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Can Getting The Flu Shot Affect Thyroid Health?

Millions of people get the flu shot every year, and most of these people don’t look at both the benefits and the risks before receiving it.  Many people receive the flu shot due to the advice of their medical doctor, while others might be encouraged to receive it due a friend, family member, or another source.  But is getting the flu shot a wise decision for people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions?

I have personally never received the flu shot, even before I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease.  But does this mean that I recommend for everyone not to receive the flu shot?  Well, I realize that in certain age groups people are more at risk of getting the flu.  One problem I have is that the flu vaccine won’t always prevent someone from getting the flu, and it might not even reduce the person’s chances of contracting the influenza virus.  There is a lot of controversy over the flu shot, and in most cases I just don’t see the benefits outweighing the risks.

I’m sure there are some people reading this who have received the flu shot for many years, and haven’t gotten the flu virus.  However, I’ve known a number of people who received the flu shot but still got the flu.  In fact, some people have gotten sick with the flu shortly after getting the flu vaccine, and so there is the possibility that getting the flu shot can sometimes increase the risk of someone getting sick with the flu.

Some Basic Information About The Flu Vaccine

Most people know that the flu is a contagious condition which affects the respiratory system.  It is caused by the influenza virus.  While many cases of the flu are mild, severe cases can result in hospitalization, and in some cases even death.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, young children, elderly people, and people with certain health conditions should receive the flu vaccine (1).

There are two types of flu vaccines.  Most people get the flu shot, which contains inactive viruses.  There is also a nasal spray, which contains weakened flu viruses.  The spray is approved for healthy people aged 2 through 49 who are not pregnant (2). It should not be used in those who have asthma or children under age 5 who have repeated wheezing episodes (2).

There are numerous chemicals present in the flu vaccine.  The ingredients include thimerosal, aluminum salts, formaldehyde, and residual antibiotics (3).  There are flu vaccines available which do not contain thimerosal, but I’d still be concerned about the aluminum salts, formaldehyde, and antibiotics.

Those People With Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Need To Be Cautious

There are no studies I’m aware of which show that the chemicals used in the flu vaccine can directly affect thyroid health.  While it might be a good thing that there aren’t any studies which show that getting the flu vaccine has a negative effect on thyroid health, there also aren’t studies which confirm that the flu shot is safe when it comes to thyroid health.  But what is known is the impact that the flu shot has on the immune system.

The goal of receiving the flu vaccine is to get the body to produce antibodies against certain strains of the influenza virus.  The problem is that there can also be other strains you’re not protected against.  But the more important point is that the effect the flu shot has on the immune system isn’t natural, and it can have a potentially detrimental effect on the immune system in people with autoimmune thyroid conditions.  Plus the chemicals included in the vaccine can also be harmful.  I’m not suggesting that getting the flu shot can trigger an autoimmune response.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if it had the potential to do this in some people.

However, one can also take the opposite perspective.  In other words, one can make the argument that people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease have compromised immune systems, making them more susceptible to contracting the flu virus, and as a result they might benefit from getting the flu shot when compared to the general public.  I don’t know of any evidence which shows that having an autoimmune condition of any kind makes someone more likely to get the flu, and I’d still be cautious about getting the flu shot for those with autoimmune thyroid conditions.

So What Should You Do?

Obviously the decision as to whether or not to get the flu shot is ultimately yours to make.  Even though I choose not to receive the flu shot, some people might decide that getting the shot is the right choice for them.  I personally prefer for people to improve the health of their immune system naturally, as eating well, managing one’s stress, and making sure one gets sufficient sleep each night can have a huge impact on the immune system.  In addition, having vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies (i.e. vitamin D, selenium, zinc) can weaken the immune system, and thus it’s important to get these and other nutrient deficiencies corrected.

In summary, although there is no evidence that getting the flu vaccine can have a negative effect on thyroid health, it without question does affect the immune system.  Plus, the chemicals included in the vaccine can also be harmful.  As a result, those people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis needs to be cautious about receiving the flu shot.


 

6 Comments

  1. Honora Renwick says:

    The National Vaccination Information Center has some good information to also help people decide. I used to be the first in the queue for the flu immunisation but now I advise people against it as I’ve learnt a lot more about it and its efficacy. My partner was immunised 2 years in a row and nearly drowned in his secretions from a nasty case of the flu following this. Both times he’s been immunised he has contacted the flu shortly after. I got Influenza A, the more severe form shortly after I was immunised one time. Aside from that, I’ve only had the flu once and that was so long ago, I can’t remember when it was. Our workplace rams the message down our throat constantly with the result that the employees had a 75% uptake on immunisation last year. Our version doesn’t have Thimerosol (mercury) but has aluminum along with the usual gamut of nasties. I used to think people who eschewed getting the flu immunisation were stupid, ill-informed non-scientifically thinking folks. Now I know better. Get the stats on the NVIC site.

  2. Sher says:

    I took it last year and within two weeks had the worst flu I have had since fourth grade. I will not get it this year, and the CDC finally admitted that there was problems with it last year. Some nurses I talked to said that they never get it.

  3. Annie says:

    Around this time last year I took a flu shot since work was giving them out for free. Just 2 days afterwards I started getting daily headaches and soon after, got other symptoms such as high heart rate, shakiness, fatigue, heat sensitivity — what turned out to be symptoms of Grave’s disease. I cannot tell whether the flu shot triggered the autoimmune disease or whether the disease was going to appear like that anyway — but it sure felt like it was the shot what with the drastic and immediate change in symptoms after receiving it. I know there’s no way to trace whether the shot was the trigger for sure, but because of this incident that I am very hesitant to ever get the shot again. As far as the Graves is concerned currently I’m still taking a small dosage of Methimazole daily and my levels are supposedly normal at this time, one year later.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Annie,

      I agree that it’s difficult to know for certain whether the flu shot is what triggered the autoimmune response. It might have been a coincidence and something else could have triggered the immune system. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be shocking if the flu shot was the trigger.

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