Flu Season: Should You Vaccinate?


As summer draws to a close, most people face several important questions this upcoming fall.  Will the Redskins finally have a decent season? Is there a limit to the pumpkin flavored items one can consume? Should I get vaccinated for the flu this year?

Although the answers to some of these questions remain ambiguous, getting vaccinated should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. Nobody actually enjoys getting sick, yet somehow it is still a challenge to get people the flu vaccine each year. Every excuse is different, but there are several misconceptions that prevent people from following through with inoculation.

First and foremost, you cannot contract the flu from the vaccine. It is physically impossible. It has been ‘inactivated’, meaning it is dead and can no longer attack your cells and reproduce. Regardless if your neighbor, coworker, or mother-in-law swears up and down they got sick from the vaccine, it defies the laws of nature. The simple explanation is you were exposed to the flu virus at some point before your body could develop the antibodies. They take two weeks from the point of vaccination for your body to develop, during which time you likely came in contact before your immune system was prepared to defend itself.

People can also become ill from other respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms, such as rhinoviruses. The influenza vaccine only provides protection against the flu, so you are still susceptible to contract other types of viruses and bacteria. One way to know for certain is to be tested at your local health care facility. Several side effects associated with the flu shot and nasal spray flu vaccines can also be mistaken for becoming infected with the flu. These symptoms are typically mild and short lasting, and include low grade fever, aches, soreness or swelling at the injection site, runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.[1]

So, what exactly is the flu vaccine? The influenza vaccine presents your body with a dead version of the virus so your body can recognize it as harmful and develop antibodies. If you are ever exposed to the live virus in the future, it will quickly recognize it, and will already have the blueprints to create the appropriate antibodies. Your body will be able to defend itself quicker and more efficiently, thus saving you from a week of sniffles.

Influenza is a particularly tricky virus because it constantly changes and mutates.  Rather than undergo a complete overhaul every season, it changes just enough to make it seem “new”. Think of it as the iPhone of the germ world.  Little tweaks to its structure prevent your body’s immune system from recognizing it until it is too late.  This is why it is extremely important to get an updated flu vaccine every year. The distributed seasonal flu vaccine is formulated from the virus that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Although the CDC spends an enormous amount of time and resources researching which virus will be most prevalent, it is not guaranteed the vaccine they produce “matches” the strain of influenza you might contract.  Therefore it is important to maintain frequent hand-washing, and other hygienic habits to curb the spread of infection in the coming season.

Hopefully at this point you recognize the importance of the influenza vaccine and are interested in receiving one. You will often hear the vaccine referred to as Trivalent or Quadrivalent type. Trivalent vaccines protect against three viruses, an Influenza A (H1N1) virus, an Influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an Influenza B virus.[2] Besides the name, the only difference between a Trivalent and Quadrivalent vaccine is a Quadrivalent vaccine protects against the three previously mentioned viruses, plus an additional Influenza B virus. Both vaccines can be administered via shot, or through nasal spray for the needle-phobes. The CDC does not recommend a certain type over the other, so discuss your options with your health care provider to choose the option that best suits your needs.

Even if you have Superman’s immune system, it is still recommended you receive the vaccine. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you are significantly reducing the risk of those around you that are susceptible to the flu. A few days of congestion and aches may not seem like a big deal, but the flu can actually be life threatening for the elderly and those with depressed immune systems. Do your part to increase the health status of your community by taking 15 minutes to become vaccinated. It is easy, it is simple, and it saves lives. If you have any further questions about the vaccine, or want to set up an appointment, please contact your local MetroIPC office.

More information about the vaccine can also be found online at the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/index.htm

[1] “Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) & Flu Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Aug. 2014.

[2] “Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) & Flu Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.