Vegan and the Flu: 2018 Edition

Used under a Creative Commons License

Poor sick babies!

We are well into the 2017-2018 Flu Season.  Sometimes vegans avoid vaccines, including the flu vaccine, due to animal testing and ingredients.  Traditional flu vaccines are made with eggs.  For the last few years, there has been an egg-free vaccine, Flublock, that is made using a different method than the traditional flu vaccine.  In the 2017-2018 flu season, it is available as a quadrivalent vaccine rather than previously as a trivalent (that means it covers 4 types of flu viruses instead of 3).  Of course, like all FDA approved vaccines, drugs, tests and devices, it is animal tested.  I understand this will keep some vegans from wanting to get the flu shot, but I hope you’ll consider it.

I work as an outpatient health care provider in NYC, and the law here says that in my type of clinic I and my colleagues must have a shot or wear a mask.  I know I’ve gotten comments from other vegans on my other flu posts telling me I’m not a “real” vegan because I don’t choose the mask, but I ask you this:  do you want to talk to your psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner or therapist while they’re wearing a mask?  I would imagine for most people, the answer is you’d prefer to not.  It is very important to me that my patients feel comfortable talking to me about sensitive topics, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t wear a white coat, a mask, gloves or carry a stethoscope.  I do use things like gloves when I’m giving a shot or otherwise necessary, or a stethoscope if I’m taking a manual blood pressure, but I try to keep them put away until I need them, because they scare some of my patients.

I’m often working with young children who are terrified of the doctor’s office, people with severe developmental disabilities or people who have undergone trauma.  If the pediatrician’s office can’t get a child  immunized because of severe behaviors when they try, I’m a provider they send them to in order to help come up with a plan on what to do (which might include a small dose of an oral medication first, finding a different office to give the injection, finding a behavioral intervention to make the child more comfortable, etc). So, it’s really important that I don’t scare them away before we even get to any of that work- and a mask is one of the visual indicators that “this is a place that has needles.”  I don’t want to give my vulnerable patients that as a first impression (though of course, we do have needles).

We vegans have to remember that we need to be compassionate to people, too.

I hear your argument that it’s not fair to torture vulnerable animals in the process of developing pharmaceuticals.  I agree with this.  It is inherently unfair.  I support efforts to end the need for animal testing, but we’re not there yet.  Even if we feel that the methodology is there, the FDA has yet to agree.  As a clinician, I support using non-medication options where appropriate, and using products without animal products over products that include animal products where appropriate.  I do hear you, and I strive to avoid animal products or exploitation wherever possible and practicable.

This has been a rough flu season so far.  As of this writing using the most recent CDC data (week ending January 20, 2018) there have been 37 pediatric deaths in the US that are confirmed to have had the flu virus this season.  If you haven’t been immunized yet, it is not too late.  Flublock has a map of pharmacies that have it- punch in your zip and it will show you the closest.

You’d be right if you said that you heard that the vaccine might not be as effective this year,  but it’s not totally ineffective.  If you have any interaction with children too young to be vaccinated,  the elderly or people who have a number of medical issues, please think about them.   They often can’t get vaccinated or are at much higher risk if they get the flu despite vaccination.  I would NEVER be able to forgive myself if I caused one of my medically fragile patients to die of complications from the flu had I chosen not to get it (let’s be fair, those masks reduce transmission, they don’t eliminate it).

If you’re feeling sick this year, stay home if at all possible.  Not all adults will have a fever if they get the flu (though I’m loving this forehead thermometer, if you want to check).  Common symptoms include fever and chills, malaise (not feeling well), and muscle aches and pains, as well as runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and headache.  Vomiting and nausea are not common in adults, but are in young children.


Sadly, you can be contagious for a few days before you start displaying symptoms.  Wash your hands frequently, using good technique (use soap, rub your hands together under running water, include your wrists, sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head before you finish, and turn off the faucet and open the door with a paper towel).  Use hand sanitizer when soap and water in not available.  I sneeze a lot in the dry air, so I keep hand sanitizer on me pretty much all the time (as I’m not always near a sink).   Soap and water remains preferable.

Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when coughing or sneezing.


If you think you have the flu, contact your primary care provider’s office or go to an Urgent Care (not the emergency room, if at all possible) for testing.  Tamiflu, an Antiviral medication,  is an option for helping to reduce the severity and the duration of flu symptoms.  Antibiotics are NOT helpful with the flu, unless you develop a secondary bacterial infection.

Plenty of rest and fluids are always a good treatment.  Vegan soups are my favorite when I’m sick (if I have an appetite)!  If you’re not up to making soup or don’t have any in the freezer, there are canned and instant varieties available, both online and in your local grocery store.

I hope we all manage to stay well this flu season!

NB: links are affiliate links.  Images here are either public domain or used under a Creative Commons license.  I am not in any way associated with Flublock or Tamiflu.
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One Response to Vegan and the Flu: 2018 Edition

  1. Maggie C says:

    Just a suggestion to make your meds “more vegan” as you said in your original flu post, I get my medicine compounded when I need it and they put it in Vcaps and don’t add any lactose or anything not vegan!
    My only problem is my insurance hasn’t been covering it but I recently have found out Walgreens can compound and my insurance covered there in the past, although I’m not sure if they cover that service. But just an idea of something to look into!!

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