Should Thyroid Patients Get The Flu Vaccination?

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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!

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

And how about the US? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yearly flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone aged 6 months plus. In particular, they place an emphasis on pregnant women, those aged 50+, children under 5, 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.

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.
Now, 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. And 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, 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 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 also 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.

As Dr. Eric also talks about here:

There are no studies I’m aware of which show that the chemicals used in the flu vaccine can directly affect thyroid health… There also aren’t studies which confirm that the flu shot is safe when it comes to thyroid health.  But what is known is the impact that the flu shot has on the immune system.

The goal of receiving the flu vaccine is to get the body to produce antibodies against certain strains of the influenza virus…  But the more important point is that the effect the flu shot has on the immune system isn’t natural, and it can have a potentially detrimental effect on the immune system in people with autoimmune thyroid conditions…  I’m not suggesting that getting the flu shot can trigger an autoimmune response.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if it had the potential to do this in some people.

However, 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 is protective.
So who knows?! There really isn’t enough extensive research to say for sure yet.
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.

Weighing it up

Weighing up the chances of having the flu vaccination and it flaring up your thyroid condition, with it not flaring up your thyroid condition and instead protecting you from getting ill (and possibly very ill) from contracting the flu, isn’t easy. No one can say what your reaction will be until it’s done.

So do you go without the vaccination and risk catching the flu and it making you very ill and worsening your health?

Or do you get the jab and risk it flaring up your health?

It’s a bit of a double edged sword!

So, should you get it?

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, 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 do opt to get the flu jab every autumn, as I’d rather not risk getting so ill that I almost die again! Weighing up whether it causes a flare up in my hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s symptoms or I contract the flu and it puts 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.

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

If you found this article beneficial, please take a moment to share it so we can help others get better with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's, whilst also raising awareness. "Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate."

Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill, Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author, has Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites and has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook.

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

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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..

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