Posted by b10’s honorary house doctor, David Brochstein, L.Ac., O.M.D.

The Flu Shot and Your Wellness

How many of you are health care workers or parents?  How many of you have been cornered with the question about the Flu Vaccine for your family this time every year?  I’m guessing most have had to carefully consider the flu shot, right?  Yet finding and understanding information isn’t so straightforward, is it?

I would like to offer my own perspective on the Flu Vaccine and Wellness as a doctor of Oriental medicine, acupuncturist, and father-to-be.

Now, there is a time and place for most treatment approaches in medicine.  Any given treatment requires a proper context.  The context includes not just the pathogen’s qualities (the virus, in this case), but also the qualities of the terrain where the pathogen would do its worst… the body, its substances, and its functions.  I personally take issue with specific treatments applied in grossly oversimplified contexts, such as applying a vaccine to a large population with notable variances in the qualities of each individual’s health, or applying antibiotics to patients with upper respiratory symptoms regardless of supporting diagnostic criteria demonstrating a bacterial infection.  As a wellness specialist, I see in my office every day how seemingly dissimilar people are regarding the state of their health and immunity.  Show me twenty people all simply labeled ‘healthy’ by the modern medicine experts, and I will show you significant immunity variances in all twenty.  And, for me at least, these variances are to be accounted for before skillfully applying any treatment or vaccine such as this.

Germs do not cause disease… often.

My perspective with any new client in my office is that, even if he or she appears to be and proclaims herself or himself as healthy, this client certainly has an Achilles heel in their immunity–whether apparent or not.  This compromise, however it is manifested, is the fundamental cause that leads one into illness.  Now, I am not going to attempt to make perfectly clear volumes of Oriental medicine theory and years of clinical practice experience to convince you that germs themselves are not the initial cause of a disease as modern medicine would have you believe, because it is just too much info for a blog post.  But I would like to introduce the idea, so you can see a different perspective of the flu shot or any annual vaccine such as this.  Here’s a borrowed quote from Dr. Robert Young, author of the book Sick and Tired?: Reclaim Your Inner Terrain.  The quote itself was from Rudolph Virchow, often regarded as the “Father of Pathology”.

“If I could live my life over again, I would devote it to proving that germs seek their natural habitat — diseased tissue — rather than being the cause of the diseased tissue; e.g., mosquitoes seek the stagnant water, but do not cause the pool to become stagnant.”

This point, although generalizing, is important to this discussion.  The basic views Oriental medicine takes regarding immune function are:

  • Immunity is the sum of all actions of the systems, resources, and functions of the body.
  • Compromises in one’s immunity often emerge due to the stagnation of these actions.
  • Pathogens (such as the flu virus) are ever-present at all times.  We do not exist in sterile environments.  You cannot escape pathogens, and you do not need to escape them.
  • For the body to properly exercise its immune functions, pathogens must be present.
  • The real responsibility of one’s immunity is to ‘keep pathogens moving toward the door’ and not allow them to stall in one’s system, take root, and reproduce and flourish.
  • Therefore consistent uninterrupted immune function is the key to staying well.

The focus I take clinically is to make sure one’s total immunity is working, and working consistently.  The inconsistencies or ‘hiccups’ in immune function, often at times of stress, are like dropping a protective veil temporarily with pathogens all around you.

And now introducing George Carlin.  No, wait, I’m not kidding…

“What we have now, is a completely neurotic population obsessed with security and safety and crime and drugs and cleanliness and hygiene and germs. There’s another thing: Germs. Where did this sudden fear of germs come from, in this country? Have you noticed this? The media constantly running stories about all the latest infections: equali, bird flu, … and Americans panic easily, so now everybody is running around, scrubbing this and spraying that, and over-cooking their food and repeatedly washing their hands, trying to avoid all contact with germs. It’s ridiculous, and it goes to ridiculous lengths.

Besides, what do you think you have an immune system for? It’s for killing germs! But it needs practice, it needs germs to practice on. So listen, if you kill all the germs around you and live a completely sterile life, then when germs do come along, you’re not gonna be prepared. And never mind ordinary germs, what are you gonna do when a super virus comes along and turns your vital organs into liquid shit? I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna get sick, you’re gonna die, and you’re gonna deserve it because you’re fucking weak, and you got a fucking weak immune system.”

~ George

Oh George, you and your perverted common sense!  But I do agree, although this is still quite a generalization.  There are indeed super pathogens or superbugs that are so virulent that most healthy folks will be overwhelmed by them, but these do not exist so commonly.  Think smallpox, the plague, and polio, but not the flu. The attempt to reduce pathogens in our environment does not significantly assist our ability to survive, unless we are indeed talking about super pathogens, which the flu is not.  If the black plague was in town, I’d consider helpful options even if they came at a significant cost, but any cost associated with a flu vaccine makes me think twice.  What are we trying to do here?

