccinations. I thought people getting a flu shot were hypochondriacs–until this flu season came around. After two back to back colds and feeling under the weather for several weeks, I am rethinking whether or not the flu shot may be a good idea. The University just announced today that they are offering a second opportunity for free shots, so I am definitely considering it. I am not one to wear a mask or purr ell the crap out of everything, so the added defense of a shot may help me get through the rest of the season without being knocked out commission again. But on the other hand, the worst is supposedly behind us. Ah, what’s a girl to do?

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 8:02 am

Melissa,

It’s definitely late in the season, but strains ebb and flow, and flu can still be substantial until May. So, if you’re to do it, it’s not too late (and as someone who works around students, I can certainly see why you’d be considering it).

G

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Ashley January 16, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Always love and appreciate your insight, Gena. Thank you!

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Melanie January 17, 2013 at 12:05 am

So much more to say in response, but I’m sleepy and immediately post-yoga so this is the best I can do for the moment. It is so refreshing to read intelligent & thoughtful commentary about vaccines. I feel like for the last few weeks I’ve been running into ill-informed vaccine-bashing at every turn, and never a mention of ethical concerns. For those who wish to decline vaccination on ethical grounds (or otherwise) there isn’t a “replacement” per se, but elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is well worth checking into as a preventive & therapeutic option from the world of botanical medicine. It’s even shown in-vitro activity against H1N1, which may or may not mean that it’s capable of binding to the virus in a similar way in vivo, but this evidence coupled with its traditional use and abundant anecdotal evidence makes it worth considering.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 7:56 am

Thanks Melanie. That’s really interesting about Elderberry (I’d love to see the study if you have it), and I’m sure that my readers are grateful for that tip!

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Melanie January 17, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Here’s the one I was referencing, but a quick pubmed search yields a lot of hits. You might find some interesting things in there (in your copious free time that you use for recreational pubmed searches…) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19682714

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DeAnna January 17, 2013 at 12:19 am

Thanks for your thoughts Gena. I love your balanced and intelligent positions on these issues.

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JL January 17, 2013 at 7:42 am

I didn’t get a flu shot this year. It’s not because I’m vegan, it’s because I no longer work around students or on a campus. I have a new doctor (a DO not an MD) who, when I asked if I should get a flu shot, said emphatically “no”. Good enough for me.

Interestingly, I mentioned this on my Facebook page and people were overwhelmingly saying no to the flu shot – a good number going so far to say that their veganism was their flu shot. I had to jump in to say that I don’t personally agree with that notion.. There’s a real good chance I could get the flu. I’ll get sick and I’ll recover. I might bounce back a bit quicker but I certainly don’t see my veganism making me disease-proof.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 7:53 am

Thanks for sharing, JL. A person who is generally fit — whether because he or she is vegan, or simply because he or she has good lifestyle habits overall — will probably bounce back from the flu quicker than someone who is in compromised health, to be sure. But being vegan isn’t going to make anyone flu proof, nor necessarily make anyone’s case of the flu shorter and better. A lot of factors are involved.

When it comes to the flu shot, I think it’s fine to weigh the options and make an individual choice based on one’s workplace, exposure, whether or not one is around kids, etc.–just the way you did. A person who works around students or sick people will be facing a much more complex decision than a person who can autonomously weigh the risks and opt out of his/her own accord. But reflexive anti-vaccine sentiment is a really different when we start talking about things like MMR, polio, TB, and so on. These childhood vaccines do rely on the herd effect (arguably) more than the flu shot, and opting out means challenging their efficacy for everyone.

