Doctor preparing to give a patient the flu shotBy Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Has another year gone by already? It's that time of the year again -- flu shot time. If you're anything like me, another shot is about as exciting as a root canal. But before you avoid getting the flu vaccine this year, read some of the comments below that I heard this week from my patients:
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1. Flu season isn't until the winter -- I'll wait. The timing of flu season is unpredictable. While it tends to peak in January/February, it's hard to say when the virus will start making its rounds. Not only that, but it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in. So don't wait, or you could end up getting it too late in the season to help. And what's worse than getting a shot and getting sick because you procrastinated?)
2. I'm protected because I received the flu vaccine last year. Not true for two reasons: (a) the body's immunity decreases over time (especially in older people), even within the year of the shot and (b) the virus strains can change every year, so last year's vaccine may not be effective against this year's virus strains.
3. Flu vaccinations are only for older people. Not true! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. The only people that the CDC says should not receive the flu shot are listed below (and yes, pretty rare cases, so you're running out of excuses!)
- People who have had a severe reaction to the influenza vaccine
- People with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome after receiving the flu vaccine
- People who are moderately or severely ill -- they should wait until they're better before being vaccinated
4. I may still get the flu. You may also still be injured in a car crash even if you wear a seat belt. Does that mean we should ditch seat belts? The flu vaccine cuts your risk of getting the flu by 50-70% (not to mention, even if you do get the flu, it reduces your flu symptoms substantially). Every year, scientists attempt to predict which strains of the flu virus will be most prevalent that fall. It's a tough estimate, as the flu can mutate quickly over months, and sometimes even within a single season. Last year the match wasn't as good, and even vaccinated people ended up getting infected. But, it's still felt that they had milder cases of the flu.
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5. The flu shot makes me sick. In the past, the shot only contained dead strains of the virus -- so if you had any flu symptoms, it was your body's reaction and creation of antibodies. This year, the high-dose, quadrivalent vaccine (intranasal spray) actually does contain a live virus that could cause some mild symptoms. So, speak to your doctor to help you choose the right form for you. For those getting the other forms of the vaccine, only killed virus strains will exist, so you shouldn't have any more symptoms than normal.
6. Pregnant women shouldn't get the shot. Not true! The flu vaccine protects you and your baby. As a doctor and pregnant woman myself, I got my flu shot two weeks ago. The flu is, in fact, more likely to cause severe illness and complications if you're expecting. It can also cause premature labor and other health issues for your baby. And here's more good news: the flu shot you get now will protect your baby after his or her birth. Just make sure to get the standard flu vaccine, NOT the nasal spray.
7. The flu isn't a big deal. If you're thinking this, then you've probably never had the flu. Come visit my ER in January and February -- you'll see people of all ages, dehydrated and feeling miserable. Even worse, certain groups of people are even more vulnerable and can develop deadly complications from the flu -- specifically:
- Children under 2
- Adults over 65
- Women who are pregnant
- People with asthma, COPD, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, and all other chronic medical conditions
- People who are morbidly obese
Where can I get the vaccine? I hope by now you're convinced that the flu vaccine is a must! There are many options for getting vaccinated:
- Your doctor's office
- Many local pharmacies and grocery stores
- Check out the CDC Healthmap Vaccine Finder at vaccine.healthmap.org. Put in your zip code to find a location near you.
Most people will find that their insurance pays for at least part of the vaccine.
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What if I hate shots? The vaccine comes in a variety of forms that have no or a smaller needle:
- Nasal spray vaccine: for healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2-49
- Intradermal flu shot: recommended only for healthy people ages 18-64 (this shot is injected into the skin, not the muscle, and uses a smaller needle)
What types of vaccines are available?
Vaccines for children:
- There are several options -- one covers three different flu viruses (two Influenza A and one influenza B), the other covers four (an additional Influenza B). Both have forms available for children 6 months and older, while the one that covers four viruses is also available in the nasal spray for children 2 years and older.
Vaccines for adults:
For healthy, non-pregnant adults up to age 49:
- Standard dose inactivated vaccines
- Standard dose live-attenuated vaccine (nasal spray)
- Healthy people between 18-64 can receive the intradermal (shorter needle) vaccine
For all individuals over 50 OR with a contraindication to the live vaccine:
- Standard dose (or high dose if over 65 and preferred) inactivated vaccine
- Healthy people between 18-64 can receive the inactivated intradermal vaccine
Adults > 65:
- May choose the high-dose flu vaccine or the regular dose
- Stick to the inactivated (non-nasal spray) vaccine
- Do NOT receive the live-attenuated vaccine (intranasal spray)
Speak with your doctor regarding which vaccine is best for you. Here's to a healthy winter!
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