To sum up, in my holistic health and medicine experience, keeping one’s wellness (total health) and therefore immunity functioning consistently well, is more than half of a successful effort to make it through the cold & flu season, and the other half is to allow your immune system to do its good work all on its own, as George profanely described above.

The most important point I can make regarding my professional perspective of the cold/flu season and its ‘risks’ is that one’s day-to-day wellness — the state of one’s general health manifesting as immunity — is the most important factor in the equation of being well through this season.  Wellness is not a mere absence of symptoms, but a sum of all sufficient resources to have a healthy and fulfilling day by one’s own determination combined with the resilience of one’s health when under stress, which is the essence of immunity.  A vaccination alone will not prevent you from getting sick this season, but your immune system will.  A flu shot will, in theory, merely reduce the probability of getting infected by three strains of the flu virus and nothing more.

The vaccine is trivalent, or comprised of the 3 most known active flu strains determined by the CDC from the recent previous years.  The viruses are significantly reduced in virulence so as to not overwhelm one’s immunity in an individual with an apparent normal level of immunity when introduced.  Then it takes two weeks for your body to create antibodies, which are what provides immunity to these particular three strains.  The best you can get out of it is to be immune to the three strains the CDC predicts to be active this year.  The viruses change and mutate every year, so last year’s shot will not necessarily help you this year, and there is no real cumulative benefit. The worst you can expect, some say, is to get the flu from the vaccine itself.  This is known to happen on occasion in individuals with a compromised immunity.  Of course, those individuals were determined to not have a compromised immunity by the physician administering the shot according to CDC guidelines, which brings about its own questions.

But what about other strains of the flu, or other variations on this type of seasonal illness not predicted by the CDC?  Nope, it will not help you in any way whatsoever, and other pathogens do and will exist.

As a committed natural health guy, I let nature do its work on its own without intervention unless intervention is really required.  At times it is important to consider.  There are valid arguments for the shot.  An example may be a healthcare worker with a weak constitution and immune compromises who works in a busy allopathic clinic.  Yet, for most of us who are generally well, the shot offers very little benefit at all and does not remove the risk of getting sick this season.  That risk you will walk with regardless of your efforts.  But one thing is for sure, if your immune system functions well as your whole physiology functions well, then you are in the perfect position to handle whatever stress nature throws at you, whether an airborne virus, a food-borne bacteria, or financial stress.  Whether you believe in vaccines or not, whether you get them or not, nature will still throw you curve balls, and your wellness and immunity will be tested nonetheless.

About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

3 responses »

  1. Naomi Lohr, MD says:

    I’m not going to argue that some pharmaceutical CEO isn’t getting rich and buying a vacation home with the proceeds of the influenza vaccine, but I think the medicine behind the vaccine is sound. The inventors of the seat belt and the motorcycle helmet may have become rich as well, but I still think it’s been well-proven that those two inventions save lives 🙂

  2. bensten says:

    Thank you, Dr. Lohr! Nice insight, and I’m pleased to see some healthy (ok, pun pretty much intended) exchange between two professionals. This is a topic on which I won’t personally way in as an expert because I’m not one of the two professionals. On the one hand, I think flu shots are a tool of the pharmo-industrial propaganda machine and the feisty little rebel in me resists them completely. On the other hand, I’m a teacher and your “herd immunity” argument makes some rational sense and forces me to weigh another side of the issue. Thanks again.

  3. Naomi Lohr, MD says:

    Dr. Brochstein makes some good points in that no two healthy people are alike. I would encourage anyone who is considering getting the influenza vaccine to consult with their health care provider before walking into the nearest grocery store and getting the vaccine. There are some health conditions that preclude getting the vaccine and some populations of people for whom the vaccine is not recommended. These are issues that should be addressed with the input of your primary care provider.

    However, I also want to point out the benefit for the influenza vaccine for the population as a whole. Dr. Brochstein points out that some “germs” are not bad and some people may not respond to them the same way. I agree that individuals may be exposed to the influenza virus and don’t get seriously ill or who may just have a day of the sniffles and be done with it. However, even if a healthy person encounters the influenza virus and is not seriously affected, they can pass that virus to infants less than 6 months of age (who aren’t allowed to get the vaccine), the elderly population, and individuals who are immune-suppressed because of an organ transplant. The influenza virus in those populations of individuals is a very serious issue that can cause death. Since those individuals can’t receive the vaccine, they depend on us healthy individuals to prevent their exposure to it. This is called “herd immunity.”

    Consider carefully your own health AND the health of those around when you decide whether to become vaccinated.

    Naomi Lohr, MD

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