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Kari Doorduin January 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Hi Gena
I am reading through all the comments about the vaccinations – not very far yet, and here you briefly mention childhood vaccines. I have an 18 month old son, and the decision weather to vaccinate or not is a very hard one for me. I have read so much about it (for and against), and the more I read the more confused I become. He has had all his vaccinations up to one year, and then I started the extensive reading and decided to stop all further vaccinations until I have made up my mind about everything that I have read. That was 6 months ago.. I still haven’t. A lot of the studies and info that I read comes from this blog: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/if-you-are-in-support-of-vaccinations/
I don’t like Sarah’s tone at all, but she gives a lot of info and cites studies (some of the people who comment also does) which makes me really doubt the safety of vaccines. According to many of the comments, the heard effect is also not true. I don;t know if you are familiar with her blog, or would have the time to look at it. The piece about vaccines is a long read if you read all the comments. I would love to know what you think about it.
Kari

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Crissie January 17, 2013 at 7:47 am

The hospital system I work in nearly took the policy of no shot – no employment, but changed to give mask wearing an option. That said – I took the shot again this year. While I have a healthy adult body, the vast majority of those in our hospitals do not, and I will not put myself in a position to inadvertently pass an illness that may annoy me and make me slightly uncomfortable – but could kill them. In this case, my desire to bring no harm to those already immunocompromised outweighs all the other reasons I would have for not taking the shot. I hope that there is an alternative someday, but until that day and as long as I work in healthcare, I will get the shot. To do no harm to others means, for me, people too.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

Thanks, Crissie. I really appreciate your perspective as a hospital employee.

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Karen January 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

I’ve never had a flu shot in my adult life, and have never contracted the flu – though I don’t attribute either fact to my veganism, but rather a naturally strong immune system. Though I do teach in a university setting, my overall one on one exposure to students is limited to once per week. However, I certainly would not hesitate to get the flu vaccine if my health status or work situation warranted – but then again, my reasons plant-based eating are primarily motivated by health vs. animal rights/ethics, so I’m sure I would feel more conflicted if the latter were the case. Regardless (and maybe I’m revealing my age here) but I’ve learned in life that when it comes to matters of potentially serious health risks, sometimes you do need to compromise and flex on your desires/beliefs when it comes the undesirable compounds in pharmacological drugs, treatment etc. It’s a matter of weighing the options and pros and cons of each and then accepting a non-perfect solution.

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Meghann January 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

I get the flu shot each year.

I don’t work in health care, but I am in contact with lots of people though my job. Although the flu may be no big deal for me, not everybody is so lucky. I can’t wait for the day when vegan vaccine options are available. Until that day, I do think it is my moral responsibility to do what I can to help protect people in my community.

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cv January 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

And then there are those of us allergic to eggs. What are our options?

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 9:57 am

CV,

The hospital where I work offers the live vaccine option for severe allergies. Other hospitals might offer total exemption or a mask. There are definitely options, though!

G

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Amy January 17, 2013 at 8:56 pm

forgive me but I’m a little confused- if the live vaccine isn’t incubated in eggs, wouldn’t that be an option for vegans then?

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the delicate place January 17, 2013 at 10:01 am

i was really interested to hear your thoughts on this topic! i choose every year to abstain from the flu vaccine because i think it helps build resistant strains. if i were a child or eldery or worked in hospital or elementary school, i would receive it.

yeah..my guess is that the novartis vaccine is derived from a murine culture making it easy to grow but yeah..not technically vegan. i imagine for an ethical vegan that it’s a really hard battle. i think it’s important to do your best but not punish or feel guilty when concessions have to be made when the technology simply doesn’t exist yet.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 10:03 am

Melissa,

Thanks for commenting. The resistant strain issue is my biggest concern (from a health standpoint) with the vaccine. I’m not sorry not to have gotten it this year, but totally agree with you that, if you’re a childcare or healthcare worker, the game changes.

G

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Jimmy January 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

Vaccines DO NOT attribute to the creation of resistant strains of viruses. What can speed up virus mutation into more virulent forms is a large enough population of virus (i.e. non-vaccinated anti-science yahoos infected with said virus), which in turn allows for a higher rate of mutations and increases the probability that at least one of the mutations would enhance the viruses ability to infect or even kill more people.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

Interesting, Jimmy. I’ll confess that I thought vaccines might work similarly to antibiotics, increasing resistance (I just took genetics, so perhaps should have known better re: mutation rates)!

