Vegan and the Flu Shot: What to do?

2018:  I have a new update!

2014: You might want to check out my update here if you’re interested in developments in the flu shot!

Well here I am, just after posting about The Year of Health and Veggies, and now I’m sick!

A little over two years ago, I went to bed with a slight headache, and woke up in the middle of the night with the worst chills I had ever had- I thought there was something seriously wrong with me and that I was going to die! When I had a high fever by morning, I knew I had the flu. First time! I was sick for a total of about 3 weeks, and it was pretty miserable.

Two days ago, I woke up with a cough so bad I kept thinking I would vomit. I went to work, but was exhausted all day- I even took a nap on the floor of my office during lunch. I took my temp at work and it was “normal” (though a little higher than usual for me), but a few hours later I had those awful chills again. I was piled under several blankets and couldn’t get warm for hours, until I got really hot and sweaty later. Horrible muscle aches, headache and other yucky symptoms. Most likely flu again (though with this cough getting worse, could be something more).

sick bed

Oliva and Finn want me to get better.

Now, I know it’s pretty cool to be in my sick bed- I’ve got SVU on the TV, plenty of magazines and devices to keep me entertained, but the flu is awful. I have spent hours in the last two days shivering and teeth chattering and then sweating while everything hurts. I’m constantly coughing, my lungs often feel like they’re on fire, and I’ve been miserable. This is no fun.

I also might have prevented this.

If you’re reading a vegan blog, you probably know that the flu shot (“influenza vaccination,” properly titled) is incubated in eggs, making them inherently not vegan (both the shot and the nasal mist version). This of course, makes for an ethical quandary for some vegans. As it happens, I have an allergy to eggs, so the flu shot is not a quandary- I’ve been avoiding on those grounds. There is newer research that suggests that it’s okay to get the flu shot if you have an allergy, but generally speaking, that should be done in a doctor’s office (as opposed to a clinic at work, in the community or from a pharmacist).

There are two new versions of the flu shot under development that use mammal/insect cells instead of eggs. This takes away the excuse of the allergy, but doesn’t help with the vegan issue.

I make my living in part by prescribing medication to people. Although there are plenty of medications that don’t have animal products in them, there is no such thing as a medication sold in the US that has not been tested on animals. My personal philosophy has been that if I really need a medication, I want the “most vegan” version available (as in, trying to avoid medications made with animal products), but that I will take something with an animal product if it’s the only version available.

Now, after avoiding the non-vegan flu shot, I’ve ended up taking the non-vegan Tamiflu (made with gelatin). Does that fall under the “needed” category? I’m really worried about the worsening cough and I’m afraid I’m going to end up with pneumonia, so I’m categorizing that as a yes. Although I’m enjoying the whole time to read magazines part (now that I’m less tired and not sleeping the whole day, thanks to the Tamiflu), the flu is nothing to joke about. I have asthma, which puts me at higher risk of complications, and I am not kidding about this cough. I’m not risking a hospitalization where I’ll end up on even more meds if I can avoid it.

The subject of mandated influenza vaccinations is a very hot topic in the vegan community, with the recent development of a vegan being fired from her position at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. More than that, a court has found that she can sue the hospital on religious discrimination grounds (though of course, there is no guarantee that she will be successful).

There are definitely vegans out there who choose to be vaccinated against the flu, at least if working in healthcare. I think I’m on board for next year, especially with a non-egg vaccine.

What to know about influenza vaccines and veganism?

  • Until recently, all influenza vaccines were incubated in eggs.
  • Two new vaccines are under development/recently released that do not use egg, but are not vegan (due to insect/mammal cells).
  • Tamiflu, the treatment to shorten course and severity of the flu is not vegan (contains gelatin).
  • Vegan healthcare providers have been fired from various institutions for refusing a flu shot.
  • Currently in Ohio, a vegan who was fired from a hospital for refusing a flu shot is suing on the basis of religious discrimination; this case is still pending.
  • Currently, the CDC is reporting widespread flu outbreak throughout almost the entire country.
  • Across the US, 37 children have died from the flu since the beginning of the flu season (end of September), through the end of last week (data may change as new deaths are reported).
  • Even with the immunization, the flu is not entirely preventable- the CDC considers this year’s immunization to be about 62% effective.

Do you know what you’ll do?

The flu shot is not foolproof, and there are reasons both for and against the shot.

Me? I’ve had the flu now twice in just over two years. I don’t want it again.

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16 Responses to Vegan and the Flu Shot: What to do?

  1. Sherry says:

    There are other options…..building up your immune system the rest of the year really helps especially if you are in the health field.

    • jodie says:

      Could you elaborate, please?

