WASHINGTON, D.C., February 22, 2013 ― While this year’s flu season has been moderately severe for the general population, Joe Bresee, the chief of epidemiology and prevention at the CDC’s influenza division says, ”in people over 65 we’re seeing a pretty severe year.”
For those 65 and older, the influenza vaccine helped in just 9 percent of cases, a number too low to be statistically significant, according to a report in the CDC’s Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report released Thursday. The study was based on a survey of 2,697 children and adults by the U.S. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network from Dec. 3, 2012, through Jan. 19, 2013.
Researchers don’t know why the vaccine was ineffective with older people. One possibility is that their immune systems are less responsive to initiating an immune response. ”We know that any vaccine, including flu vaccines, is less effective as you get older,” Bresee said.
So why do we continue with vaccinations when there are many other important lifestyle changes that can make a real difference?
Overall, the vaccine’s effectiveness for everyone older than 6 months was 56 percent, just slightly lower than the 62 percent that had been estimated earlier in the season. This season’s vaccine contains protection against three flu strains: H3N2, influenza B and H1N1. The vaccine was 67 percent effective against influenza B in adults over 65, but only 9 percent effective against H3N2, the CDC found.
Despite the feeble protection, the CDC is still urging the elderly to get vaccinated. They are among those most vulnerable to life-threatening complications from the flu, and some protection is better than none.
Why Vaccinate When It Doesn’t Help?
When you dig into the literature you will find a number of studies that evaluate the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine. Cochrane Database Systems Review; 2010 July 7; “Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.”
Lifestyle factors that can depress your immune system, alone or in combination, include:
- Eating too much sugar, particularly fructose, and too many grains. The average person consumes about 75 grams of fructose per day. Fructose, especially in the form of fruit drinks can devastate your immune system.
- Gastrointestinal System. Your gut is where 80 percent of your immune system lies. When you have a bad diet you are compromising your gut and in turn, your immune system. Sugar is ‘fertilizer’ for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that can set your immune system up for an assault by a virus. Reducing your sugar intake is crucial for optimizing your immune system. Also, reducing your fruit intake will reduce your sugar load.
- Vitamin D deficiency, as a result of insufficient sun exposure. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010 did a randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren and found: “That vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren.” Direct sunlight is an even better way of getting vitamin D.
- Not getting enough rest. Rest and sleep are paramount to healing. Rest is needed for the anabolic system of healing and repair.
- Insufficient exercise. Movement enhances brain function. Vigorous exercise as in high intensity interval training will improve your oxygenation and vascular efficiency of your body.
- Emotional stressors. Reducing stress and eliminating as much as possible will take your body out of sympathetic stress. Stress is known to alter immune function.
There are many other strategies than vaccine to bolster your immune system. When you focus on improving your health with diet, rest, and activity, your overall health improves.