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Shannon January 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thanks for this- a lot of good thoughts.

I work in a hospital with a mask option but I got the shot. My veganism is a choice I make for myself, based on my health and ethical concerns. I don’t impose it on anyone else. I don’t tell anyone else how to eat or live, though I feel it reasonable to ask my loved ones to take my needs into consideration when we’re choosing a restaurant or planning what to cook at home (or I opt out of eating with that particular person or group). However, the health of my patients is not something I can compromise on. I’m not willing to impose my veganism on someone else when it potentially poses serious risks to them.

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Jen January 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

The new Novartis vaccine was approved at the end of last year for use in the US:
http://www.flucelvax.com/
it had already been approved in Europe.

It is made from canine cells, however, the cells were harvested in the 1960′s (if not earlier) and are grown new every year from the old cells. The manufacture of this vaccine does not require any “new” cells or chicken eggs.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 10:47 am

Thanks Jen. That’s really exciting news — not ideal, of course, but much better than continual harvesting of chicken eggs.

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Marissa January 17, 2013 at 10:44 am

In four years as a college student (two actually living in the dorms), I have never gotten the flu vaccine, or the flu itself. I never see the purpose in getting the vaccine when I have no history of getting the disease. But I’ve had other vaccines, especially when I go abroad (typhoid, Hepatitis A, etc.), and I assume they’re all made the same way–with eggs. Unfortunately, in our medical system, it just doesn’t seem possible to stick t your vegan principles and receive the care you need. For example, I’m taking a specific medication right now that doesn’t come in generic form, and only comes as a time-release gel capsule–which means that I can’t just take the medication out of the gel. And many doctors I’ve worked with don’t seem to know whether or not certain medications are vegan, and if not, whether or not there are alternatives. I think this discussion of vaccines is excellent, but we should also be mindful that it applies to so much in our health care system.

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Kathleen January 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

A note about face masks – there are no studies that show wearing a mask prevents one from spreading the flu, only studies that show people who routinely wear a mask are less likely to catch the flu.

I do see the ethical predicament that vegans are in, although there are plenty of other types of animal ingredients in vaccines we regard as standard. Bovine extract, fetal bovine serum, calf serum. I suppose my question is where does one draw the line? The work at Novartis seems interesting and I hope they come up with something!

The bigger ethical question for me is will I infect others, specifically the immunosuppressed, without knowing it. If I contract the flu on the subway, will I spread it to someone else before knowing it? Will I honestly take the full 7-10 days off to recover or will I be tempted to go to school and work? I got the flu shot this year because of the consensus that one strain was going to be particularly strong and it proved to be true. Though most of us who are healthy and young recover from the flu with rest and hydration, we can’t forget that there have been strains in our history that have caused significant numbers of deaths. Even with all of the advances we have made since the last big epidemic, 20 children have died from the flu so far this year.

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AmyLu January 17, 2013 at 11:16 am

You have cited several key issues, but no one has mentioned vaccine harm from mercury and formaledhyde in the preservative thimerosol, and from vaccine adjuvants that stimulate the immune system in some individuals in a way that contributes to immune-related disease. That may be off-topic here since veganism is primarily being discussed, but there are vaccine risks, too. It sounds very theoretical until it is part of your life in a practical sense. Those risks aren’t just hypotheticals on paper.

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Taylor January 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Thiomersal is either phased out or almost completely phased out of vaccines. Here is a source from 2009: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/QuestionsaboutVaccines/UCM070430

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yvette January 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Multi-dose vials of this year’s flu vaccine still contain thimerosal and it doesn’t look like they plan to stop this practice – would be great if they did!

