Summer is over and the hot weather seems to have gone away. The beginning of October signals the period of time when cough cold and flu season begins. Flu vaccines have been available for several weeks and are covered, at least in part, by most private insurance carriers, Medicare and Medicaid. So why haven’t you received your flu vaccine?
If my patient tells me he or she intends to get it, I call the nurse in to give them the vaccine right away, so they don’t have to make another trip back to the office, just for the injection. The Centers for Disease Control recommends almost all people six months or older get annual flu vaccination in order to protect against severe flu syndrome. There are few exceptions to this recommendation because the risk/benefit ratio of getting a flu shot is markedly weighted toward benefit.
Let’s take a look at the potential benefits of getting a flu shot.
- The flu vaccine contains killed flu virus particles that will stimulate your immune system to make protective antibodies to the flu virus.
- Vaccinated patients will less likely suffer from severe life-threatening consequences associated with flu syndrome, which may include high fever, dehydration and pneumonia.
- People with other chronic medical conditions may less likely have worsening of their disorders in association with severe flu syndrome (for example asthma, COPD, heart disease, kidney and liver disease or asthma).
- People over 65 years of age may have a weakened immune system which makes them more at risk for complications associated with flu syndrome. The benefits of flu vaccination are particularly high in this population.
- A vaccinated individual is less likely to spread the highly contagious flu virus to others (relatives, friends, playmates, classmates, friends or others in the immediate vicinity). Health providers, teachers and other public servants should be vaccinated to avoid spreading flu virus and as well protect society from being depleted of their services if there is an epidemic.
- Pregnant women are at increased risk of pre-term labor and other complications if they contract the flu. They should be vaccinated if there are no contraindications (see below).
- Young children, under 12 years of age, have immune systems that are still under development. Flu vaccination targets an important infectious organism which may cause life threatening respiratory problems in this age group. Infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the ravages of the flu.
What are the risks associated with flu vaccination injection?
- The most common adverse effects include mild soreness at the site of the injection which may last from hours to a few days.
- Occasionally you may have a low grade temperature and achiness that is mild and transient.
- Allergic reactions are rare but may include hives or swelling, or exceedingly rare, anaphylaxis (a severe life threatening allergic reaction). There is much greater risk of contracting the flu and dying from it or complications related to it versus dying from an allergic reaction to the vaccine.
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a severe paralytic illness that was associated with a particular swine flu vaccine in 1976. Subsequent flu vaccines, including the swine flu vaccine added to flu shots in recent years, have not had this association. The risk of GBS is estimated to be no more than 1-2 cases per million. This is another circumstance where the risk associated with an adverse effect (GBS) is greatly outweighed by the risk of getting the flu.
- On rare occasions, an egg allergic person may react to a flu shot (or other form of flu vaccine). Recent reports have suggested that most egg allergic people with a history of skin rash or mild symptoms from eating egg may receive the flu vaccine from their doctor and wait 30 minutes in the doctor’s office. If the primary doctor has concerns, they should be referred to a board certified allergist.
Who should not get a flu shot?
Children under 6 months of age should not receive the flu vaccine. Older family members (parents and siblings as well as other household members) should be vaccinated in order to protect the newborn or young children.
- People who have a history of a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine should not get it.
- People with a history of GBS that occurred within 6 weeks of a previous flu shot should not get vaccinated.
- People with a history of severe egg allergy should be referred for further evaluation to an allergist.
- If you have moderate or severe acute illness flu vaccination should be delayed.
I haven’t missed a flu shot in 20 years. I remember thinking I was on death’s doormat 21 years ago when I contracted the flu from a family member. I was late getting vaccinated that year. I had to get intravenous fluids because of dehydration. My cough was explosive and painful. My muscles and head hurt like never before. I didn’t want to ever experience that again, if I could prevent it.
Have you had a bout with severe flu syndrome?
Did it make a vaccine believer out of you, or not?
My next posting will explore the pros and cons of the live intranasal flu vaccine.
Published On: October 01, 2012