Should Thyroid Patients Get The Flu Vaccination?

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Originally published on 20th September 2018
Last updated on 17th October 2019

Vaccinations are always a controversial topic and among thyroid patients, the flu shot/flu jab especially. 

So, should we thyroid patients be getting the flu jab? 

What is it?

The flu jab (injected vaccination) stimulates your body’s immune system to make antibodies that attack the flu virus, when it inserts non-live flu virus in to the body. The idea is that if you’re then exposed to the flu virus after you’ve already had the flu vaccine, your immune system will recognise the virus and immediately produce antibodies to fight it off, lowering your chances of coming down with the flu. Despite common misconceptions, the flu jab cannot cause the flu because it is a non-live version.

In The UK

In the UK, the flu jab is offered for free to many people every year. Anyone aged 65+, pregnant, children and adults with an underlying health condition or weakened immune system (which can include hypothyroidism) are offered the jab at no cost. It’s important to know however that having hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s doesn’t immediately entitle you to a free flu vaccine. Whereas some GP’s tick the box for those with a thyroid condition to have a free flu jab, it’s not the same for all.

I am entitled to a yearly free flu jab on the NHS, but mostly due to a horrid strain of flu putting me in hospital, in intensive care on life support, back in 2011. The doctors were understandably keen to have me avoid that situation again! But I do also have hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.

If you’re not entitled to a free flu jab, you can pay £10 to have it done instead. But the question still remains – should we be having them at all?

In The US

How about the US? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yearly flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone aged six months plus. In particular, they place an emphasis on pregnant women, those aged 50+, children under five, those resident in nursing homes or care facilities and people with conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, endocrine disorders (such as thyroid disease) and kidney, liver and metabolic disorders. So this covers a lot.

Should We Get The Flu Jab?

Always speak directly with your doctor about whether they believe you’re an at-risk person for complications of the flu, as your own personal situation may warrant having the jab.

I’m not going to get in to the debate about the general controversy surrounding various vaccines, for which many people have strong views for and against, but instead just look at the flu jab in relation to thyroid disease and also autoimmune disease.

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should get the flu jab, as I couldn’t possibly make that decision for you. Instead I’m hoping to give you the information you need to help you make a well-informed decision yourself.

Autoimmune Disease Concerns 

For most of us with hypothyroidism, we have the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s to thank. Around 90% of us have Hashimoto’s as the culprit causing hypothyroidism [1], but many thyroid experts and specialists are concerned about the flu vaccination making Hashimoto’s worse. Some have even said they’ve witnessed a decline in their client’s health after having the vaccine, such as a thyroid/Hashimoto’s flare up.

Therefore, asking whether or not you should get the flu jab as an autoimmune disease patient, is a reasonable question, as the vaccine interacts with your immune system which is already functioning not too well.

As Hashimoto’s is reported to be triggered by certain events and substances, it’s also worth knowing that just like EBV, Influenza B is suspected to be the trigger behind some of us developing a thyroid condition. The development of post-flu jab GBS (an autoimmune condition that affects your nervous system), does also suggest that vaccines can possibly trigger autoimmunity.

Unfortunately, there are no studies which seem to show the flu vaccine directly affecting thyroid health and function, but equally, there aren’t studies solidifying that it is completely safe either.

We do know that it affects the immune system though, as the very point of the vaccine is to have the body produce antibodies against the virus. This isn’t ‘natural‘ and enough research hasn’t been conducted in to it to know the possible outcomes, but for those with autoimmune conditions, it’s not unreasonable to question how these can be affected.
Interestingly there is also some scientific evidence that certain vaccines (though not necessarily the flu shot) may actually help prevent the manifestation of autoimmune diseases, by altering a person’s immune system in such a way that it is protective. [2]
Subacute thyroiditis has also been reported in one study, to show up after a flu vaccination. Although definitely quite rare, the study states that subacute thyroiditis should be considered as a possible outcome following a flu jab. [3]

Weighing it up

Weighing up the chances of:

A) getting the flu vaccination and it flaring up your thyroid condition
with
B) not having the vaccination and getting ill (and possibly very ill) from the flu and this flaring up your thyroid condition, isn’t easy.

We may feel as if our choice is between going without the vaccination and risking catching the flu and it making us very ill, with having the vaccine and that worsening our health too. It’s a bit of a double edged sword! No one can say what your reaction will be until it is done.

Whether you decide that the flu jab is for you or not, remember that the best way to avoid contracting the flu is with good hygiene and certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Bone broths, Vitamin C, D, Zinc and Selenium all support the immune system, as does a well-balanced and nutrient dense diet.