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/thimerosal.htm#vaccines

It looks like it’s still being added to other vaccines as well, though I’m not sure which ones:

http://www.naturalnews.com/035432_vaccines_mercury_court_case.html

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Debbie January 21, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Thermisol has not been phased out of the vaccines. You can go on the CDC website and find the ingredient list. The shot that they were giving at my hospital contained Thermisol and eggs, and a few other long chemicals that I just don’t think belong in the body.

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Laura C January 23, 2013 at 12:00 am

Thimerosol is phased out of almost all vaccines, but multi-vial flu vaccines do contain it. To avoid thimerisol, get a single-unit vaccination or a nasal spray administration. (more info at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/thimerosal.htm)

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JordanK January 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm

This is my first comment though I have been a devoted reader for at least two years. Your topic compelled me to just say a quick bravo to you. Bravo for bringing up topics that others often shy away from, topics that surely aren’t geared towards eliciting more followers but instead towards education, discourse and proper thought-provocation. Bravo for fostering and tending to a community of followers whose comments are unlike any other blog or forum I have found online – the people who comment (I said I never commented, not that I don’t read the comments!) are smart, thoughtful, sensitive and also unafraid of saying what they think, no matter if it goes against the obvious inclinations of the rest of the followers (or is it commenters?). Bravo. That is all. Besides this: I am also a vegan who has chosen to get a flu shot, it wasn’t the easiest decision in my life but it was far from the hardest. When I have the choice, and I often do not, my personal health has to come first. If I don’t comment again, much love to Gena and her followers (commenters?)!

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rfloh January 17, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Nice nuanced article. I agree with you on vaccines in general. Yes, there are obviously issues invovled, principally with “unnecessary” vaccines, but only the most myopic people would deny that vaccines, in general, smallpox, measles, polio, rubella, have a prevented a lot of suffering, and that vaccination in general is a wonderful achievement and milestone in public health.

TBH, I expect that I will be facing a similar ethical dilemma in a few years time. I want to work in research, specifically in the genetic and molecular aspects of diet and exercise (including in relation to diabetes and cancer), but, at the same time I object to testing on animals, especially “sacrificing” mice / rats. I have no idea how to deal with this.

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sylvia January 17, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I think anyone should be able to turn down a vaccine for any reason. I see a lot of people who would benefit from staying out of McDonalds but that is their choice. Obesity related diseases kill more people than the flu ever could. I had the flu last month, as did both my young daughters and my youngest developed pneumonia from it as well. I know how hard the flu can be on certain groups of people in society and I don’t wish to spread it to anyone with a compromised immune system. And I think one point that has been neglected here is that you can still get influenza even if you had the vaccine.

I am not anti vaccine and I agree with Gena about how vaccines are a modern medical miracle. I just don’t think it is as simple as “to get the shot or not.”

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Nikki W. January 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I commented last year about getting the flu shot because I work with patients in a hospital. This year I was offered the choice of the live virus, so I took it. It is my responsibility to protect my patients. In my particular position this means getting vaccinated for the flu every year, vegan or not. I do look forward to the day when there are more vegan options for vaccines.

I also believe that veganism should be given the same respect as religions when it comes to situations like this. However, with something as dangerous as the flu there will be consequences for anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated. If a direct patient care provider chooses not to be vaccinated for the flu I believe they should be required to wear a mask or be transferred to an area where they will not have direct patient contact. This is my opinion based on what I’ve seen when an already sick patient ends up with a secondary infection/illness due to exposure IN THE HOSPITAL. Patient care workers have an opportunity to spare their patients the risk.

