September 18, 2014

Flu vaccines

Happy Flu Season!

Have you been vaccinated yet? As a health care provider, I am passionate about ensuring everyone I know is educated on the importance of vaccines. Choosing to get your vaccine not only protects you from potentially coming down with the flu, but it protects those around you as well. Let's run through some common excuses of why you may not want to get the flu vaccine and why they are total baloney. 

giving flu shots in Costa Rica

But I've never had the flu!
     Well guess what, it's a new year! The CDC reports that an estimated 5-20% of the US population will come down with influenza each year. Of those infected, over 200,000 are hospitalized each year with complications. That's a huge gamble to take with your life.

But I've had the flu before, it was no big deal!
     Maybe that one time you had it was NBD, but there are hundreds of different strains of the virus. Having the flu once does not prevent you from getting it again later in life like some other illnesses (chicken pox, for example). The flu can range from mild cold like symptoms to a devastatingly fatal illness. With complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections and even sepsis, its no wonder that an average of 36,000 people die each year in the US. 

But last time I got the vaccine, it gave me the flu!

     I will say this once: the flu vaccine does not cause you to get the flu. It is impossible to guarantee 100% immunity against the flu, even with proper vaccination. It goes back to there being hundreds of different strains of the flu. Scientists and physicians do their best to predict which strains will be most prevalent each year to develop that season's vaccine. However, most vaccines only predict against 3-4 different strains. Just because you are protected from those 4 doesn't necessarily mean you won't still get a case of the flu. Getting the vaccine simply decreases your chances of catching and spreading the virus. 

But I'm afraid of needles!
     Unfortunately, needles are a very common tool used by doctors and nurses to keep you healthy. The good news is that if you are between the ages of 2 and 49, you qualify for the intra-nasal spray version of the vaccine. Those between the ages of 18-64 are eligible for an intra-dermal version which is injected in to the skin as opposed to the muscle. This intra-dermal shot uses a much smaller needle since it doesn't have to inject the vaccine as far. The standard dose intra-muscular vaccine is available to anyone 6 months of age or older (infants under 6 months are still protected by their mothers' antibodies and are not recommended to receive the flu vaccine).

But I got the flu vaccine last year!
     As previously mentioned, the vaccine may change slightly each year to protect against the most prevalent strain. Even if the vaccine doesn't change at all from the previous season, your immunity to the flu diminishes over the course of the year. For optimum protection, the CDC recommends annual vaccination against the flu. 

But it's too late to get the vaccine, the season is almost over!
     While it is best to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available (usually by the end of September/early October), it is never too late to protect yourself. The vaccines are beneficial as long as the virus is circulating, which can be well into the new year. Illnesses have been known to occur even as late as May. Besides, better late than never. 

How do you feel about the flu vaccine? Will you be protecting yourself and your community by getting vaccinated? Do you have any concerns about the vaccine that I didn't address? Let me know in the comments and I will try to address them! 


  1. How about my excuse that the flu vaccine only prevents you from one strain of the flu? And by the time you get the flu vaccine the current flu strain has already mutated and the flu vaccine no longer works?

  2. The CDC actually has trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines now that protect against 3 and 4 different strains respectively. It is still a gamble, but getting the vaccine decreases your odds of getting the flu by up to 77% ( You can look in almost any medical journal and find a study documenting decreased hospitalizations associated with higher vaccination rates.

    "From October 2012 to May 2013, influenza vaccination resulted in an estimated 6.6 million (95% confidence interval [CI] = 4,011,725–10,551,756) fewer illnesses, 3.2 million (CI = 1,911,592−5,206,874) fewer medically attended illnesses, and 79,260 (CI = 39,530–136,744) fewer hospitalizations (Table 2). Overall, 17.3% (CI = 16.2%–18.0%) of adverse health outcomes associated with influenza were prevented. Although 29% of the averted illnesses and 39% of averted medically attended illnesses were among children aged 6 months–4 years and persons aged ≥65 years (two groups known to be at higher risk for complications), these two age groups accounted for 69% of averted hospitalizations. Vaccination had a substantial impact on averted hospitalizations in persons aged ≥65 years. Although persons aged ≥65 years accounted for 7% of the prevented illnesses and 8% of medically attended illnesses, 56% of all hospitalizations prevented were in those aged ≥65 years. If vaccination levels had reached the Healthy People 2020 target of 70%, approximately 4.4 million illnesses, 1.8 million medically attended illnesses, and 30,000 additional hospitalizations might have been averted."

  3. I got a flu shot for the first time last year! I was pretty proud of myself :)