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.