Washing you hands, using tissues (and binning them immediately), maintaining a good sleep schedule and keeping stress levels low also all help to avoid coming down with illness. For more information on looking after your thyroid health in the winter, check out this article.

In my case, I opt to get the flu jab every autumn, as I’d rather not risk getting so ill that I almost die again. When I caught the flu at seventeen-years-old, it put me in intensive care in hospital and I could have died. Weighing up whether the vaccine causes a flare up in my thyroid symptoms against contracting the flu and it putting me in hospital, is a no-brainer in my case. But everyone’s case is different and only you will know what you’re comfortable doing. Flu vaccine or no flu vaccine.

Do you get the vaccine? Feel free to share in the comments below but please be respectful of other peoples’ opinions too!

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3066320

[2] https://www.verywellhealth.com/do-thyroid-patients-need-a-flu-shot-3233145

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4962945/

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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13 thoughts on “Should Thyroid Patients Get The Flu Vaccination?

  1. I notice a few days of drag after getting the flu shot. At the most, up to 7 days, but not debilitating. I know it’s my immune system flaring up some. I’ve gotten in the habit of getting the shot when I know I have a long weekend or time off work so I can sleep a lot and counter the flare up. The flu is soo much worse than a couple of days of taking it easy to balance out the flare up.

  2. Great article and comments. I am in this ‘should I/should I not’ debate with myself this year. I haven’t had the flu shot for 4 yrs. Status: 67 yrs old, Hashi’s, recent “asthma” diagnosis after getting H1,N1 last spring-hospitalized for 3 days that. I can so relate to all the concerns addressed with everyone. I’m still on the fence personally, but leaning toward getting the vaccine this year. I have 2 grandsons that visit, perpetually coughing & snuffing, and really don’t want another hospital visit. What’s a grandma to do ?

  3. I’ve had the flu jab for years, in fact since contracting flu and never recovering from it. In the UK it’s not a live virus so it’s impossible to get flu from it, however, it is normal for your arm to feel a bit heavy and sore the day after as it goes directly into the muscle at the top of your arm. I’ve only once had a reaction following the injection in the last 20 years, took antihistamines for a few days and the swelling went down, I can’t conclusively say it was the jab as it’s possible that I was bitten by a mosquito at around that time

  4. I had my flu injection this year after nearly 1 year of taking T3 only (no thyroid) and for approximately 6 weeks had symptoms equalling Epstein Barr Virus which I had had years previously. My GP was unsure as to what had caused such a reaction, but I was ‘washed out’ for that period of time. Thinking long and hard if I would have it again.

  5. Really helpful view of pros and cons. I’m slowly learning about my immune system and how to support it rather than challenge it further. Wondering have you come across shingles and hashi. I’ve had shingles twice already and dread the thought of a third bout now. Working out whether I should have shingles jab.

  6. excellent and helpful news for me. I am new to this illness and I also have A-fib. As a senior citizen, I am eager to stay as current as possible with all the necessary methods to do so. I am pleased to find your writings, thank you!

  7. I had flu shot every year because I was a healthcare worker. Early this year, I became very ill for couple months and the diagnose was subacute thyroiditis. I am wondering is this because of vaccination? From reading your article, I agree that vaccination might be related to subacute thyroiditis. I decide not to get the flu shot.

  8. Thank you for the valuable info….the last time I had the flu it was the year the vaccination was ‘off’. I hope to never be so ill again but I wasn’t hypo then…I never miss the vaccination as I am too afraid of getting the flu and also I work in healthcare and need to protect all..

  9. Oh, this is so tricky for me! I was diagnosed with asthma earlier this year, apparently I’ve had it for many years now, and I *have* to take the flu shot to protect my lungs. (I don’t get the flu often but when I do it’s really bad, I literally can’t breathe). But I also have Hashimot’s. I feel like I’ve won the worst DNA lottery jackpot sometimes.

  10. This really is such a tricky one, and as you say you don’t really know until you get the jab! It’s a very important issue to raise because it’s time to be thinking about it and making the decision. With a compromised immune system it’s often promoted as being something you ‘should’ have done, and with various conditions like thyroid issues or asthma or connective tissue disease, the jab becomes all the more complex because you never really know whether the risk is higher with it or without it. I had a flu jab last year and thankfully didn’t have any adverse effects so I’ll be opting for it again this year… really must get that booked in, thanks for the reminder!
    Caz xx

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