While you may think that most naturopathic doctors are anti-vaccine, the truth is that many licensed NDs do recommend and/or administer vaccinations such as flu shots. As medical students, we learn all about vaccinations and their many benefits, and administer them in our teaching clinics.
I get a flu shot from a local pharmacy every year. I do this because I would rather not suffer through the flu myself, and because I want to help protect my friends, family, and those who are most vulnerable to the deadly effects of the flu. Those individuals include babies, young children, the old, and people with serious chronic health conditions.
The Dangers of Flu Virus
It is all too easy to dismiss the flu as little more than a more severe cold, but statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underline just how dangerous it can be. In an online report published December 9, 2016, the CDC estimated that flu-related hospitalization in the United States ranged from a low of 140,000 each year to a high of 710,000 during the 2014-2015 flu season.
It isn’t easy to estimate how many people actually die from flu and its complications, because not all states report this information. However, the CDC estimates that from 2010-2011 to 2013-2014, flu-related deaths ranged from about 12,000 up to 56,000 during 2012-2013.
It is clear, then, that protecting against the flu won’t just benefit your health and well-being—it will benefit the health and well-being of many Americans. But what do you do if you would rather avoid vaccines that contain mercury? That’s one big obstacle for lots of people, including me. So I take the precaution of making sure that the flu vaccine I get each year does not contain mercury, since I’d rather not be injecting this toxic heavy metal, even in minute amounts, into my body.
The CDC recommends annual flu shots for all persons aged six months and older. And if you do decide to get yourself and/or your children vaccinated, you also have a choice as to whether your flu shot contains mercury.
What Is Thimerosal?
A THIMERSOSAL DEFINITION
Here’s how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains thimerosal:
“Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that has been used for decades in the United States in multi-dose vials (vials containing more than one dose) of medicines and vaccines.
“There is no evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site. However, in July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure.”
Previously, many flu vaccines contained thimerosal, a preservative that is 49.55 percent mercury by weight. Thimerosal in a flu vaccine rapidly breaks apart into ethyl-mercury compounds that have an affinity to bind to other compounds inside in the body. This results in increased body and brain inorganic mercury concentrations, possibly increasing the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children and neurotoxicity in adults.[2-5]
The use of thimerosal flu vaccines has been largely eliminated over the past decade in the United States, but the inactivated influenza vaccine still uses it in multi-dose vials that require a preservative.
These flu vaccines are currently available for the 2017-2018 flu season (in case you’re wondering, quadrivalent vaccines protect against four strains of influenza, while trivalent vaccines protect against three):
Mercury-Free Flu Shot: Thimerosal-Free Vaccines
These vaccines do not contain thimerosal:
- Afluria Trivalent, by Seqirus; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 9+ years
- Fluad Trivalent, by Seqirus; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 65+ years
- Fluzone High-Dose Trivalent, by Sanofi Pasteur; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled needle-less syringe; age range 65+ years
- Fluzone Quadrivalent Pediatric, by Sanofi Pasteur; 0.25 mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 6-36 months
- Fluzone Quadrivalent, by Sanofi Pasteur; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled syringe, and 0.5 mL single-dose vial; age range 36+ months
- Fluarix Quadrivalent, by GlaxoSmithKline; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 3+ years
- Flucelvax Quadrivalent, by Seqirus; 0.5mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 4+ years</li
- Afluria Quadrivalent, by Seqirus; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 18+ years
- Fluzone Intradermal Quadrivalent, by Sanofi Pasteur; 0.1 mL single-dose pre-filled micro-injection system; age range 18 to 64 years
HOW LONG DOES THE FLU LAST?
There’s a question that no doubt occurs to anyone who’s hit with flu virus symptoms. The duration of symptoms varies, but typically can last for three to five days in people who are otherwise well, writes Leonaura Rhodes, MD, of University Health News, but can also extend a few days longer, sometimes more, especially in the elderly or chronically sick.
There are strategies we can employ to shorten the length of symptoms; most are common-sense tactics, but worth reviewing. See Dr. Rhodes’ post by clicking here.
Mercury in Flu Shots: Vaccines That Contain Thimerosal
These vaccines do contain thimerosal:
- Fluvirin Trivalent, by Seqirus; 0.5 mL single-dose prefilled syringe; age range 4+ years
- Fluvirin Trivalent, by Seqirus; 5.0 mL multi-dose vial; age range 4+ years
- Afluria Trivalent, by Seqirus; 5.0 mL multidose vial; age range 9+ years
- FluLaval Quadrivalent, by GlaxoSmithKline; 5.0 mL multidose vial; age range 6+ months
- Fluzone Quadrivalent, by Sanofi Pasteur; 5.0 mL multidose vial; age range 6+ months
- Afluria Quadrivalent, by Seqirus; 5.0 mL multidose vial; age range 18+ years
Have You Had a Mercury-Free Flu Shot? Share Your Experience
What is your own practice when it comes to getting the flu shot each year? Have you sought out mercury-free flu shot options, and are they readily available? What are your thoughts on flu shot options? Share your opinion on flu shots and mercury in flu shots with our community of readers in the Comments section below.
 CDC. Influenza vaccines — United States, 2014–15 influenza season.
 Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2014;11(9):9156-9170.
 Transl Neurodegener. 2013; 2: 25.
 Curr Med Chem. 2013;20(32):4060-9.
 J Appl Toxicol. 2013 Aug;33(8):700-11.
Originally published in 2014, this post was revised in September 2017 by Kate Brophy, Executive Editor of Focus on Healthy Aging, and is regularly updated by the editors of University Health News.