I Can Haz Vegan Flu Shot?

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.


Five Ways To Go Invisibly Vegan

Here’s to a healthier, kinder, and more environmentally sustainable future! Okay, let’s not talk about bacon or cheese. Let’s talk about chili, stir fries, and muffins. Below are five ridiculously easy things you can do to invisibly veganize your cuisine. By invisible I mean that, in a blind taste test, you wouldn’t know the dish is vegan.

1. Join Harvard, 7-Eleven, and many others and dump the mayonnaise: use Hampton Creek’s vegan Just Mayo instead. Winner of a Serious Eats blind taste test, it’s clearly freaking out Big Mayo (a.k.a., Unilever, maker of Hellmann’s/Best Foods), which stupidly sued teeny weeny Hampton Creek to try to force them to change the name—a move that epically backfired.

2. Replace eggs in baking and cooking with apple sauce, flax seeds, a banana, or one of these. If you want a twofer, also swap in nondairy milk for the dairy. And by the way, pancakes and waffles work just fine sans eggs—you don’t even need a substitute. (Add some nuts or vegan protein powder for more oomph.)

Hillary's Freezer!

Hillary’s Freezer!

3. Try meat substitutes. Seriously, the new generation, like Gardein and Beyond Meat, is amazing: great taste, texture, and appearance; also, not too much salt and relatively straightforward ingredients. They are often soy- and gluten-free. The Clever Housewife did a blind taste test of Beyond Beefy Crumbles with her family and neither spousal unit nor child units noticed; and Bill Gates invested in Beyond Meat after he couldn’t tell the difference between the company’s chicken product and real chicken.

Most supermarkets now carry these products, so…check out our freezer! At the end of a busy day we pop one of these babies into a stir fry, chili, casserole, or sauce with a bunch of veggies, and we are there. Here’s a giant page of meat (and other) substitutes.

4. Swap out the superfluous. Many breads, snacks, condiments, and other packaged foods contain superfluous dairy or egg. Check out PETA’s ginormous list of “accidentally vegan” foods to see if there’s a swap you can make.

5. OMG, TRY THE DESSERTS. Vegan. Desserts. Rock. You get all the sweetness and flavor, with less grease and weight (and calories, cholesterol, etc.) That means you can eat more of them! Check out the vegan dessert page of Chloe Coscarelli, winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars; and non-bakers should know that you can buy premade vegan desserts at many supermarket bakeries. Also, there’s a lot of fabulous nondairy ice cream out there. My favorite brand is Coconut Bliss, and of course we’re all waiting to see what Ben & Jerry’s does with their new vegan line.

For more ideas, check out one of the bazillions of vegan cookbooks out there, or Google “vegan _____,” filling in the name of your favorite ingredient or dish. You will probably find some surprising equivalents. I once randomly (ahem) searched for “vegan Tootsie Rolls” and found that they exist in the form of TruJoy Choco chews. In the service of my cause (ahem), I did a taste test and found them to be good and true.