Vaccines: Are They Worth the Risk?

Ultimately, it depends on the vaccine itself.

This article was originally published on December 31, 2018 on Medium, which has since censored me. As you can see, I have not been an anti-vaxxer in the least, but these covid vaccines have been eye-opening. Since this was written prior to the rollout of mRNA vaccines, I’ve written an update on the bottom.

Did you know that an estimated 80,000 Americans died of the flu (or complications from it) during the 2017–2018 outbreak?

Whoa.

Now, I’m not here to be a vaccine cheerleader.

Generally, I’m one of those people who does not have strong feelings either way about vaccines. I have friends and family members who are passionate anti-vaxxers. I also have friends and family members who think not getting vaccines is not just wrong, but plumb idiotic.

The choice to get a vaccine is highly personal. For a long time, I avoided vaccines myself — about 30 years. (Am I really that old? Yeesh.)

But now, I’m glad that I was forced to get over my vaccine fear. I actually have tetanus to thank. Let me explain.

Why I Have Been Afraid to Get Vaccines

My personal choice about avoiding a flu vaccine for many years had to do with my chronic fatigue syndrome and an uncertainty as to how I would react to a flu shot.

To further stoke my vaccine fears, I got a severe viral illness last year that left me with “mild” neurological damage and lingering symptoms.1

My neurologist had told me that some of my neurological symptoms (which included a feeling of internal shaking, called “fasciculations”) could be caused by a virus or a vaccine. Yikes!

I was particularly worried about getting Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder caused, very rarely, by vaccines. I remember seeing a news piece many years ago showing a young woman who had gotten the disorder. She could not walk without her entire body jerking in crazy, scary ways.

Still, my neurologist told me that he thought it would be OK if I got a vaccine. He did give me the cheerful heads up that some of his patients found their neurological symptoms to get a little worse after getting one. But, don’t worry about it!

Hmmm…

Then Fate Intervened: I Had to Get Vaccinated

Then that day came when I had no choice about getting vaccinated. I was still recovering from my viral illness, and I got accidentally clonked in the head with a golf club! Ouch! I had to go to the hospital to make sure I didn’t have a skull fracture or need stitches.

Well, there I was, in the hospital, with a bloody head wound delivered from the dirty end of a large golf club — a driver, to be exact. I had to have a tetanus shot.

I had no choice. I was at high risk for a tetanus infection.

Well, technically, I did have a choice. But given the choice between getting tetanus and a vaccine? To me that’s not even a question. Consider the following:

Tetanus attacks your nervous system in a really nasty way and can paralyze you. “Lockjaw” is one of the symptoms, but that almost pales in comparison to what tetanus bacteria does when attached to your nerves. It is horror movie level of scary.

And this horrible disease is caused by a very common bacteria found in every day soil. All you need is a minor scratch on your hand while working in your garden, and you could potentially get infected. (Or, a golf club hitting your head!)

Guess what? You cannot develop a natural immunity against tetanus. The strain of bacteria is too potent. If you get tetanus, a small amount can paralyze or kill you. That small amount is not enough for your body to develop antibodies naturally. So, even if you have had tetanus in the past, you still need a vaccine to protect yourself from it.

The tetanus shot is typically delivered to adults as a triple vaccine that also covers diphtheria and whooping cough. This super vaccine is called the Tdap, and the recommendation is to have the shot every 10 years.

I had heard the Tdap was painful. If you are going to react to a vaccine, this one is a good candidate. But, the prospect of getting tetanus was a lot scarier.

The Moment of Truth: My Tdap Vaccination

I’ll admit, I was pretty nervous when I decided to get that Tdap in the hospital.

I hadn’t had a vaccine since high school. I was still recovering from that nasty virus that gave me neurological symptoms. I still had “fasciculations.” Would the Tdap vaccine make them worse?

I figured, though, that I was in the hospital already, so what better place to get my Tdap?

They put the shot in my arm, and I waited a half hour to see if I had any major reactions. They were giving me an IV drip, so I had the time and no place to go.

Nope.

Nothing.

No bizarre side effects, at least initially.

I was fine. And I was fine the next day too. My arm was slightly sore the next day, but none of my neurological symptoms got worse.