And, for the general public: wash your hands, sneeze into the crook of your arm (not your hand), and if you have any signs of the flu please quarantine yourself to your best ability so you don’t expose others :)

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Manda January 17, 2013 at 4:38 pm

The idea that getting a flu shot is even in the same category of having the physical ability to meet job requirements is absurd. There is a big difference than being able to safely lift x amount of pounds and being injected with a vaccine. Should someone choose to inject medication into his or her body, that is a personal choice. Working in healthcare does not mandate that my employer gets to make my medical decisions for me. The “mask option” is not truly an option, more of a method of shaming employees who do not want to comply. The fact is that hospitals were given a percentage of employees to be vaccinated in order to receive certain government funding. Employees who receive the flu shot are still likely to transmit other varieties of the flu as well as any other viral illness. In addition, the vaccine simply does not offer a high level of protection against transmission of the strains included, so vaccinated employees can certainly still spread the flu.
The idea that the flu shot is an effective protection against the flu is an idea and not proven by solid evidence. We don’t even have an accurate count on actual influenza cases, the numbers reported are “flu-like illness,” which could include any of three hundred viral illnesses.
My son had the flu, something we would not have even known had he not had a terrible eczema flare calling for a doctor visit. He had fever, was tired, and was over it in less than 24 hours. This is most likely due to his overall health. In that time he in constant contact with me, often breathing in my face. I did not get the flu. I took care of many people with confirmed cases of influenza. I did not get the flu. This is most likely due to the choices I make to take care of my health and immune system.
Adequate rest, proper nutrition, excellent hand hygiene and overall preventative care can reduce the overall incidence of viral illness. And yet there are no mandates to do these things. The nurse who eats a steady diet of processed food, sleeps little, and comes to work sick is not asked to wear a mask. Most likely because there is no government funding involved.
The bottom line – each person needs to be responsible for his/her own health and medical decisions, forced vaccinations have no place and no proven record. Dr. Furhman (diseaseproof.com) has an excellent article on this very issue up right now.

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Kathryn January 17, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I would have to agree 100%. Taking proper care of yourself, which includes hand hygiene, is the most important thing anyone can do to remain healthy and not get sick. If you are eating junk and not getting proper rest or exercise, you are compromising yourself and those around you.

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Gena January 17, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Thanks for the comments. I do agree that hygiene, rest, diet, activity level, and overall immune strength have a lot to do with susceptibility to the flu. But there seems to be a dichotomy created in these comments suggesting that one is either a person with healthy habits who will not get sick, or a “junk food” eating person who is courting illness (and quite a bit of judgment attached to that description, I might add). The reality isn’t *always* so black or white: people with excellent lifestyle habits can, in some cases, fall ill, and those with poor lifestyle habits can often escape the flu.

I’d also point out that, while I hope to champion good food habits and hygiene as much as you both, this post is also about the predicament of health care workers who may carry the virus (again, not *always* due to bad habits) and, because they have healthy immune systems, are able to either fend off infection or recovery quickly. But what happens if they infect, say, a seven year old child in the middle of a heavy round of chemo? In those cases, the necessity of immunizations in hospitals becomes (I think) a lot more complex than assigning blame to diet.

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Kathryn January 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I was not meaning to sound “judgmental”. However, the CDC states that the flu vaccine is only about 60% effective. That means that about 40% of people who get the flu shot will still get the flu. It would be in each persons best interest to be practicing good hygiene and healthy habits to increase the strength of their immune system and reduce the spread of flu (and other) germs instead of only relying on getting the flu vaccine to prevent getting the flu. Now I realize that most people who read this blog are most likely already doing this, but perhaps do not know the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. I have not looked into the statistics of other vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella, etc, but given the fact that we do not hear much about these illnesses, I would imagine that they are much more effective than the flu shot.
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm

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Maggie January 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Bravo Manda!
I’ve been reading the comments tonight, waiting to see if anyone would speak from your perspective. As the mother of two small children, who are both in the school system, I am well aware of the risks of the flu (and the fear that goes along with the worse-case scenarios). However, I won’t be vaccinating and neither will my family. It’s a personal choice. So, what do we do? We get proper rest, an increase in fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods, and I make sure they’re washing their hands and taking any supplements (like Vit D), among many other things. We’re taking responsibility for our health. I’m off to read Dr. Fuhrman’s article :)

I truly commend all of you who have had to make a difficult decision. And it’s inspiring to see some of you taking this shot because of their compassion for their patients.

