Should You Get the Flu Vaccine?
Every year, the influenza epidemic results in significant morbidity and mortality, as well as a significant economic cost to society. An estimated 200,000 excess hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths occur each year due to influenza and its complications. Influenza kills more Americans than any other disease that can be prevented by a vaccine. Therefore, physicians and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) urge Americans to get their flu vaccine, but each year, Americans hesitate to get the vaccine for many reasons.
- The flu vaccine doesn’t work. Flu shots are at best 50-60% effective at preventing lab confirmed influenza requiring medical care. Despite this shortcoming, the CDC still recommends the vaccination as it prevents some infections with the currently circulating influenza virus and can prevent serious influenza-related complications. Each year medical researchers do their best to determine which strain of the influenza virus will likely hit each season, and they prepare the vaccine accordingly.
- I will get the flu if I get the vaccine. There has been some speculation that live virus vaccines can potentially transmit influenza, but the consensus is that this is unlikely, unless you are immunocompromised or allergic to the vaccine.
- I don’t need it because I don’t get sick. Getting vaccinated not only protects you, but it also helps others who may not be able to fight off an illness as well as you can.
- The vaccine has side effects. The side effects are usually mild, including redness and soreness surrounding the area of the shot or mild body aches. Gillian Barre syndrome is a rapid onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. It is a well recognized side effect of the influenza vaccine, but there are only 1.7 cases per 1 million people vaccinated.
- It’s too late to get the vaccine now. Flu activity usually peaks in January and February, and in some cases, the season can last until May.
Keep in mind that there are also other ways of preventing against the flu, including optimizing Vitamin D levels, eating a proper diet avoiding sugar and processed foods, getting plenty of sleep, minimizing stress, and of course, frequent hand washing.
Medical professionals have not come to a consensus on the flu vaccine, but there are more doctors in favor of it than not. The biggest debate is whether influenza is too much of a low-risk disease to vaccinate against, but since there is a large number of people that are hospitalized and even killed by influenza-related complications, the answer seems obvious.