After that, I felt a lot better about getting a flu shot. After that nasty virus I had, and the possibility of getting that deadly flu strain on top of it while I was recovering, I was much more motivated to take the risk.

So, in beginning of October, about a month and a half after I got my first Tdap, I got the flu shot for the first time as an adult.

Once again, my arm was sore for a few days. I was tired. But I survived.

Now, I know that the flu shot is no guarantee that you will get the flu. But I’m glad I got it. I feel a little safer now, just a little.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Vaccinations

My main problem with the current debate over vaccinations is that it can be so black and white. People who are anti-vaxx are often painted as crazy, as if having any concerns over vaccines is just silly.

On the other side, I often see people buying into anti-vaccine fears as a reason to never get a vaccine. Vaccines can be painted as the cause of all health problems, from autism to chronic illness. While people may be overly fearful, to respond to anti-vaxxers that their concerns are totally unfounded is not helpful.

But, not everyone has a bad reaction to vaccines. And, sometimes you need to take the risk and get the shot.

To me the middle ground is weighing the benefits of the vaccine versus the risks.

Vaccines Do Have Risks

The truth is, vaccines do have potential side effects.

You could have an allergic reaction to them. Some people do get Guillain-Barre Syndrome. And I do think it is highly possible that vaccines are not what they used to be. Supposedly, the higher dosage vaccines given to kids these days, which pile upon a ton of different vaccinations in close proximity, may potentially lead to serious side effects. And maybe, just maybe, these mega vaccines could lead to autism in some kids.

Let us not minimize the risks of vaccines. People aren’t nuts for being concerned about them.

Vaccine Fear-Mongering

On the other side, I think sometimes people blame vaccines unfairly. For example, I just saw someone online blame an illness they came down with in Thailand on the vaccines they got before their trip. Yet, any Westerner newly traveling to a third world country has a good chance of catching a strange bug, vaccines or no.

Is it possible that sometimes people blame a vaccination for making them ill when maybe it was just a coincidence? Probably. It’s that old hammer/nail analogy.

I also see this tendency of assuming that if you get a vaccine, you are guaranteed to suffer some sort of health problem because of it. Furthermore, even if you don’t have an immediate negative reaction, if you get some sort of mystery illness years later, some people will automatically point the finger at vaccines.2

Vaccines, along with gluten, get blamed for a lot of health problems that may be caused by other issues, from latent viruses to mold (what I’m dealing with).

Are Vaccines Really Toxic?

One of the common concerns over vaccines is that they contain “toxins.” The reality is that vaccines do have toxins (even pro-vaccine people admit that), but the pro-vaccine argument is that they are at such minute, tiny levels as to not be harmful.

My take is this: We are all exposed to toxins every day, and probably more people consume a higher toxic load with a fast food hamburger than just one vaccine.3 If your liver is working properly, then ideally you will process those toxins and they won’t ham you.

Perhaps some people have a harder time processing even the most minute level of toxins…but I would guess these folks are already dealing with a high toxic load due to other environmental factors. If this is indeed the case, a good integrative doctor may be able to help — and also provide guidance on whether a vaccine would be too much to process or not.

Vaccines and Autoimmune Disorders

Here is another area of constant confusion: vaccines and autoimmune disorders.

People with diagnosed autoimmune disorders should probably not get vaccines, but that term “autoimmune” is now so misunderstood, it gets used way too often as vaccine fear-mongering.

I’ve seen quite a few people completely misunderstand the difference between your immune system being taxed by a virus (such as Epstein-Barr, which I have) and an autoimmune disorder, which is when the immune system is attacking your own body.

On one end of the spectrum, we have an immune system that is so overactive that it attacks the body itself (autoimmune). On the other end, we have an immune system that is so weak that a minor cold could do serious damage (immunocompromised) — this can happen with AIDS and cancer.

An immunocompromised person may actually be at high risk of dying from a flu virus, so that person might be better off, with approval of their doctor, to get the vaccine.

A person with an autoimmune disorder, on the other hand, may get a lot sicker from the vaccine. This is because the vaccine activates the immune system, which, in autoimmune, goes and attacks the body itself instead of the foreign intruder.

This distinction between autoimmune and immunocompromised is absolutely critical.

Thus, I get very concerned with unilateral declarations claiming that all vaccines are bad for people with overworked immune systems, when the alternative, getting a full-blown flu, could actually kill.4

Is the Risk Worth It?

