Influenza Vaccine! Is it Really Necessary?
This is a question, I get asked almost every day, and my answer is always a resounding yes. It really is necessary to give as many children and teens the influenza vaccine to prevent them from getting and spreading the flu, as we commonly call it. There is generally a misconception in the community that getting the influenza vaccine gives people the flu and I’m here to tell you, that this is really not the case. What is Influenza and why is it important to get vaccinated against it?
Influenza is a viral illness caused by the Influenza virus. For normal children and teens, it can range from a mild illness to a very serious illness sometimes requiring hospitalization. Though this is uncommon in healthy children, the flu can unfortunately cause death in some people who may have weakened immunity or chronic illnesses like heart disease, asthma and Diabetes and in very young children. Getting vaccinated protects you and your children from getting the flu, but also protects others in the community who are at higher risk for serious illness. The flu normally hits from October to May which is when we tend to congregate together the most, from Halloween, to Thanksgiving, then Christmas and the New Year. The more crowding there is, the more likely we are to spread infection so it is important that we protect ourselves and the community at large.
1. Who should get the Influenza vaccine?
The influenza vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of six months. It is especially important in younger children less than five years of age who are at risk for more serious illness and who tend to spend time in daycares, nurseries and mother’s day out and of course for their caregivers. Our children and teens who have chronic illnesses like asthma, Diabetes, heart disease and their families should also get the vaccine. Of course the elderly grandparents who spend time babysitting or who live in nursing homes should definitely be vaccinated especially since they are more likely to get severe disease. And we should not forget our teens and young adults in high school and college. Can you imagine one person getting the flu in a college dormitory? It will spread like wildfire and prevent these children from attending class or from participating in sports etc., not to mention days lost from work. Generally, unless there is a contraindication to the vaccine, like a true allergic reaction to a prior dose or a very serious complication from a previous shot, anyone over the age of six months should be vaccinated.
2. Why do we need to get the flu vaccine every year?
There are different kinds of Influenza viruses that cause illness. Unfortunately, the viruses change characteristics from season to season so getting the flu vaccine last year will not necessarily protect you from the flu this year. Every year, research is done to determine the likely flu viruses that will be around that season and the vaccine is made to reflect that, so it’s important to get vaccinated to increase one’s chances of protection from the vaccine.
3. Why do people get Influenza even after they’ve received the vaccine?
Before we even discuss this, I want to dispel the myth that the Influenza vaccine causes flu. Year after year people who work in the healthcare industry get the flu vaccine for themselves and their families. Can you imagine how empty our hospitals and clinics would be if we all got the illness from the vaccine? The vaccine effectiveness varies according to how well matched it is to the circulating flu viruses that year, and the particular person who is being vaccinated. Remember I mentioned earlier that research is done to determine what flu viruses we anticipate will cause illness for each season. If the vaccine composition matches the circulating viruses then the chances of being protected will be higher. Also the healthier the person generally is, the better immunity they produce when vaccinated. The protection from the vaccine usually starts about two weeks after immunization so it’s important to get the vaccine as early in the flu season as possible for however one should get the vaccine whenever one can during the flu season. Also, the more people are vaccinated in a community the better the protection is for the community as a whole. Though the protection from the influenza vaccine is not 100 %, it is also believed that even if you get the illness after you’ve been vaccinated, you are more likely to have a milder illness.
Good and effective handwashing is the single most important thing we can do to prevent the spread of Influenza and other serious illnesses. The use of hand sanitizer is also effective. Also when you or your child is ill please try and stay home. Going into crowded places and coughing and touching surfaces spreads the virus. In most clinics and hospitals, we have signs up now that say “Cover your Cough.” If possible cough in the crook of your elbow and remember to turn your face away from others. Coughing in your hands without washing your hands can still spread the virus to others, because you just coughed the virus right into your hands. Avoid shaking hands with others when you have Influenza. Trust me, they will appreciate you protecting them and will not be the least bit offended. Avoid rubbing eyes and nose picking especially when you’ve been in a crowded place. You may inadvertently infect yourself if you have the virus on your hands.
Influenza is a viral illness that normally occurs from October to May. Getting the vaccine can prevent us and other from getting the infection or at least a more severe infection. It’s true that most people do recover from Influenza but there are deaths related to influenza, which can be prevented. The time is now, to take a stand to protect our young children and elderly and those with chronic illnesses from contracting this disease. Talk to your doctor or health care provider today, and take an active role in preventing Influenza from spreading this year.