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Julann January 19, 2013 at 10:16 am

I agree. I Just read Dr Fuhrman book Super Immunity, he has a whole section on why not to get the flu shot.

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Jennifer January 17, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Just yesterday, the FDA approved a new flu vaccine that while not vegan (it is made from an insect virus), does get closer to being in line with vegan ethics, and could be a good compromise. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm335891.htm

It is also very interesting to note that unlike the standard flu vaccine which only protects against the best guess of which strains will circulate in a season (about 65% effective, but I don’t have a source for that), the insect-based vaccine protects against all strains (44% effective, but I can’t tell if that is overall effectiveness or effectiveness against the strains it wasn’t designed to prevent).

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audenc January 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I am a vegetarian, not vegan, largely because certain aspects of veganism seem very extreme to me. I rarely eat dairy or eggs, because I recognize the horror of factory farm conditions, but I have trouble relating to people who would refuse to take a vaccine because it is developed in eggs. I wonder what such people think about abortion. (I don’t want to derail this thread, so if someone were willing to provide me links or references to vegan writing on abortion, I’d appreciate it). In terms of being against using fertilized eggs for these vaccines, is the concern for the hen that laid them, or the unborn chick? I’m not being facetious, I’m truly curious. I would be just as happy as the next veggie girl to have access to vegan vaccines, but finding a new way to develop these vaccines just to be vegan does not seem like the best use of scarce resources.

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audenc January 17, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I will add that I do agree that if hospital workers can get out of vaccines for religious reasons, then vegans should be able to, as well.

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Elisabeth January 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm

This is a really pressing and thought-provoking post, Gena. I applaud you for your clarity and insight regarding this difficult topic, as always. I personally did not get the flu vaccine this year, but it wasn’t on the grounds of vegan ethics. However, I do think that the vegan dilemma of choosing whether or not to get a vaccine is somewhat like choosing whether or not to wear a wool sweater or use skin care products with ingredients like lanolin. As much as I’d like to think that a completely animal (and people) cruelty-free world is possible, I have to be realistic and know that some products that I use are not entirely vegan (like shoes). I try as hard as I can to make ethical choices everyday, and I hope that my optimism will eventually make a difference.

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yvette January 17, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Hi and thanks so much for such a great blog that you work so hard at – I really enjoy your recipes and articles.

I apologize for getting into the vaccine debate here where it may not be appropriate, but I know that people here care about health and I wanted to share a link to more information that some people might find helpful. If people want a good source of information, here is site with many articles by doctors and scientists: http://www.vaccinationcouncil.org/start-here-2/

Yes, vaccines have a role to play in some cases. But as everyone here knows, there are many unknowns about the long-term health impacts of regularly provoking our immune systems (and also, of course, the potential dangers of adjuvants like thimerosal). The “do no harm” principle, in this context, should provoke deep and serious questions, I think, when we use vaccines preventatively as a widespread public health imperative.

Respectfully,
Yvette

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Liz January 18, 2013 at 4:34 am

I am a vegan, but have an allergy to eggs and had a reaction in the past to a flu shot, I work in health care, but in Australia it is not compulsory to be vaccinated, it is an option offered by the employer. It has never been an issue and about 90% of the staff opt for immunization..
I would if I could, but I cant.I am a dietary vegan by choice, I am pretty healthy and so are most of my carnivorous friends, I dont believe being a vegan gives you an amazing immune system and infallible health.
Just a thought though, why are religious beliefs considered an acceptable excuse when vegan-ism isn’t, maybe that double standard that should be looked at..as someone with no religion why should I make exceptions for those that do…selfish I know, but food for thought!!

