The Flu Shot: Helpful or Harmful?

DECEMBER 13, 2013 | VOL 15

The Flu Shot: Helpful or Harmful?

The government says everybody should get the flu shot every year. But does it work? Is it safe? And do we really need it?

One very reliable way to determine the effectiveness of the flu shot is to look at the database analysis presented by The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group of scientists who have no link to any industry or government agencies. After analyzing all of the data on the flu shot, they have concluded that it really doesn’t work well. It doesn’t even cover most of the influenza infections that people get.

For certain populations, I do think a flu shot is necessary. For people who are debilitated, people with respiratory or developmental problems, and for people who are prone to getting very sick and could die from the flu, I think it’s worth getting the shot. It may not work that well, but it provide some benefit to those populations.

But for anyone else, I don’t think the flu shot is necessary. I know this goes against government recommendations, and I know there’s a lot of controversy about it. But I encourage you to do your own homework. Read the blog that I wrote that extensively documents the science behind why the flu shots don’t work as well as we think they do, and why they might be harmful.

Here’s one dirty little secret about the flu shot: it contains mercury. Most of the flu shots that are administered in the US are from multi-dose vials, which contain multiple flu shots in one little vial. To preserve it, they add mercury or Thimerosal. A cumulative dose of Thimerosal over your lifetime could have a negative impact on your health, because mercury is a known toxin. It causes immune problems and neurologic problems like dementia, memory issues, and other issues. So, if you’re going to get the flu shot, make sure it comes from a single-dose vial, which doesn’t have Thimerosal in it.


  1. The flu shot doesn’t work well, and there are many other things you can do to stay healthy.
  2. It may contain mercury, so if you do get the shot, be sure avoid the kind that comes in a multi-dose vial with Thimerosal added.

So, how do you prevent the flu without getting the flu shot?

I’ve written a blog on this subject that explains exactly how to build up your immune system, what supplements to take, and what foods to eat to make sure you don’t get the flu. There are simple but highly effective things you can do, like taking vitamin D. When you have adequate vitamin D levels, you can dramatically reduce your risk of flu. And there are many other suggestions that I provide in the blog. So, check it out and learn what you can do to prevent the flu.

I encourage you to share this House Call with your friends and family on Twitter and Facebook. Sign up for the newsletter, and submit your questions, so that, next week, I may make a House Call to you.

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD

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19 Responses to The Flu Shot: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. jewel December 17, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Does the shingles vacine work? Are they safe?

  2. LIz December 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    I’ve never had a flu shot and don’t plan on getting one. In addition to many of Dr. Hyman’s suggestions, I also take Black Elderberry/Sambucol if I’m feeling stuffy or flu-like. It even helps clear my congestion that is due to the dry heat/low humidity of wintertime. We keep plenty in stock all the time. I haven’t had the flu in many years..knock on wood…but even if I got the flu, I’d rather get the flu in my current state rather than after having had a vaccine.
    Believers in the flu shot will always be until they have a bad reaction or catch the flu despite their preventive effort. I don’t even try to discuss other options with them unless they ask.

  3. Dawn Loughborough December 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Thank you for your commitment to health and well being. Courageous and makes a difference for humankind.

  4. Patricia Sullivan December 18, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Dr. Hyman, I knew about the mercury issue , but was told recently by my chiropractor that the single dose , mercury free, flu shots, have the mercury replaced by aluminum. I suffered a concussion this year, and according to my chiropractors, both mercury and aluminum are brain irritants, that should be avoided. Do you agree? Thank You for your time. Pat

  5. Jill Plumb December 18, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    I take 8000 IU/day of D3 for the last several years. I am around sick people ALL THE TIME and I haven’t gotten anything!

  6. Beverly December 18, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    I work in a NYC hospital which is mandating flu shots or wearing a mask. Do you have any recommendations. I have never taken a flu shot and I am a direct care provider.

  7. greg December 18, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    WHY the hell is Thimerosal with mercury LEGAL???

  8. Kaitlyn December 18, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    What this post forgets is herd immunity. While many people might be able to fight off the flu successfully themselves, without the flu shot they can become disease vectors who infect those already at risk: the very young, the elderly, and the immuno-compromised. If everyone gets the flu shot, then the risk for *everyone*, especially those at risk, diminishes. I would advise all people to get the flu shot, even if you are not at risk, because you may come in contact with those who are at risk. Especially get the flu shot if you work or spend much time with infants, elderly, or the sick. It would be terrible if you were the person who infected someone at risk.

  9. Mary Ann Johnston December 18, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    Thank you so much for this wonderful explanation, especially coming from a doctor. My father who was an extremely healthy man contracted Guillan-Barre from the flu shot. He became totally paralyzed and laid in ICU for nearly one year before he died from the complications. Many years ago I worked for an Oral Surgeon and he said the same thing as you and explained it is a guessing game, as they start working on the strain 6months to a year, so they never really know what strain they are trying to prevent. Big business for the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA, better know as the Fear and Disaster Association.

  10. Victor December 19, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Unfair analysis using the Cochran Analysis for data on the flu shot and then tell your subscribers the you are using science to give your learned advice. Please submit your equally judged statistically valid sceinticfially rigorous analysis on boosting the immune system!!!!
    The Vit D data is debunked. Thimersol is also not clear cut. NO FAIR. Be honest you are expressing your bias. The 100,000 hospitalizations and 30,000 deaths related to flu is real and aged and young at risk. Also the flu shot for children doesn’t contain Thimersol. Don’t make people more scared then they already are!!!!!!

  11. KS December 19, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Can you provide the link to the Cochrane Review article about the flu effectiveness?

  12. KS December 19, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Can you provide the link to the Cochrane Review article about the flu effectiveness?

