To get a flu shot or not to get a flu shot, that is the question. Given that we are in the midst of a particularly nasty flu season, I think even Bill Shakespeare would agree that it is certainly a question worth asking. Many people have a strong opinion one way or the other, with both sides feeling like the body of evidence and the right decision is on their side. Ultimately, of course, it comes down to a personal decision. So let’s look at the facts surrounding the flu shot and at least arm you, the decision maker, with the most accurate information upon which to make your decision.
The flu vaccine is a traditional shot (although there is a nasal spray as well) administered by a needle and syringe directly into the muscle. What the shot literally contains is dead flu virus particles. One very common myth is that the flu shot can itself cause the flu. This is false because the virus in the shot is dead. However, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to work after it’s injected, so you are totally susceptible to the flu in these intervening two weeks. Once inside your body, the dead flu virus particles are “sniffed” out by your immune system, which mounts a response to the foreign invader. Your immune system creates antibodies to the flu virus and in this way prevents future infection. Once immunized, if you do encounter the flu, your body is already prepared with antibodies, making your symptoms either less severe or completely killing the virus upon encounter. Also keep in mind, however, that what often happens is that after receiving the shot people feel tired, fatigued, and weak. This is due to the body having to put so much energy into its immune response to the dead flu virus that you end up getting some symptoms similar to the actual flu.
So, does the flu shot actually work? After all, government health officials do recommend that everyone older than 6 months of age get the flu shot. It is especially recommended for young people and teenagers, women trying to become pregnant, and people older than 65. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates that 20%, 1 out of every 5 people in America, contract the flu each year. So, we’re talking about a “can’t miss” vaccine here, right? Well…not really. It may shock you to learn that these same government officials estimate the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine at a whopping 62%. Or, put into academic terms, a D- grade. Not really that impressive at all, when you think about it. Doing a little quick math, if only 1 out of 5 people contract the flu, and the vaccine only works a little more than half the time, that means that for every 10 people that get the flu shot, it will only be necessary and effectively prevent the flu in about 1 of those 10. Now granted, using math and logic to try and illuminate bureaucratic government policy is probably the folly of fools. But still, the math just doesn’t seem to really add up.
Only you can decide if the flu shot is right for you. The main point here is that you need to at least make an informed decision and know that a good and logical argument can be made for both camps. On the one hand, it is an effective way to either prevent the flu or lessen its severity if you do contract it. It is a fairly cheap (typically $5-$30) and easy procedure (assuming you don’t have a fear of needles). However, the shot is only about 60% effective and many people who get the flu shot still get the flu. Additionally, flu shots only prevent against the flu, still leaving the patient susceptible to many other viruses and diseases that may share similar symptoms and pathology to the flu virus but are unaffected by the vaccine. And the shot needs a two week latency period to start working, especially pertinent now that we’re already in the midst of flu season (government officials recommend getting the flu shot in October, not late January). And finally, side effects from the shot can include some flu-like symptoms such as fatigue and weakness although the shot itself cannot give a patient the flu. So hopefully you are now armed with enough information to at least make a better informed decision about whether or not to get your own flu shot this season. Happy deciding, and either way, stay happy and healthy out there.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
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