It’s that time of year again: the weather is changing, the days are getting shorter and flu season is just around the corner. Now is the perfect time to get your flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for all individuals six months and older.
Misconceptions and apprehension regarding the influenza vaccine delay or prevent many individuals from getting it. However, the flu vaccine can protect you, your family and our community from this seasonal virus.
“But it’s just the flu. I’ve had it before and been fine.“
For most healthy individuals, the flu leads to a week or two of misery including fever, body aches, fatigue and respiratory symptoms. However for children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions, the flu can be quite dangerous. Each year more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized for complications related to influenza and about 20,000 of them are children. Even if you are lucky enough not to get respiratory or cardiac complications, missing a week of school during finals or a week of work can be quite stressful.
“But can’t I get the nasal spray? I don’t like shots.”
This is the most common complaint in our office. The flu vaccine is only available as a shot this year as the nasal flu spray is no longer recommended. Vaccine efficacy is constantly studied and when it was found that the nasal spray was not as effective against certain flu strains, its recommendation was pulled.
“But I got the flu vaccine last year and I still got the flu.”
Most childhood vaccines are more than 95 percent effective at protecting against specific diseases. Influenza vaccine ranges from 40-60 percent effective at protecting against the flu depending on the circulating strains. However, if you don’t get the vaccine then you have zero added protection. Getting your vaccine as soon as possible is a good idea especially since some years we see influenza as early as November. Being immunized at least two weeks before being exposed is the best way to be protected. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza and there are numerous other respiratory viruses that can cause similar symptoms.
“But what about the stories about the flu vaccine making you sick?”
The flu vaccine is not a live vaccine. In other words, it cannot cause an infection because it cannot replicate in our bodies. However when you get the vaccine your body’s immune system revs up and that can leave you feeling sore and achy. Other common side effects of the vaccination are low-grade fever and redness at the injection site. These side effects usually last one to two days and are much less severe than an influenza infection. Individuals also get the flu vaccine during the fall and winter months, a common time for coincidental viral illnesses.
There is one sure way that we can help to prevent the spread of influenza and that is to vaccinate. So let’s protect our most vulnerable community members and get vaccinated. Flu vaccine is now available at the medical offices on the Island as well as the local pharmacies.
Dr. Elizabeth Evans has been practicing pediatrics for over 15 years. She lives on Mercer Island with her husband and three daughters. She is actively involved in the community with Girl Scouts and the Lakeridge Elementary PTA.