Flu shot speculation goes viral: Things to know before rolling up your sleeve


Button up those jackets, grab those tissues and carry some cough drops because ready or not, flu season has arrived. In preparation to fight the flu, many are turning to flu vaccines for protection, but others are still skeptical of their effectiveness.Flu Infographic

What is influenza?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness.

The flu can be transmitted by individuals who are not aware they even have the virus. It can be spread to others one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after noticeable illness occurs. The virus can be spread up to six feet away.

What is the flu vaccine?

Typically flu vaccines are trivalent, meaning they protect against three different flu viruses.

“There are different strains of a virus and some vaccines only prevent against a particular virus,” said Seng Moua, a medical technologist at Aurora West Allis Medical Center. “This is why new vaccines are made every year. I think vaccines are great. [They] help prevent the flu and ultimately save healthcare money.”

According to the CDC, the three flu strains include: influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus and one or two influenza B viruses, depending on the flu vaccine.

There has already been an estimated 138 to 145 million doses of influenza vaccines produced for this flu season.

How does it work?

The flu shot uses inactive viruses, meaning they are not alive. The inactive viruses then provoke the immune system in order to attack antigens, which are foreign molecules that the immune system recognizes as alien.

“Vaccines can contain an attenuated virus, meaning it’s weakened,” Moua said.

The nasal spray flu vaccine uses a live weakened virus. In this case the mucous membrane attacks the actual viral infection.

The spray is only recommended for those ages 2 to 49 and women who are not pregnant.

How effective is it?

While the effectiveness is said to range based on the season, there are two factors that play a key role: the age of the vaccinated person and the match between the flu virus spreading that season with the flu vaccine.

The vaccine takes two weeks to protect against the flu strains it was designed for. It will not protect against a cold or cold-like symptoms.

Older populations have a low vaccine response due to having weaker immune systems. It is believed to generate effective responses in healthy adults and children older than 2 years of age. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older to get the flu vaccine to reduce the risk of influenza.

Thao Giang, RN supervisor at Earlwood Care Center in Torrance, Calif., and clinical supervisor at Assumption Home Health in Riverside, Calif., gets the flu shot every year.

“I believe it’s worth getting because we go out to the public every day, and we don’t know who is going to give the virus to us or whom we’re going to give it to,” Giang said.

According to Giang, people cannot get sick from receiving the flu shot. If they had gotten flu-like symptoms it might have been a cause of already having the virus or being infected with the newly mutated virus.

Bao Her, a senior chemistry student at Mount Mary University and Walgreens pharmacy technician, has been getting the flu vaccine for two years.

“I chose to get my flu shot because I feel that getting one protects not only myself but as well as everyone around me,” Her said.

The cost of the flu shot varies based on one’s insurance. The cost of the flu shot at Walgreens without insurance is $31.99.

The skeptics

Although vaccinations, especially the flu vaccine, are common, some people are still doubtful.

Melina Mendez, a freshman majoring in business and English professional writing, gets the flu vaccine only once every two years because of family beliefs.

“My whole family is skeptical with vaccines,” Mendez said. “They think it can cause mental disabilities. They read scary stories online and have heard scary things … That’s why I don’t get the vaccination regularly.”

Some individuals remain skeptical about vaccines because of the use of thimerosal in the vaccine. There has been some allegations of this preservative being linked to autism.

Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that is used in multi-dose vials of some vaccines. It is meant to stop the growth of germs and bacteria that can contaminate the vaccines.

According to the CDC, “since 2001, no new vaccine licensed by FDA for use in children has contained thimerosal as a preservative and all vaccines routinely recommended by CDC for children younger than 6 years of age have been thimerosal-free, or contain only trace amounts of thimerosal, except for some formulations of influenza vaccine.”

Low doses of thimerosal in vaccines are said to not be harmful. However, it can cause minor reactions in terms of redness and swelling of the injection site.

The single dose and nasal spray vaccines do not contain thimerosal since they are intended to be used and opened only once.

So whether you choose the flu vaccine or not, prepare yourself for this upcoming flu season.

“Vaccines cannot protect everyone, but they are designed to reduce the risk of flu epidemic, meaning they protect the majority of those who get the vaccine,” Giang said.

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