Are flu shots a must for everyone?

Most medical experts strongly advise getting the flu vaccine, but many people remain skeptical when it comes to their efficacy.

Flu season is here and while many of us have already braved our annual flu vaccine, some families still question whether or not this practice is necessary at all. In fact, there are several myths surrounding flu vaccines:

 

Myth: The flu vaccine gives you flu

False. The injected flu vaccine contains the inactivated flu virus strains that have proven to be prevalent in that year. These cannot cause you to have flu. However, flu viruses incubate in your body for a short period, so if you do come down with flu, the chances are that you were infected with that particular strain in the weeks before you had the vaccination.

Myth: Flu vaccines are unsafe if you are pregnant

The vaccine is safe at any stage of pregnancy and is recommended in case you contract the flu and infect your baby. Also, having the vaccination can pass the antibodies on to your baby to protect them during the vulnerable months after their birth.

Myth: Children cannot receive the flu vaccine

There is some truth to this myth in that the flu vaccine is not suitable for babies under six months (which is why vaccination during pregnancy is advised). However, the flu vaccine is completely safe beyond this age.

“In the case of an existing weak immune system, a flu vaccine can make the world of difference.”

Myth: I received a flu jab last year, so I am protected indefinitely

Flu virus strains are constantly changing and determined by those prevalent in the northern hemisphere that season (our seasons follow after those of the northern hemisphere). Therefore, vaccines are reviewed every year and updated as needed. Last season’s vaccine was developed to fight last year’s virus, but most likely wouldn’t be effective this season.

 Myth: Flu vaccines contain harmful ingredients

Flu vaccines contain thimerosal and formaldehyde. Thimerosal is used as a preservative and formaldehyde is used for killing the live virus to inactivate it. Repeated studies have shown that these substances are not harmful in the tiny amounts contained in flu vaccines.

Roll up your sleeves for a shot of reality

Flu vaccines are necessary – but only for some. They are important for people at high risk of flu complications such as those with certain medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, HIV and kidney or liver disorders. People who are age 65 and older, pregnant women and healthcare professionals are also at risk for flu complications. Those with weakened immune systems need to be careful. Flu itself is not deadly, but it can progress and lead to pneumonia, which can deliver the final blow. This is why in the case of an existing weak immune system, a flu vaccine can make the world of difference.

For those with a healthy immune system, some research is also less than supportive of the flu vaccine. For instance, a 2011 study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, reviewed data on the flu vaccine between 1967 and 2011 and reported that overall, the flu vaccine was only about 60% effective in people aged 18 to 65. It can, therefore, be concluded that the flu vaccine is not compulsory for those who are generally healthy unless they are around those with a compromised immune system. While it is better to be safe than sorry, flu is not a life or death matter nowadays as it was in 1918, when it killed 40 million people worldwide. In modern times, there are plenty effective, over the counter medications available that can combat flu.

So how do healthy, needle-shy folk combat flu this season? It’s simple: many medical experts offer motherly advice such as frequently washing your hands and eating a healthy diet. Should you contract flu, ensure you are consuming plenty fluids and rest (away from others who may contract the virus)