Every year at the start of flu season there seems to be this ongoing debate about what the flu vaccine is and why it is necessary. I’m here to shed a little light on the practice and share why vaccines are such an important component to public health.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a seasonal virus that can cause serious symptoms, leading to hospitalization or even death. The typical symptoms include fever, chills, upper respiratory symptoms (cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat), body aches and headaches.However, if the flu is not treated appropriately, in some people, it can lead to pneumonia, ear/sinus infections, dehydration, or complications involving chronic health problems. The flu is very contagious and can spread easily from person to person through respiratory droplets. These droplets form during talking, coughing, sneezing, or kissing and can be further spread through physical contact or touching persons/objects with the virus. This virus infects millions of people each year, particularly during the months from October to May. Many cases can be avoided or have lesser severity, thanks to the flu vaccine, which targets specific types or strains of the virus.
The New York State Department of Health explains that the vaccine changes every year to account for forecasted dominant strains of the virus, so as to protect people from the most likely culprits. The typical vaccine is a trivalent variety and consists of protestion for 3 flu virus types from the influenza A and influenza B families. There is also a quadrivalent vaccine which protects against an additional virus type. There are many types of each of these vaccines that vary in their concentration or administration method. This is so that there are enough methods of protection to benefit the highest number of people. For example, a fit, young adult may have different needs than an elderly person with chronic medical problems. Their immune systems are different, so it makes sense that their vaccines may need to be different too.
So who should be vaccinated? That is a great question! The CDC recommends that anyone over 6 months of age receive an annual flu shot, including pregnant women. There is a small subset of people who are either advised not to recieve the shot or to talk to their doctor before being vaccinated, but most healthy people do not fall into this categoy. If you think you may have an egg allergy or a chronic health problem that puts your health at risk when receiving a vaccine, please refer to the CDC’s recommendations here. If you are concerned about what happens when you receive a flu shot or what the possible side effects may be, the Mecklenburg County website offers great, easy to read information.
We are coming up to the start of this year’s flu season, so now is an optimal time to get the shot and be protected. It takes 2 weeks for our immune systems to exert their fullest effects in response to the vaccine, so getting a shot before the season is in full swing is in your best interest. If you are unable to make an appointment at your PCP or regularly attended clinic, there are other options available. For my readers in my home state of Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services allows you to search for locations near you based on your zip code, here. For readers outside of Texas, the CDC also has a great “vaccine finder” website. Another simple option is to frequent your local drugstore, such as CVS or Walgreens.