Should I Get A Flu Shot?

Don't wait until you have symptoms before getting a vaccination.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH Are you avoiding a flu shot because you think you might catch it from the innoculation? This article concisely busts vaccination myths.

Flu season provides opportunity for everyone to debate the ethics of getting a vaccination. Half the camp claims that the shot causes the flu. Opponents extol a sense of empowerment and relief from the dreaded influenza they see plaguing their friends and workmates.

Interestingly, some medical professionals downplay the significance of flu shots. No wonder there is so much reluctance to comply with the health department recommendation this season for everyone age 6 months and older to get inoculated. [1] What are the facts?

Do People Catch the Flu From the Shots?

There are several different flu strains each year. The most likely (three) candidates are isolated for a vaccine. Weakened versions of these viruses, cultured in sterile environments, form the basis for the inoculation. As our immune system works to rid the weakened viruses, it "remembers" them and is better prepared to defend itself from exposure to full-strength versions with which we may later come in contact.

The 2012-2013 vaccine provides protection against:

  • an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • an A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses)

It will not prevent illness caused by other viruses. With this in mind, there are some reasons for apparent ineffectiveness. Our immune system may already be compromised due to stress, fatigue, HIV or pre-exposure to the flu. Getting a shot when you're already sick won't make the flu disappear. It's also possible to contract a less popular strain of the flu for which you were not inoculated.

How to Prepare For the Flu Shot

There is not much to do in preparation for your vaccination other than avoid being sick. You may wish to build up your immunity by eating balanced meals, getting vitamin C in fruit, juice or supplements, drinking plenty of water and resting well in the days preceding vaccination. Wear a short-sleeved shirt or blouse for easy access to your shoulder without disrobing. It's administered into the muscle rather than the vein so there is no rubber-strapping-arm-thumping hunt. Worried about side effects? Extend the shoulder of your non-domininant arm.

After the shot try to avoid contact with infected individuals. Give your immune system about two weeks to build up the protective antibodies while you continue to eat healthy and exercise. If someone else in the home has the flu, wash hands frequently and disinfect common surfaces like light switches, door knobs, refrigerator handles, phones, computer keyboards and mice (or trackpads, etc.).

Of the millions of vaccinations administered each year since 1991, only about 26,000 adverse events have been reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). That still sounds like many but it's probably around a tenth of 1 percent. Most reported reactions were fever, rash, headaches, hives, or, very rarely, seizures. The dominant side effect is swelling at the injection site on the arm. [2]

For many, inoculation avoidance is due to fear of needles. Many imagine excruciating pain. Though not as widely available, in recent years, 90 percent shorter ultrafine microneedles from Sanofi Pasteur have been made available for adults (not children) to significantly reduce discomfort. [3]

Is It Too Late?

It's not too late, even if you've already had and recovered from a flu strain. Flu season peaks late January to mid-February. This year’s flu vaccine includes a strain for H1N1, similar to last year’s vaccine, but there are new strains for influenza A and B, according to Dr. John Surry. [4] Some health plans include flu shots for a nominal fee or free, like Kaiser Permanente. They are also available at many pharmacy chains, like Walgreens. [5]

Whether you get a shot or not is up to you (and your doctor). But don't base avoidance upon myths and rumors. In my personal experience, weeks of body aches, muscle weakness, sneezing, coughing and loss of productivity is not an acceptable alternative to the brief pinch of a needle. During the three years preceding my annual shots, I caught the flu five times. In the three years since, I have had mild flu symptoms once. Make your decision based on what will allow you to remain A Bit More Healthy.

Tags: containment, fears, phobias, misconceptions, prevention

  1. Flu shot myths result in avoidable illness. ^
  2. Read this before you get a flu shot. ^
  3. Microneedle flu vaccine now available. ^
  4. Doctor: Not too late to get a flu shot. ^
  5. Flu Vaccine Questions and Answers. ^