Flu season is upon us and so are our efforts to protect our communities with flu vaccines. Primary care offices have received their stocks and vaccines are also available at our local pharmacies.
This is an important time of year to talk with your doctor about ways to reduce the spread of flu and other viruses during this season – this should include a discussion of the flu vaccine.
Some folks feel strongly about not receiving the flu vaccine. For my patients with this position, all I can ask is that they become informed on the topic, and make their decision based on accurate information. More often than not, I find that their refusal of a flu shot was based on bad information, including that the flu shot can cause flu.
Can the flu shot give me flu?
No. This is the most common reason we hear from people when they decline the flu shot. The flu shot is a dead (“inactivated”) vaccine, and it is impossible for it to cause flu. Not only is it impossible on a biological level, but this fact has been proven in trials as well. In double-blind, randomized studies where half of participants receive a flu shot and the other half receive a placebo shot, there were no difference between the groups in flu-like symptoms. The flu shot does not cause flu. There is a flu mist vaccine, which can be used in young, healthy adults. While generally well-tolerated, the flu mist vaccine can cause mild flu symptoms.
“I’ve had the vaccine in the past and I still get flu. Why bother?”
This does happen some times and there are many possible explanations. One is that the individual was simply infected with one of the many other viruses that cause flu-like illness. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza viruses.
A second explanation is that the flu vaccine is not a perfect “match” for the influenza strain(s) going around. Although this can happen, it is still important to get a flu vaccine, because even a flu shot that is not a perfect match can offer some protection.
“I don’t get the flu”
In addition to the “why bother?” question, we often hear this statement that people simply don’t feel they ever get the flu.
I really encourage folks to think about who they are protecting by getting a flu vaccine. It is not just about protecting an individual – it is about protecting a community. Each year in the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of people hospitalized due to flu. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, die. We used to focus our vaccine efforts on the so-called “high risk” individuals, such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, who are most likely to suffer serious illness or die from the flu.Now we try to vaccinate most everyone 6 months of age and older. The rationale is that, while many people get muscle aches and sniffles for a few days from the flu and recover without incident, those are the same people that pass the virus on to the high risk folks, who die from the flu.By protecting ourselves, we protect everyone.
Which flu vaccine should I get?
There are different flu vaccines available. In my opinion, the best flu vaccine is the one you get. There are of course some factors to consider with your provider, so I encourage folks to be in touch with their provider.
Where can I get more information?
The family of Pacific Medical Group clinics is here to help you.
You can also find information at www.flu.gov