Health experts are again mounting an aggressive campaign to vaccinate adults and children in preparation for the oncoming flu season. Investigators used last year’s analytical data to formulate the best flu vaccine combination for distribution this year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu-related deaths in America have ranged from 3,000 to 50,000 over the last 30 years. Last year the CDC received reports of 161 childhood deaths from the flu. It’s assumed that many deaths also go unreported. Disturbingly, only about half the U.S. population gets vaccinated annually. Health statistics reveal that flu vaccination will reduce severe and potentially fatal flu syndromes by about 60 percent. So why don’t more people get flu vaccination?
Here are five common reasons people don’t get flu vaccinations:
"I’m afraid of getting the flu from the vaccine."
"I don’t want my child to get autism from the preservative in the vaccine."
"I heard you may get this horrible paralyzing disease from the flu shot."
"I’m afraid of getting sick from the flu shot."
"I’m allergic to eggs."
And here are my responses to those concerns:
The injectable flu vaccine is made up of killed virus particles. This means it is not able to infect your cells because the virus is dead. In fact, each virus particle has been split open in addition to being killed. You cannot get the flu from the injectable vaccine. But you can get the flu from someone else who coughed or sneezed on you days before or soon after you received the vaccine.
It takes two to three weeks for the vaccine to stimulate protective antibodies, so you may still contract the flu from a friend, classmate, or co-worker. Furthermore, flu vaccination is no guarantee that you won’t get the flu or a flu-like illness. It just gives you a great fighting chance by providing you with protective antibodies.
Many researchers have looked for a connection between flu vaccination and autism. For some time, thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative was thought to be the cause of this ailment. But the Institute of Medicine and many other health experts report there is not an increased risk of autism associated with flu vaccination. The thimerosal content of the flu vaccine is exceedingly small. For those who remain unconvinced, there are preservative-free flu vaccines available for injection.
The risk of experiencing a paralyzing illness caused by flu vaccination is also a gross misconception. Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) is the paralyzing disorder most commonly brought up in discussions about flu vaccines. In 1976, health authorities in anticipation of a swine flu epidemic, vaccinated millions of people with a new H1N1 vaccine. More than 40 million people were vaccinated but the epidemic never occurred. Yet more than 400 cases of GBS were reported. Years of research subsequently concluded that the flu vaccine given in 1976 was likely associated with GBS. But since then, there has not been a rise in GBS after flu shots, despite the use of a new H1N1 vaccine in 2009.
Although there may be a slight increased risk (1 to 2 in a million) of GBS from flu vaccination, the risk of having a life-threatening flu syndrome is much higher. The bottom line is you should not get the flu vaccine if you have a history of GBS that occurred within six weeks of a previous flu vaccination.
Most people do not get sick from the flu vaccine. The most common complaints are soreness at the site of the injection for a few days. Some people may also experience mild fever, headache, achiness, and fatigue. These symptoms are usually mild and short-lived. Of course, we all hear about the exceptions, but remember a huge majority of people have only mild soreness after flu shots.
History of egg allergy is no longer a reason to avoid getting flu vaccination if the reaction was mild. Current recommendations allow for cautious flu vaccine injection in people who had hives or some other non-life threatening symptoms after eating eggs. (Avoid the nasal spray vaccine in this case.) Consultation with an allergist may be necessary. I have safely given flu shots to several children and adults referred to me because of a history of egg allergy.
Many people avoid getting flu shots for the wrong reasons. If you have one or more of the above concerns, discuss them with your doctor. Learn more from the CDC information center. Make an informed and wise choice that you and the surrounding community will benefit from.