One of the most controversial questions I get this time of year is in regards to the Flu vaccine. I have heard every conspiracy theory and reason for not being vaccinated and I think it is important to understand the issue so you can make an informed decision. The basic concept of vaccination is to introduce some form of the Influenza virus into the body. This will allow the body to recognize components of the virus and generate an antibody, which is the immune system’s defense against infection. It is like having the study guide for a quiz so you know what you need prepare for. Without the vaccine, there is a chance that the body will not fight the infection and this could lead to a serious and sometimes fatal outcome. The flu is not a bad cold, but a serious virus. Hundreds of thousands of people die every year from the flu regardless of age or how healthy you think you are or even if you have never gotten the flu before. The flu does not discriminate and the best strategy is early vaccination.
All vaccines have certain potential side effects, including irritation at the injection site, low grade temperature, body aches and cold symptoms. To be clear, you cannot get the flu infection from the vaccine but you can get cold like symptoms as your body builds immunity. Vaccines do not cause autism and they are not part of a government conspiracy to induce sterility. They were not created by aliens in some X-Files movie and it is not a corporate plot engineered to take over the world. I have heard some extreme excuses for not taking a vaccine but those are just not valid or even realistic. Vaccines are lifesaving and an important part of disease prevention. The only reasons to avoid a flu vaccine is in the case of allergies to eggs, components of the vaccine or severe reaction.
Several companies make vaccines and you should discuss with your doctor which one is best for you. The following are general types of flu vaccines that you should be aware of. The most common is the Trivalent Intramuscular vaccine which means that the injection has two forms of Influenza type A (H1N1 and H3N2) and 1 strain of Type B. The quadravalent vaccine has four types with two of type A (H1N1, H3N2) and two of type B. There is a high dose vaccine for adults over 65 and it is a trivalent vaccine with four times the virus components to generate stronger immune response in older patients. These vaccines are heat killed so that there is no live components. The virus becomes broken into virus particles so the body can recognize it. An intradermal or in the skin injection is also available. Recently, an egg free vaccine has been created by taking proteins from the flu virus and combining them with other cells to be able to create the vaccine without growing it in eggs first. Another option exists which is a nasal vaccine. This is a quadravalent vaccine that is live but weakened. It is not to be used in patients with weakened immune system, pregnancy, asthma, egg allergy, people who took anti virals within 48 hours or people who take care of others with a weakened immune system. It is important to note that this vaccine is not currently recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season.
Regardless of which vaccine you choose, it is important to discuss your options with your physician to see which is right for you. The vaccine is safe, effective and lifesaving. The most effective time to be vaccinated is as soon as the vaccine becomes available around August. It does take about 2 weeks for the body to become fully immunized after injection. The flu season begins in October and can last through May of the following year. It is so important to get vaccinated early and repeat every year. This is the best and most effective way to stay healthy in flu season and I hope you will seek your flu vaccine with your physician as soon as possible.