Let’s talk about the Flu Shot!

Last winter 7,514 people were hospitalized by the influenza virus in the state of Wisconsin (1) and 379 people died. This year, we’ve already suffered the first death of a child in Florida. The highest risk exists for young children, older people, and anyone with a chronic disease with low immunity (diabetes, asthma, etc.). Getting a flu vaccine not only helps you, but also lowers the risk for your children and grandparents. At Sixteenth Street, where I work as a primary doctor, I have this conversation very often:

“Today you get your vaccines, including the flu vaccine.”

“No thank you, I never get it…”

Health professionals usually appreciate when our patients take a deeper interest in their health. But we also want you to make decisions about your health (and that of your children) based on good scientific and objective information-not based on stories or rumors from the neighborhood or the internet. Here are some of the most common excuses I hear in my office day to day:

  1. “I heard that the vaccine makes one sick…” – This is false. The flu vaccine has no live viruses. Our body is able to recognize parts of the virus that “died” in the vaccine without infecting us because the virus is dead. The most common side effects of the vaccine include a little pain in the arm (by injection) and rarely a low short-term fever. That’s all! Any other side effect is considered extremely rare and unlikely.
  2. “The last time I got the vaccine I became sick!” –This is a little more complicated, as many patients who develop any symptoms after the vaccination arrives at this conclusion (either days or weeks after receiving it). This is because we confuse a cold (common cold viruses) with the flu (influenza virus). These are two different conditions, but both appear during the cold months and may cause similar symptoms. A cold is not as severe as the flu. The flu is more likely to send a patient to the hospital and cause other more serious complications such as pneumonia (1). Most people who have symptoms and blame the vaccine actually have a regular cold. Many scientific studies were conducted to ensure that the vaccine is safe for the population. (1.2).
  3. “I read an article on Facebook or saw a video on YouTube that says the vaccine is bad”—this emphasizes the fact that we need to get our news from reliable sources of information. Usually, these types of articles focus on tragic examples of people who firmly believe that the vaccine caused their problem. In general, vaccines go through a strict scientific process to make them safe and make sure that they work the way that is expected. An excellent source of information is the CDC’s federal agency site (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It is important not to believe everything we read on the internet and to remember that the fact that it is on the web does not make it factual and accurate. Instead, check with your doctor and follow their advice. Remember, that we as medics also get vaccinated.
  4. “I heard that it is not even effective”—unfortunately, the influenza virus can mutate quickly and frequently. We try to develop a more efficient vaccine every year, but some seasons are not as effective due to unexpected mutations in the virus. Even on these occasions, the vaccine continues to help the symptoms become milder and the recovery faster (2).

Consider this information and talk to your health care professional—they will be happy to help you. Do it for your own good for your family!

(Dr. Ramallo is a pediatrician/intern who works for the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers. He does not report any conflict of interest and does not receive financial compensation for expressing this opinion).

Published as an op ed in El Conquistador

Sources:

  1. Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Communicable DIseases Epidemiology Section. Report ending May 2018. https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/dph/bcd.htm
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/rr/rr6703a1.htm?s_cid=rr6703a1_w
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. Updated Sept 25 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm