Flu Shots: Yea or Nay?

Few questions exasperate a person as much as being asked, “Have you had your flu shot?” Much of the exasperation is due to the belief that the flu shot is not needed. People are tired of defending their choice to abstain.

According to National Public Radio’s Truven Health Analytics Health Poll results, 48 percent of the 3,000 adults polled in October said the flu shot is “not needed” when asked “Why are you not getting a flu shot?”

This is not a belief held by most doctors. Every year, medical personnel and pharmacists spread the word on flu shot benefits. Bottom line: influenza can lead to hospitalization and, in some cases, death.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates flu-associated deaths between 1976 and 2007 ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000. Although the number appears small in comparison to the total population, the number is high when one considers the number of preventable deaths. An estimated 79,000 flu hospitalizations and 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses were prevented due to the vaccination during the 2012-13 season.

An additional 16 percent of the 3,000 questioned as part of NPR’s poll said they would not receive a flu shot because of the “side effects or risks” while another 14 percent listed “shots give you the flu” as their reasoning.

There are plenty of cases where a person gets the vaccination and then a few days later suffers from flu symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, the first does not cause the second. The vaccine is not the reason the person comes down with the flu. Likely, the individual in question did not receive the vaccination in time.

According to the CDC, the vaccination takes several weeks to fully protect an individual. If a person is exposed to the flu virus prior to getting a vaccine, it is likely they will become sick. In addition, the vaccine only protects against the four strands of the virus predicted to be the strongest during the season. It is also possible for a person to become sick after the vaccine without illness being related to the flu in any way. Bottom line: the vaccine does not cause an individual to get the flu.

Although the largest drive for vaccinations is in early fall, flu season continues into May. This means a vaccine in January will still provide plenty of protection through some (or most, depending on when the vaccination is received) of February and all of March, April, and May.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine every year. There is a strong emphasis placed on the need for adults ages 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and long-term living facilities, and children under the age of 5 to have their vaccination every year. There is an equally strong push for individuals surrounding these groups to get their vaccines.

Those with the following medical conditions are more likely to have a stronger negative response to the flu: neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, heart disease, kidney disorders, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, chronic lung disease, blood disorders, liver disorders, weakened immune system, morbid obesity, endocrine disorder, and people younger than 19 on long-term aspirin therapy.

Those with questions about the influenza virus or the flu vaccine are encouraged to call their doctors.