We've seen first-hand the dangers of the flu--severe illness and even death. We know the flu shot isn't perfect, but it's worth getting. A few highlights that we think are worth mentioning are:
It can be widespread--900,000 people were hospitalized in 2018, but there are countless others who miss work and feel miserable.
It is deadly--80,000 people died of the flu in the 2017-2018 year and over 60,000 people in the 2018-2019 year.
It is preventable, but not easily treatable--the flu shot isn't perfect, but it's our only hope of staying safe from the flu.
If you get it, the anti-viral treatments are not very effective.
The flu shot is safe--the risk of complications is very low, and it does not cause the flu.
The Flu Shot
The Danger of Flu
The CDC estimated recently that over 80,000 people died in 2017 from the flu. More than 90% of those were over age 65, but it also affected more children and adolescents than ever before. The flu is highly contagious, making it hard to avoid if one of your family members brings it home. I started my medical practice in 2009 and witnessed first hand the scary effects of the swine flu epidemic which affected over 59 million Americans.
Medical 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 2018 estimated efficacy was 47%. 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.
When to Get Immunized
Many experts recommend not getting immunized too early. We have heard opinions that immunity is greatest in the first six months after immunization, but there is also evidence that immunity from prior year’s shot can linger to subsequent years. The exact facts are not completely clear. It is common practice to aim for October to November as the best timing. Remember that it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after receiving the shot.
We have chosen to use the quadrivalent preparation for most patients because it provides broader coverage for influenza B strains. We also use the high-dose trivalent preparation for patients over 65 years-old as it has shown better efficacy in this age group. It has a dose four times higher than the standard preparation. The various preparation options are listed on the CDC website. We only use preservative-free, single-dose vaccine preparations.
Precautions to Consider
Egg allergy used to be a reason to avoid the flu shot, but not anymore. The CDC website states: “People with egg allergies can receive any licensed, recommended age-appropriate influenza vaccine and no longer have to be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. People who have severe egg allergies should be vaccinated in a medical setting and be supervised by a healthcare provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.” For these patients, we carry a limited number of “egg-free” doses.
The one sure reason to avoid the shot is a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). The connection between the flu shot and GBS is not completely certain, but it is quite compelling (best estimate is 1-2 cases per million flu shots given). If you have had this, we don’t want to give you the vaccine. We also avoid giving the vaccine if you are currently ill with a fever.
Vaccinations are always a personal choice, but we strongly support use of the flu vaccine to provide whatever protection possible against the flu. Epidemics in our history have caused major suffering and death, and we have a way to reduce our risk--even if 40-60% reduction seems small. Side-effects from the shot are possible, but very rare.
For more information, refer to the CDC website, which contains the most unbiased information available now. You can also review the Arizona Department of Health, where they monitor current flu data.
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