U.S. health officials say everyone six months and older should get a flu shot since influenza is the most infectious killer in the USA, so why are some people unwilling to do so? Because there are many myths about flu shots.
The UMHS Endeavour looks at the upcoming winter flu season, debunks the misconceptions about flu shots, discusses the many benefits of getting vaccinated and the types of vaccines available. We will include the latest government information as well as detailed comments from a UMHS faculty member.
‘Nasty’ Flu Season Ahead?
Some experts say the 2017-2018 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere will be bad because portions of the Southern Hemisphere like Australia had a “pretty nasty” season during their winter months earlier this year, and Hong Kong and other tropical locales also had large numbers of influenza, according to the post “Flu experts see potential for a nasty winter flu season” in Statnews.com.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes on its website that studies say getting a flu shot is one’s best protection against contracting influenza. The CDC conducts studies every year to see how influenza vaccine protects the public from getting sick from the illness.
“While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine,” the CDC said on its website. “In general, current flu vaccines tend to work better against influenza B and influenza A(H1N1) viruses and offer lower protection against influenza A(H3N2) viruses.”
Dr. Jane Harrington of UMHS on Why Flu Shots Are Important
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Jane Harrington, UMHS Course Director & Assistant Professor of Microbiology & Medical Research, about the many reasons why flu shots are important, why the vaccine does not give one the flu, and why both medical students and health-care practitioners should be vaccinated.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the influenza vaccine,” Dr. Harrington said. “The general poor understanding of the basics of the vaccines leads to very low vaccine coverage and high epidemics. Influenza is the number-one infectious killer in the USA.”
Dr. Harrington said two types of vaccines are given annually, both containing the “three major circulating influenza strains.“
“ One is the live attenuated nasal spray, which is appropriate for healthy individuals, over two and under 60 years of age. Benefits of the nasal spray include that it is more comfortable than a shot and it provides a robust mucosal response. However, this type of vaccine will potentially give a person with a poor immune response The Flu, referring to the disease, and is never recommended to practicing physicians. For the 2015-2016, the nasal spray was not effective and is not available this year.”
The other type of influenza vaccine is the “killed/inactivated or flu shot, which is recommended to everyone, including pregnant women, infants and immuno-compromised patients. Actually, it is strongly advised that susceptible populations always receive the annual shot as they are at highest risk of flu-related deaths. Practicing health-care workers, including medical students in clinical rotations, are considered morally obligated to receiving the annual shot, as they might come to work with a milder presentation and put their patients at risk.”
The CDC explained on its website that common side effects from flu shots include “soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given.”
Dr. Harrington noted that, after receiving the shot, some feel “flu-like” symptoms (tiredness, body aches and low-grade fever) and may feel they have The Flu. However, this is not the case.
“In actually, they are experiencing the body’s anti-viral response, which indicates that immune system is responding to the vaccine in a normal healthy manner,” she said. “This is not The Flu disease as they did not receive a living virus that is capable of replicating.”
Flu shots don’t actually give people The Flu, but flu vaccines can be risky for anyone with an egg allergy.
“The traditional vaccines are produced in chicken eggs and an allergic person can develop anaphylaxis,” Dr. Harrington said. “A health-care worker is responsible for verifying a person does not have egg-allergy as other shot variations are available.”
Flu shots, of course, are not a panacea and studies have shown some people actually still get sick, but with a much-less severe case of influenza than if they had not been vaccinated.
“I hope to see a perfect universal flu shot developed in my lifetime; however, what we have now has saved millions of lives,” Dr. Harrington said.
The CDC website recommends that everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October, so do not put it off any longer if you have not received your shot yet.
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