I’m not trying to minimize vaccine risk. Even the CDC acknowledges that vaccines have a risk of side effects. However, just because a vaccine carries a risk, that doesn’t mean the risk isn’t potentially worth it. While bad side effects can happen, they fortunately happen rarely.5 The problem is when you or your child is one of those rare cases.

Is there a way we can minimize those risks? Potentially.

You can avoid mercury in the vaccine if that is a concern. You can also change the way you receive vaccines, by, for example, spreading them out more to give the body some time to adjust. You could help boost your liver function prior to getting a vaccine with holistic herbs such as milk thistle. (Though, ironically, milk thistle can cause reactions in people who are allergic to ragweed — see, even herbs have risks!)6

If you are at risk for an autoimmune reaction, you should speak with your doctor first before getting vaccinated. You may be one of the people where vaccines could do more harm than good.

I’ll Take My Chances with the Flu Shot

And, what with the flu being so deadly lately, I think a flu shot may be worth the risk, at least for me.7

Yes, I know the flu shot is not 100 percent effective. For the 2017–2018 flu season, the flu vaccine was only effective 25 percent against H3N2 — not that great. For H1N1, which recently killed 26-year-old Bre Payton, the flu vaccine was 65 percent effective. For Influenza B, it was 49 percent effective.

That’s still better than nothing in my book.

After being hit with such a nasty virus last year with no warning, I hate that uneasy feeling that I may be possibly sickened with something really deadly at any moment. At least when I get a flu shot, I have some control over the timing. I know I am getting the vaccine, and I can monitor for side effects. I have some more personal agency.

Your mileage may vary.

UPDATE: 9/21/21

Since I wrote this article, much has changed in the world of vaccines. We now have new vaccine technologies (mRNA/DNA) that cause a lot more serious side effects than previous vaccines. We also have increasing censorship of any discussion over said side effects. This has led me to be less trusting of our health agencies as a whole, and I am now questioning whether some vaccines, such as annual flu shots, are really worth it (unless you are really old).

Since I wrote this article, I also got an MMR vaccination, and I suspect that this vaccine may have caused some alarming arthritis symptoms that otherwise have no apparent cause, because I’ve had everything tested. Arthritis following MMR or rubella vaccination is actually a known and common side effect for women. Unfortunately, I did not know this before getting the MMR vaccine. No one warned me.

I actually took the MMR vaccine to protect from covid, as we had no covid vaccine at the time and MMR had shown to reduce hospitalization via covid. Was the arthritis worth it? I don’t know. But because of my reaction to MMR, I’m now far less likely to get any vaccine unless the risk is seriously worth it.

This means I have no intention of getting a covid vaccine. Despite my grave concerns over the covid vaccines, for people who are at super-high risk of covid, I favor allowing them to choose, provided they are given accurate information about side effect risks. But informed choice isn’t happening at this time. Perhaps this will change if we can get the word out more.

Resources:

Covid Vaccine Freedom Channel on Telegram

Holistic Healing Channel on Telegram

Holistic Health & Wellness Community at Locals

Uncensored Holistic Healing Community at MeWe

1

Since I wrote this, it appears that the original infection was probably bacterial, because I responded to antibiotics, and I suspect this initial infection may have also reactivated a latent viral infection.

2

Since this covid vaccination mess started, I’ve seen more of the reverse: people being in denial that the vaccine might have caused the problem, including doctors.

3

I believe mRNA vaccines are in a whole other category than “old school” vaccines. mRNA vaccines make your body produce the “toxin” (aka spike protein). This is highly problematic, for obvious reasons.

4

Unfortunately, in the case of the covid vaccines, it appears they aren’t that successful at producing antibodies in immunocompromised people, at least according to some news reports. So in this case, the risk may not be worth it at all.

5

This is no longer the case, I believe. The new covid vaccines have risk profiles far higher than any of our previous vaccines.

6

If you absolutely have to get a covid vaccine, you might try anti-inflammatory supplements, such as quercetin and turmeric, and herbs with shikimic acid to reduce spike protein damage (pine needle tea, fennel seed, and star anise).

7

I’ve changed my mind on this since I wrote this article. The flu shot only provides partial protection and wears off.