Flu season is amongst us and especially hitting hard this year. Despite this, I have seen numerous posts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and heard fellow students on campus debating whether or not to get their flu vaccine.
One of most common misconceptions about receiving the flu vaccine is that some people believe it will give them the flu. However, many people may not realize that the flu vaccine itself is not a live virus, but instead is an inactivated virus and therefore cannot replicate in the body. Vaccines are meant to trigger an immune response which is what some people mistake for being sick. By triggering a response, this allows the body to essentially “make a memory” of the virus so it can easily recognize it again and act appropriately.
Influenza is a unique virus in that it has the ability to mutate frequently and there are multiple strains. Although many different flu viruses circulate each year, the goal in the production of the flu vaccine is to protect people from the three to four flu viruses that past research suggests will be most common.
While vaccination itself does not give people the flu, side effects from injection are possible. The most common side effects in adults are pain at the injection site, although other effects can include fever, cough, and sore throat. Healthcare workers suggest monitoring your symptoms and seeing your primary healthcare provider for examination and treatment if necessary.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is recommended that people receive the flu shot before the virus starts spreading. They suggest early fall as the optimal period of receiving the vaccine because it can take up to two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu. This year the “Flu Mist” (intranasal dose) that was used last year is no longer recommended due to its lack of effectiveness.
Influenza is a very serious illness. Unfortunately because the flu is not a reportable illness, it is difficult to record how many people contract the virus, who it affects the most, and how many people die from it each year.
The vaccine’s effectiveness varies year to year because the specific strains found in the vaccine and the strains that are actually circulating throughout populations are always changing. An article published by Seattle Children’s Hospital stated that the flu vaccine is anywhere from 50-60 percent effective on average. Although some people feel this isn’t good enough, people that refuse to get vaccinated have zero percent added protection if exposed.
Keep in mind that it is definitely possible to still contract the flu even if you received a flu vaccine. This is possible because you may have contracted the virus before injection or during the two week period the body is producing antibodies. You may have been exposed to a strain of the flu virus that was not included in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine or the vaccine simply wasn’t effective for you. Vaccine effectiveness can vary widely, based on a person’s overall health and age.
Not getting vaccinated doesn’t just put you at risk. If you contract the virus, or even just carry it, you put many other people at risk as well. Babies who are still developing an immune system, elderly people, and any immunocompromised individuals are all at high risk for contracting the virus and suffering serious health issues. By doing your part and vaccinating, you are contributing to the “herd immunity” and helping to protect these people.
Flu season is something that hits us every year. Numerous people get sick and spread the virus to others. Students are at potentially higher risk for contracting the virus simply due to our lifestyle and living in close quarters. Every year around midterms and finals I see several students suffering from flu-like symptoms.
Rocky Mountain College’s Student Health Services located in the Fortin Educational Center is offering free flu vaccinations to all students. Be proactive this year and get your flu vaccine!