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TaylorW January 18, 2013 at 10:25 am

I’m so glad to see this discussion!

I’m a dietetic intern and although not technically employed by the hospital I am doing my clinical rotation in, I still have to follow the quasi-compulsory flu shot mandate.

Only those with an egg allergy are allowed exemption.

As a vegan, I refuse for obvious ethical reasons.

We do have a masking policy (until March 31st!) for those who do not get the shot. Which I am intending to take part in (I don’t start there until Jan 28th).

What I’m worried about is my preceptor…she isn’t the nicest or most understanding person in the world (I’ve worked with her for other rotations) and she doesn’t know I’m vegan (how I got through my foodservice rotation there without her knowing is a miracle). I’m afraid when she finds out (and undoubtedly berates me for not getting the flu shot and asks why in the world I am vegan) she will treat me in a different way or view me differently.

The other dietitians know I am vegan and while a couple are pretty close-minded, most of them are fine with it.

Any suggestions on how to go about this issue socially, especially as an intern?

Thanks!

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bitt January 18, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Very interesting. I’d love to know more about the live vaccine option. I am one of those people with a health condition who is actually not supposed to get vaccines if I can help it. We ran into an ethical and somewhat of a practical dilemma with vaccines this year because my sister was due to have a baby and there is a pertussis outbreak and there is a concern that immunity is waning on the adults who had it. Each family member had to decide whether or not to get it and if not, my sister had to decide who can interact with the baby if they are not vaccinated (the baby can’t get it until 3 months). In the end my husband got it because killing a baby with potentially deadly petussis, especially a relative’s baby seemed worse than a potential animal product in there that we can’t control. But if it’s just one’s own health, that’s more of a personal choice. In the end I didn’t have to get it because I had gotten it within 4 years. Otherwise I am not sure what I would have done because I would have had to decide whether to potentially get sicker myself or risk the baby getting sick. It’s tough!

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MizShrew January 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I’ve gotten the flu shot every year for the last five years, since my mom is in a skilled nursing setting and when I visit her I contact not just her, but many other residents, many of whom are dealing with complex illnesses and are likely immuno-compromised. A couple of points that jumped out at me from the comments:

The 60% efficacy rate: if one works in a healthcare setting, it seems that anything we do to *reduce* the chances of making someone else ill is the proper protocol overall. Nothing is 100% effective, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.

The McDonald’s example: sylvia upthread mentioned that lots of people could benefit from avoiding McD’s (true) and that obesity kills more people than the flu (also true). But you can’t “catch” obesity from someone, so this doesn’t feel like a good parallel to me. And in healthcare, you do face issues that are beyond personal choice in favor of patient safety. For example, washing your hands umpteen times per day is probably both hard on your skin and a pain in the arse, but it’s a necessary patient safety precaution.

Anyway Gena, as always, a thoughtful and interesting discussion. The rest of the interwebthingynets should take lessons from you.

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Lana January 22, 2013 at 6:47 am

Don’t get vaccines! Don’t get any of them. They have toxic harmful chemicals in them, we were not made to inject this crap in our bodies! I agree with the nurses comment above, the eggs are nothing compared to the toxins in the vaccines!

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MizShrew January 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

Lana, I wish you could have spoken to a friend of mine (she died recently) who contracted polio as a child in the 50s and dealt with the resulting physical handicaps it caused for the rest of her life. Painting vaccines in general with such a broad paintbrush ignores some of the life-saving good they have done in fighting genuinely horrible diseases. I’m not saying they are perfect in all cases (I’m not a scientist) but there have been proven benefits from vaccines that are easy to forget now that some of the diseases they fight (like polio) have become so rare.

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sasha March 11, 2014 at 8:39 pm

thanks for these comments, as a new vegan, I work in health care and was not going to have it this year but decided too, thanks for your effort and time

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Gena March 16, 2014 at 7:36 am

My pleasure. Be well, Sasha.

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