  13. Marilyn Evans December 19, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I posted Dr. Hyman’s flu shot video on my FB page. My niece, who is doing her family practice residency commented that not getting vaccinated is “a selfish approach. Vaccines are for the greater good of public health.” Any comments on this?

  14. jcee December 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    My experience in my life is aluminum is worse. Shots without mercury may be
    traded for aluminum.

  15. Kathy December 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi Dr Hyman

    I am 9 weeks pregnant and have been advised to have the flu shot, what would be your advice. I am a healthy 48 year old and regularly take a multi-vitamin pregnancy supplement and krill oil.

    Best wishes

  16. C. Parker December 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I take a great immune booster supplement (herbs) by the company NOW, It is called Air Defense.
    When I was younger I use to get chronic bronchitis and it would last 6months…it was really bad. I have been taking air defense for over 10 years and never again have I been sick, unless I am in the wrong place and everyone is sick and I don’t have them with me.
    I start taking them a couple of weeks before traveling, holidays, flu season. I don’t take them all the time, but as soon as I feel something coming on…I pull out my bottle.
    I also do colloidal silver for a sore throat, ear aches, tooth aches.

  17. Jenna December 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    Is thimeserol also contained in allergy shots? My son has been taking them for a year. They have helped when diet and other changes did not help. Reading this article made me wonder since he is 7 and gets these every 3 weeks now (maintenance) vs every week and twice a week for the first year. Thanks.

  18. James LaRoche December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Dr. Hyman,

    Thank you for this.
    Based on my own investigations, I’d arrived at similar conclusions, but I’m greatly pleased you’ve included with yours such a great resource, i.e. The Cochrane Collaboration.

    I think it would be hugely beneficial for any such discussion to make a clear distinction between the efficacy of the flu-jab, vs. say getting children immunised against measles, etc.
    The temptation to draw the same conclusion would be all too tempting, wholly incorrect and potentially deadly.

    Many thanks again for your authoritative insights.

    ~ James

  19. CR McKay January 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    I became 62 years old this month while in the hospital for an 11 day stay due to double pneumonia, side effect from flu. Until Jan. 19, 2014, I had never had the flu nor pneumonia shots. I don’t remember the last time I was diagnosed with flu until now. I have had the flu in the past, not sure how many times, but had been a long time from then until now since I had been diagnosed with flu. I work as a security officer, do rounds, walk a lot, etc. etc. Coworker came in to work sick around 12/29-30/13. I thought here comes another two weeks of misery from a cold. Within 24 to 48 hours or maybe even less, my husband and I were becoming sick. He is diabled from several major illnesses, had had the flu and pneumonia shots as is usual for him. He became sick quicker than I, but in the long run was nowhere as close to as ill as I was. Husband had H1N1, acquired bronchitis between first ER visit and second ER visit and being admitted to hospital from 1/12/14 -1/15/14, ER visit 1/7/14, sent home oxygen good no pneumonia. 1/12/14, called 911 to be transported by ambulance to ER and was admitted due to bronchitis complications. He has severe coronary artery disease, inflamatory osteoarthritis, and several other issues from which he is diabled to work or do much of anything for that matter. I was in the hospital since an ER visit on 1/8/14 until 1/19/14. We both “celebrated” our 62 and 63 birthdays in the hospital this year. When I arrived in ER 1/8/14, they admitted me due to the fact my oxygen level was so extremely low. My blood gas arterial oxygen was 50% should be in 90 percentile range. I have never been a smoker, drank, nor used illegal drugs. I don’t like to take medication at all, but sometimes it becomes necessary. My estimated hospital stay was 1-2 days but ended up to be 11 days. I was told early on that due to the fact I was otherwise healthy and a nonsmoker my lungs would heal but it would take a while. Several doctors told me I was extremely ill. I am now home in recovery mode as is my husband. Said all that to say this. I have mixed feelings about flu shots and a lot of other things of the same nature partly because of my allergies and partly because of information of toxin in them. At this point, I don’t really know what is best for me to do. I know I was so sick I felt like I would have to feel better to die. My husband and I have been marrierd for 38 years as of March this year. We have experienced some trying things over these years, but I think we both agree being sick like this at the same time and him disabled to begin with takes the prize for bad experience. I am open to feedback from others as I would like to learn all I can about these issues of vaccinations, etc. Please interesting note below:

    My husband had not been any farther than our yard for quite a while before this illness occurred, we had had no company for a good while, no delivery people, etc. etc. I was the only one in and out our home. My nights off are Thurs. and Fri. The morning of Fri. 1/3/14, I cannot describe how I felt upon rising from my night’s sleep. I was able to get a little food down so could take some ibuprophen, in a little while felt some better (must have been fever), was able to drag to doctor. She did not hear anything in my lungs at that time and did not prescribe any medication. Previous to this hospital stay, I have been in the hospital to be born, have tonsils out at age 6, and birth two sons who are now in their mid to late 30’s. I have taken some supplements over the years (some doctor prescribed), but had to stop Vit. C and Vit. B several years back due to developing a degree of incontenence that taking these vitamins that make one urinate more made the incontinence problem more difficult to deal with. I take Vit. D 1,000 mg and Iron (65/325 Ferrous Sulfate), Magnesium 250 mg all doctor prescribed. I use Flonase instead of Nasonex due to price difference 2 sprays per nostril per day and Lumigan for occular hypertension 1 drop per eye per day. I use simethicone (Phazyme, Gax-X, etc. brand names). This was doctor prescribed for me in the 70’s when available only by prescription. I have allergies to some foods and dust mite. Not sure about anything else as haven’t been tested in decades. Thank you for listening. We hope sharing this experience will be helpful to others.

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