What’s more effective: Modern medicine’s flu shot, or the concoctions of Shakespeare’s witches?

Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s vaccine

In October, I often think of Shakespeare’s potions and poisons. These herbal concoctions made for intriguing plot devices in his plays. They also reflect the sophisticated medical knowledge of people in the Elizabethan era of the late 1500s and early 1600s. And they serve as a reminder that herbal medicine was once mainstream.

In Shakespeare’s time, “wise women” passed down folk remedies from generation to generation. Many grew gardens of medicinal herbs, which is why Shakespeare’s audiences understood the basic properties of these plants. In fact, Shakespeare often mentioned well-known folk remedies in his plays.

Ophelia’s bouquet, as you may recall, contained rosemary “for remembrance.” And modern studies show this herb benefits cognition and memory.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tatiana, queen of the fairies, has four followers named for common household herbal and natural remedies of the time: Cobweb, Mustardseed, Moth, and Peaseblossom (which still offer unique health benefits today).

And one of the most famous Shakespearean potions appears in the cauldron of the three witches of Macbeth. The witches pronounce aloud the dark ingredients for their “charm of powerful trouble,” including “Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark.” Hemlock is the poisonous potion that Socrates famously drank—probably because his doctors kept nagging him to get a flu shot.

I jest, of course, but flu shots themselves are no laughing matter…

Last year’s flu vaccine was only 29 percent effective

A few years ago, I first joked that Shakespeare’s witches’ brew resembles today’s influenza vaccine. But actually, their potion would likely be more beneficial to health than the flu shot for most people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that last year’s flu vaccine was only 29 percent effective.1 They said vaccine formulators were blindsided by a strain of flu they hadn’t accounted for—but there are many other fundamental problems with the annual flu shot.

You see, flu vaccines are formulated to fight three or four strains of influenza that epidemiologists guess will turn up in the next year. So when you really think about it, a flu vaccine is about as scientific as a witches’ brew.

And yet, the CDC has already begun its yearly campaign for their largely useless and dangerous concoction. In fact, when I recently went to the doctor for a regular check-up, at least three people in the office offered me the flu vaccine. And they didn’t want to take no for an answer.

So I mentioned that the U.S. Air Force had stopped giving the flu shot to its civilian employees, which got their attention. For a moment, at least. People generally think of the Air Force as an intelligent group of people—especially the Air Force Medical Service, which helps prepare pilots to fly at high altitude and launch into outer space. (I was studying to join them when I was a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from 1971-72.)

I suspect the Air Force Medical Service was very careful about its decision to stop administering the flu vaccine. So while other government agencies continue pushing it, I suggest we pay attention to what the smart people in the Air Force are not doing.

But unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And when the zealous staff at my doctor’s office still urged me to get the flu shot? Well, I went back to Shakespeare and finally told them I use the “Lady Macbeth” plan to prevent the flu. Clearly, from the looks on their faces, I needed to explain myself…

How to avoid a winter of discontent

In Shakespeare’s play, Lady Macbeth conspires to have her husband’s royal rivals assassinated. Then, she develops a spot on her hand, which she takes as a sign of guilt. So she keeps washing her hands, over and over, crying, “Out, damned spot. Out, I say!”

Then, she asks, “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” And the doctor in attendance answers honestly, “This disease is beyond my practice.” Later, Macbeth says, “Throw the physic to the dogs; I’ll have none of it!”

So, while the “physics” at the CDC undergo their annual ritual of “double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble,” in preparing the next flu vaccine, you can channel Lady Macbeth instead.

Protect yourself from the flu and the CDC’s vaccine by simply washing your hands regularly with soap and water.

And if by chance you do get the flu, the CDC’s calculated contagion factor says you’ll likely only infect one other person. So, rest assured, you won’t be starting an epidemic. That is, unless you got the flu shot.

In a 2018 Daily Dispatch (“Flu vaccines increase airborne flu transmission by more than 600 percent”), I reported on a study about people who still contracted influenza even after getting the flu shot (sadly, a frequent situation). And it turns out these people are actually six times more likely to pass on influenza viruses in their exhaled breath.

Bottom line: For most people, the flu vaccine is useless at best—and downright deadly at worst.

You’re much better off taking measures to protect yourself naturally. To read my full list of flu-prevention recommendations, see the sidebar on this page.

Now, please excuse me as I decline the latest robocall from CVS, reminding me to get a flu shot…

My flu prevention checklist

To boost your immune system and help ward off cold and flu viruses, I recommend the following:

  • High-quality vitamin B complex with at least 55 mg of B6 daily
  • 250 mg of vitamin C twice a day
  • 10,000 IU of liquid vitamin D daily
  • 400 mg of Magnesium daily (but never in the form of magnesium glutamate, magnesium aspartate, or magnesium oxide)
  • 100 mcg selenium daily

If you feel a cold or flu coming on, I recommend adding the following:

  • 300 to 400 mg each of echinacea, goldenseal, and elderberry extract supplements as soon as symptoms begin. You can also brew these botanical remedies together into a tea.
  • Wash your hands regularly, and avoid air dryers. In the February 2015 issue of Insiders’ Cures, I first wrote about a study showing that hand dryers blast viruses that can linger in restroom air for up to 30 minutes. Whereas simply drying your hands with a paper towel or handkerchief can scrape off any remaining germs left over after hand washing.