It’s that time of year again. No, not fall, flu season. It’s that three letter F-bomb that literally gives us chills. We all know that flu shots are available to help protect us from coming down with the flu and yet not everyone gets one. It seems that there may be some unanswered questions that we have pertaining to flu shots or we’ve heard one too many myths about them that scare us into avoiding the vaccine. So should we get the vaccine? Will the vaccine actually keep you well this flu season? Is the vaccine dangerous? Here’s the 411 on flu shots:
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu shot. There are some people for whom it is especially important to be vaccinated. They include:
- People who are at high risk of developing serious complications (like pneumonia) if they get sick with the flu.
- People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
- Pregnant women
- People younger than 5 years (and especially those younger than 2), and people 65 years and older.
- People who live with, care for or have contact with any of the above mentioned people or those under the age of 6 months.
- Health care personnel
If you get the flu vaccine, you are 60% less likely to need treatment for the flu by a healthcare provider. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three or four influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. There are several types of vaccines available for the 2013-2014 flu seasons. The trivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and an influenza B virus. The standard dose version of this shot is manufactured using a virus grown in eggs and has been approved for people age 6 months and older. There is also a standard dose shot containing a virus grown in cell culture which has been approved for use in people age 18 and older. For those who are allergic to eggs and therefore would be allergic to the vaccine produced using eggs, there is a standard dose vaccine that is egg-free and is approved for people between the ages of 18 and 49. For those of you who are afraid of needles or hate the slight muscle pain associated with the traditional standard dose vaccine, there is an intradermal shot available which is injected into the skin instead of the muscle and uses a much smaller needle than the regular flu shot. The intradermal vaccine has been approved for people 18 through 64 years of age. A high-dose trivalent shot is available for people 65 and older. There is also a quadrivalent flu vaccine which protects against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. This vaccine is available in a shot and a nasal spray which has been approved for people ages 2 through 49. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person from the flu depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine and the similarity between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation.
The CDC states that the only people who should not be vaccinated against the flu are those under 6 months of age and people with a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine and who are not at risk for severe illness from influenza should generally not receive vaccine. Tell your doctor if you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Your doctor will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you. People who are allergic to eggs or have had an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past should inform their doctor about the allergy and ask to receive the egg-free version of the vaccine. If you have a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever, you should simply wait until you recover before being vaccinated.
One of the most common misconceptions about the flu vaccine is that it can give you the flu. This is simply not true. Flu vaccines are made from viruses that have been “inactivated” (killed) and are therefore not infectious or have been made with no flu vaccine viruses at all. The risks associated with receiving a flu vaccine are small, although there is the possibility of an allergic reaction. The most common side effects include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, low grade fever and body aches. The intradermal flu shot may cause toughness and itching where the shot was given. If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days, which is a far cry better than dealing with actual flu symptoms.
It’s never too late to get a flu vaccine, but the earlier in the season that you’re vaccinated, the better your chances are of avoiding the flu. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines and Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover certain preventive services, like the flu vaccine, at no cost to you so you can simply visit your health care provided to receive your flu shot. If you’re uninsured, there are many locations in Bensalem and the surrounding Bucks County area that are offering flu vaccines at an affordable cost. For a complete list of these locations, visit http://flushot.healthmap.org/. For additional assistance in covering the cost of your vaccination, visit http://www.vaccines.gov/getting/pay/index.html to find out how to receive free preventative care for yourself and your family. Be safe this flu season and get vaccinated today. Stay well everyone!