      I actually have a healthy immune system, which is probably why I’m responding well to the Tamiflu, but there’s no substitute to having your body be able to mount an immune response specific to the virus in question (getting 10 colds in the season won’t make me any better at fighting the flu virus, because the body still has to produce antibodies specific to the flu. And believe me- I work with kids. I get exposed to stuff all the time).

      As for things like eating veggies and fruits and getting exercise and sleep to support the immune system- done, done, done and done.

  2. Mrs. GV says:

    This is a tough one for my husband as well. He is a health care professional but has very little actual patient contact. The hospital wants all employees to take the vaccine but he and several others decided not to. There is talk that the hospital may push the issue in the coming years. My husband has been questioning himself as to what he will do and so far doesn’t have an answer.

    If he had lots of patient contact I believe he would take the vaccine. Yes we are vegan but sometimes you just have to do those things that you don’t want to do. If he worked in a nursing home, for instance, or if one of our close family members that we spend lots of time with had a compromised immune system or was taking cancer therapy we would both get the shot in order to protect them.

  3. Dave says:

    Irregardless of being vegan, I’m not getting the flu shot. Ever. I’ve had the flu. It sucked. I lived. The end.

  4. Pingback: Vegan and the Flu Shot: Update | The Picky Vegan

  5. Jennifer Harper says:

    Sambucol (Elderberry extract) is known as nature’s Tamiflu. It has been tested in various medical/scientific studies and is used by the Israeli army. You can take it in place of both the flu shot and Tamiflu.

  6. Jennifer Harper says:

    This article does a good job of aggregating study results and explaining Sambucol in my opinion. It does state that Sambucol is not a replacement for the flu shot but I personally believe it is based upon what I have read.

    As always please do your own research. I am not a medical doctor.

  7. Pingback: Vegan Musings On Egg-Based Vaccines | Hana Low | opening cages for collective liberation

  8. John says:

    The hospital settled with Sakile Chenzira so it never went to trial.
    “Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has settled a case brought by a former worker who filed a religious discrimination lawsuit after being fired for refusing to get a flu vaccination she said conflicted with her vegan beliefs, the parties told an Ohio federal court Friday.
    Plaintiff Sakile Chenzira and the hospital let the court know they had agreed to lay down their swords Friday, two days after holding a settlement conference, according to minute entry order lodged with the court in Cincinnati. The flu vaccine, which Chenzira said the hospital had not forced her to take before 2010, contained animal by-products she wouldn’t consume because of her religious and philosophical beliefs, according to her complaint.”

  9. Ave says:

    Check out Flucelvax.

  10. Helen S says:

    Vegan vaccine Flublok, is the only egg-free vaccine on the market. It is the only vaccine which is recommended by CDC for people with egg allergy. This year it is available widely in United States. Check Flublok locator

  11. Carolynn says:

    Latest studies out of Johns Hopkins points to the flu vaccine not being the best option and that getting them may be more damaging then actually getting the flu. Peter Doshi’s report can be found on the British Medical Journal’s site. So for now I would just skip the flu vaccine. According to the study in controlled trials of healthy adults it found that vaccinating between 33 and 100 people resulted in one less case of influenza… in addition, no evidence exists to show that this reduction in the risk of influenza for a specific population— here in the United States, amony healthy adults, for example—- extrapolates into any reduced risk of serious complications from influenza, such as hospitalizations or deaths. There are three reasons the government tells the elderly why they should get flu shots: secondary pneumonia, hospitalization, and death. Yet a study by the Cochrane group studied hundreds of thousands of people and found it offered zero protection for those three things in the general community. Only those in nursing homes and that was at best only one third if they picked the right vaccine that year. Studies also show that the vaccine has no effectiveness in children under 5 yet we are told to vaccinate from 6 months up.

    No Thank YOU!!!

    I will stay away from the non vegan vaccines out there even if they are getting closer to becoming vegan it is still not worth sacrificing my beliefs and morals for something that is not even going to benefit me.

    • jodie says:

      I work in a state where as a health care provider working in a public clinic, I am required to either have the flu shot or wear a mask at all times except while eating, until the health department says I don’t have to anymore, which is typically about 6 months of the year. I know which I pick.

    • J says:

      This is an internet rumor. Not hard to figure that out, so you must be just reposting what you’ve read and not actually getting to the bottom of it.

      On a sidenote, I know this is an old article but, don’t most, if not all, flu vaccines have gelatin in them? So, regardless of being egg-free or not, they aren’t vegan.

  12. S says:

    I’ve been vegan and get flu shots. The alternative is not fun, I’m told. And in every other area of my life, I do so much to not participate in animal abuse, etc, that I won’t let anyone tell me I’m bumped down to vegetarian. You have to weigh the risks to each other as well, the ethics of that.