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Heather’s Healthy Hints: The Flu Vaccine

Topic of the week: The Flu Vaccine

It’s that time of year again.  Everywhere you look, healthcare workers are standing with syringes in hand; ready to give you a flu vaccine.  Over the years, we as a society have been inundated with common myths and misconceptions about the flu vaccine, and vaccination rates have decreased as a result.  So let’s discuss the flu vaccine, and why you and your child should strongly consider having one this year.

The influenza virus is nothing new, we as healthcare consumers have just forgotten how large a threat it can be.  One of the worst flu pandemics occurred about 100 years ago in 1918.  Often referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” it was estimated that over 1/3 of the world’s population became infected with this highly dangerous flu strain.  Over 50 million people lost their lives due to flu-related complications.

More recently, you may remember the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009.  This strain was nicknamed “The Swine Flu.”  Over 500,000 people worldwide died due to this particularly virulent flu strain before an effective vaccine was introduced for the public at large.

Battling the influenza virus is complicated because there are many different strains of the flu and they are constantly mutating, making vaccines less effective.  Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) attempts to predict which flu strains will be most common in the upcoming flu season, and a new seasonal flu vaccine is created.  This is why you need a new flu vaccine each year.

Some common questions about the vaccine:

  • Who should be vaccinated?  The CDC and WHO recommend vaccination for all individuals 6 months and older each flu season.
  • Will the flu vaccine give me the flu?  Absolutely not!  The flu virus in the vaccine is an inactivated virus.  It is not possible to contract flu from the vaccine. 
  • When should I be vaccinated?  The best time for vaccination is during the months of September and October.  It takes approximately 2 weeks to develop immunity to the flu strains in the vaccines, and flu season typically runs roughly from December through March.
  • Can I still get the flu even though I was vaccinated?  Unfortunately the answer is yes.  As I mentioned, the vaccine is comprised of the strains most likely to be circulating in any given flu season.  It is possible to contract a strain that was not included in the vaccine.  However, it has been proven that patients that contract the flu after being vaccinated that year experience a milder illness that lasts for a shorter period of time than those who did not get the vaccine.

I strongly encourage you to speak to your health care provider about flu vaccination and also to conduct your own research on reputable Internet sites such as the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) and the World Health Organization (www.who.int). 

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