The Centers for Disease Control says an annual influenza vaccination is the best way to fight against getting or spreading the flu, which can be deadly. Photo courtesy Flickr/US Army Corp of Engineers
One of my patients told me that he did not need an annual influenza vaccination because he has a strong immune system. He then asked if I got the vaccine. I told him that I felt that my immune system was strong, but I had a responsibility to receive it to not only protect myself, but to also protect my patients. Some of them may have chronic medical conditions that result in weakened immune systems and leave them vulnerable to the potentially deadly consequences of the influenza infection.
I went on to explain that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that people 6 months of age and older get a yearly flu shot. Young, healthy adults have less of a chance of death from the illness, but can suffer and lose work days, experience severe symptoms and have the potential to spread the virus to others who have a weaker immune system.
Certain groups of people are at increased risk of catching the flu and may experience serious complications. Some of these vulnerable people include young children, especially those less than 2 years of age, seniors who are more than 65 years old and pregnant women. People with various chronic medical conditions, which include respiratory, cardiovascular and renal problems, are also at risk. It is important that any person with a weakened immune system receive his or her annual influenza vaccination.
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection from the viruses (such as influenza) used to make the vaccine. Scientists produce it using the most common infection strains from the previous year. At times, an unexpected mutation can occur in the current year after the vaccines have already been produced, which may result in less effective vaccines. Vaccination are still encouraged, however, because in many cases, it can provide some protection against different but related influenza viruses.
Sometimes people get vaccinated and may still get the flu, though the vaccine itself does not cause this. Perhaps the person was exposed to the flu before vaccination or during the two-week interval it takes to develop the antibodies to fight off infection. You could also get the flu if you're exposed to a strand not reflected in the vaccination you received or if you have an immune system that is unable to produce an appropriate immune response.
Many patients tell me that they don't want to be vaccinated because they believe they will catch the flu if they receive the vaccination. Some patients can get side effects from it, including a runny nose and sore throat, but the symptoms are usually self-resolving in a short period of a few days. Egg allergies are also a concern due to the fact that the majority of vaccines are made using eggs. If this is a concern, patients should discuss alternative vaccines with their health-care providers.
For those who hate needles, many patients from 2 to 50 years of age can get a nasal vaccine spray. Most insurance plans pay for the influenza vaccination with no out-of-pocket expenses. Those who want to avoid the wait at a medical provider's office can get most vaccinations at area pharmacies without a prescription.
So we now have no excuse to protect our community and ourselves.
Timothy Quinn is a family physician at Quinn Total Health who dedicates himself to giving his patients consistent, comprehensive and ethical medical care.