There is plenty of flu vaccine available for protecting the populace against flu syndrome this year. Many clinics and pharmacies around the U.S. began giving flu shots several weeks ago. Have you had yours?
Recommendations by health officials on who should get the flu shot have broadened over the last several years. Currently, anyone over 6 months should get the flu vaccine if they are not severely egg allergic or allergic to the flu vaccine by history. People over 65 years of age, young children, or those older than 6 months with a history of asthma, other chronic respiratory problems, chronic heart, liver, kidney disease, diabetes or immune deficiencies or who are pregnant are highly recommended to get annual flu vaccination.
Here are five of the most common reasons my patients have avoided getting the flu vaccine:
- “I’m afraid of getting the flu from the flu shot”
- “My friend got sick after getting a flu shot”
- “My child may become autistic from the preservative in the flu vaccine”
- "I am pregnant "
- “I’ve never had a flu syndrome”
Influenza (flu syndrome) is responsible for between 3000 to 50,000 deaths annually in America. Over the last several years aggressive vaccination campaigns have been successful in keeping death rates toward the lower end of the above range. The flu virus is a moving target when it comes to preparing new vaccine each year. Medical doctors and scientists work together to analyze changes that occur in the virus each flu season in order to prepare for the following year’s flu season.
I’m afraid of getting the flu from the flu shot?
Actually, you should be more afraid of getting the flu. Flu symptoms can be ten times worse than the common cold. In addition to runny nose, cough and sore throat, flu syndrome may include severe headache, muscle and body aches, fatigue and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea. Many times we can go to work or school despite having cold symptoms but when you get the flu you are often bedridden for a number of days.
So don’t be afraid of the vaccine. Allow your fear of flu syndrome to motivate you to get vaccinated The injected flu vaccine does not contain any live virus. This means you cannot develop flu syndrome from the flu shot. Unfortunately it takes a couple of weeks to develop the protective antibody response so exposure to the flu virus from someone else, just before or right after vaccination may result in getting the flu (because you are not yet protected).
“My friend got sick after getting a flu shot”
Most people may experience some mild soreness at the site of the injection but serious illness after flu vaccination is uncommon. I think some people who relate such experiences probably contracted the flu or some other respiratory virus around the time of their vaccination and were not yet protected by the flu vaccine or suffered from the another virus syndrome. The numbers of people that do not have serious adverse effects from flu vaccination greatly outnumber those who do.
“My Child may become autistic from the preservative”
Small amounts of thimerosol preservative are in most flu vaccines and many others. Some reports over the years have blamed flu vaccination on the development of childhood autism. Scientific support for this connection has been lacking. Thimerosol is a mercury based antibacterial compound which has been reduced or eliminated in many types of vaccines over the years. The flu vaccines that contain thimerosol have small amounts. For people that may have hypersensitivity to this preservative (suspected allergy to thimerosol) a preservative free (no thimerosol) flu vaccine is available.
“I am pregnant”
Flu syndrome is potentially more devastating in pregnancy. Changes in the immune and respiratory system make pregnant women more vulnerable to severe flu syndromes. The risk of contracting the flu and having a severe and possibly fatal outcome is higher than the risk of an adverse reaction to the flu vaccine during pregnancy. There is more risk of preterm labor and miscarriage from experiencing flu syndrome than from getting flu vaccination. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) highly recommends vaccination of pregnant women. If you are pregnant you should be running to get your flu shot (well, perhaps just walking fast will do…).
I’ve never had a flu syndrome"
This is one my favorite excuses. Some people feel that not having ever had the flu means they are less likely to get it or have a severe experience from it. But they would be wrong. If in fact they have never had the flu, they have no protective antibodies against it. If they contract the flu virus from a cough, sneeze or contact, they may have a more severe syndrome because of this lack of antibody protection. Yes, having previous flu syndrome may leave you with some protective immune response but studies show the protection is short-lived. Furthermore flu viruses mutate rapidly resulting in decreased protection from previous flu vaccines or flu syndromes. This is why annual vaccination is important!
*Consider getting a flu shot unless you have egg allergy or a history of a serious adverse effect from a previous flu shot.