It’s that time of year again! The time many of us roll up a sleeve and get “stuck.” But did you know flu shots aren’t vegan?
Vegans do their best to not use any products derived from an animal (like meat, dairy, leather, etc.), or services in which animals are exploited (like circuses). So how come flu shots aren’t vegan?
Flu vaccines are inactivated flu viruses that, once injected into you, spur your immune system into creating protective antibodies without actually causing any disease. That means that, when you later do actually encounter a live flu virus, your body is already primed to knock its lights out.
Unfortunately, the viruses used in most vaccines are grown (a.k.a., “cultured”) in fertilized chicken eggs. Like all eggs, these are obtained via industrial chicken farming, in which the laying hens are jammed into cruel “battery cages” their whole lives, and the male chicks (who can’t lay eggs) are killed shortly after birth, often in horrific ways.
Does that mean vegans can’t get flu shots? Heck no! there are actually two great non-egg options available right here in Southwest Michigan:
- Flucelvax is grown primarily in animal cell (Madin-Darby Canine Kidney) cultures. Although not technically vegan due to the use of cells originating from dogs (and some egg at the beginning of the process), this process almost certainly involves far less cruelty and death than egg-based vaccines, in part because you can clone many cultures from a single kidney cell. Another plus is that Flucelvax covers four flu strains, versus traditional vaccines that cover three. You can get a Flucelvax shot at Target and CVS.
- Flublok represents a new generation of vaccines in which a protein from one virus is combined with parts of another virus. This combination is further blended with insect cells and replicated. It’s also not strictly vegan because insect cells are used during production, but no bird or mammal cells are used. The manufacturer, Protein Sciences Corp., also claims that their procedure produces an exceptionally clean vaccine: “Flublok…does not contain any preservatives (e.g., thimerosal, which contains mercury), egg proteins, gelatin or latex.” The company also says it contains three times more antigen than traditional flu vaccines and has shown increased effectiveness over them. You can get it at Target, WalMart, and Meijer.
Both of these should be covered by most insurances. Be sure to call the pharmacy first to ensure that your chosen vaccine is in stock! You may get asked if you’re allergic to eggs. Just tell them you’re vegan and have an ethical objection to egg consumption in any form.
Here’s a great article that goes into more detail on vegan flu shots. The author cites a report on research into vaccines grow entirely on plant cells, so be prepared for more vegan options in the future.
Now, a confession: I actually got my flu shot earlier this week while getting my annual checkup, and it was nonvegan. Then, a couple of days later, I had a conversation that inspired this article. I’m a super dedicated vegan, but am not going to waste time beating myself up for my lapse: I’ll just make sure to do the right thing next year. That’s how it rolls when you’re vegan. It’s probably impossible for anyone to be 100% vegan, given the ubiquity of animal products in every area of our society and economy. But we try to do our best, and to do a little better each year. Vegan Kalamazoo is here to support you on that, so don’t hesitate to send us your questions!
Many thanks to VK member (and pharmacist) Katia Burke-Pappas and the great people at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for technical assistance with this piece. Also, please join our Facebook group to discuss this article and much else.