7 Reasons To Get Your Flu Shot (and 1 Reason Not To)

Think I can convince you to get a flu shot?

7-reasons-you-shoud

It’s that time of year that every medical provider loves:  the annual flu shot battle (please read this in a sarcastic tone and a House MD voice.)

Here’s my take on recommending you to get a flu shot:  you should get it!

But as opposed to other vaccines if you don’t get the flu shot it will likely only hurt you/your family.  So it is less important for me to fight with you than other vaccines.

For this article, I took a different approach to talk to you about the flu vaccine.  I will give you 7 reasons to get the vaccine and 1 reason not to get it.  And then you can decide on your own.

 

Flu Vaccine Background

First, I understand your hesitation to get the flu vaccine.  As of now, the flu vaccine averages about 50-60% effective for the overall population.

If one-half of people who got the polio vaccine still got polio, it wouldn’t be a great vaccine.

Although if it was a 50% reduction in polio, I bet everyone would still get the vaccine because polio is terrible.  Which makes me think the problem with the flu vaccine is not the effectiveness but that most people haven’t gotten a true influenza infection so they don’t understand the severity.

Plus, most doctors and news sources city the 1918 flu pandemic as the reason to get the vaccine (a legitimate but ineffective scare tactic of mentioning the 1918 flu pandemic which infected 500 million people and killed 3-5% of the world’s population).

But maybe if I made it a little more personal you can see some of the benefits easier. I had the flu ONCE and I get a shot every year to reduce my chance of ever getting it again!

Symptoms of Influenza (in adults and children)

  • HIGH fevers from 100-106’F
    Fever and influenza in chiild
    Influenza causes higher fevers in children
  • Whole body and muscle aches
  • Fatigue and malaise, weakness, dizziness
  • A severe sore throat
  • Gastrointestinal distress with vomiting and diarrhea.  This is rare in adults but happens in 1 out of 5 kids (20%)
  • A high chance of telling your boss some ‘inappropriate words’

 

OK, so you might now be thinking:  “meh, I’ll risk it.”  And if you haven’t had these symptoms before it might seem reasonable to take your chances. But these are just the uncomplicated influenza symptoms.

There are also potential complications of an influenza infection.

Complications of Influenza

Flu in adults causes multiple health complications
Flu in adults causes multiple health complications
  • Primary viral pneumonia
    • This one is severe.
    • In one study of healthy adolescents with primary viral pneumonia, 50% of hospitalized patients died from the pneumonia!
  • Secondary bacterial pneumonia
    • Significant cause of morbidity and mortality, worse if you are age >65
    • Staph aureus is a frequent cause of secondary pneumonia and is increasingly antibiotic resistant.
  • Myositis and rhabdomyolysis
    • Inflammation and breakdown of muscle tissue causing severe pain, weakness
    • Broken down muscle tissue can clog the kidney causing kidney failure
  • Central nervous system disease and disorders including:
    • Inflammation of the brain and brain swelling
    • Infection of the brain (meningitis)
    • Paralysis of the limbs and possible paralysis of the lungs
  • Heart / cardiac complications
    • Changes in the electrical pattern of the heart
    • Increased risk of heart attacks/cardiac ischemia (in patients age >50)

If any of these scares you and you’d take even a 50% chance of avoiding them, then I would recommend getting your flu vaccine.

 

9 Reasons To Get Your Flu Shot

But I know you might still be skeptical, especially if you have never had the flu in the past or known anyone who has.  So here are 7 reasons to get the flu vaccine.

  1. Influenza kills and the flu shot helps prevent flu-related deaths
    • This is not just an ‘I want to scare you’ fact but a point I think people underestimate.
    • Influenza kills between 3,000-49,000 people per year!
    • 80-90% of the deaths occur in people 65 years and older

 

  1. The flu shot reduces your child’s risk of going to the intensive care unit (ICU)
    • You don’t want your child to get the flu.  But even if the are a part of the 50% who still get the flu after the vaccine, the flu shot helps prevent them from getting a more severe disease.
    • A 2014 study showed that among kids who got the flu, pediatric ICU admissions decreased by 74% among children who got the flu vaccine

 

  1. The flu shot also reduces your risk of getting hospitalized
    • I hope the shot prevents you from getting the flu.  But even if you get the flu despite getting the vaccine you still reduce your risk of going to the ICU as an adult.
    • A 2016 study showed people 50 years or older who got the vaccine reduced their hospitalization risk by 57%.

 

  1. If you have chronic medical conditions, the flu shot helps reduce hospitalization even more!
    • Getting the flu vaccine also reduces hospitalization rates for people with diabetes (79% risk reduction) and those with chronic lung disease (52% relative risk reduction).
    • People with heart disease who get the flu shot also reduce their risk of certain additional heart problems.  This was most beneficial for people who have had a cardiac event in the past year.

 

  1. If you are pregnant, the flu vaccine helps protect you during and after pregnancy.  It also helps protect your baby!
    • When you get the flu vaccine, you make antibodies against it.  You pass these protective antibodies to your child after birth and give them protection against the flu.
    • One study showed pregnant women who go the flu shot had a 50% reduction in flu-associated acute respiratory infection.
    • Babies whose mother got the flu vaccination were 33% less likely to get sick with the flu than babies with unvaccinated mothers.
    • This effect lasts up to 4 MONTHS after birth too!

 

  1. Flu symptoms suck.
    • If you get the flu after vaccination, your symptoms are milder.
    • (At least for me, this is the only point I need for the rest of forever!)

 

  1. You can help your family and friends around you
    • When you get the flu vaccine, you’re not just helping yourself but also protecting people around you.  If you believe in helping give back to society, in helping stack the odds in favor of your family around you, or just want to do your part to help then this point is for you.
    • You are helping babies and younger children who aren’t able to get the flu vaccine.
    • You are also helping people with chronic health conditions reduce their chance of getting the flu

 

1 Reason NOT To Get The Flu Vaccine

I hope that if you weren’t swayed by how the flu could affect you through normal flu symptoms, then reading these stats could make you realize the benefits of getting the flu vaccine.

Everybody 6 months and older is recommended to get the flu vaccine once a year.

The flu shot is a high priority for certain people at higher risk for contracting influenza OR for those who are at a higher risk for flu complications:

  • Children age 6 months through 4 years
  • Adults aged 50 years and older
  • People with chronic lung conditions (including asthma), chronic heart problems, kidney, liver, neurological, blood or metabolic disorders
  • People who have a reduced immune system
  • Pregnant women or women who might become pregnant during the flu season
  • People with extreme obesity (body mass index BMI of 40 or more)
  • All healthcare personnel
  • Anyone with regular contact with children less than 5 or adults over 50 (especially those with contact with the younger children)

 

But there is one reason NOT to get the vaccine:

If you have a prior anaphylaxis / life threatening allergy to the flu vaccine itself.

Anaphylaxis is a real and concerning issue and if you have had anaphylaxis to the flu vaccine then, please, do not get the vaccine.  If you want to review the symptoms of anaphylaxis, you can read them here.

Otherwise, there is a flu vaccine form available you can get.

 

What about egg allergy?

It’s actually OK.  I have a whole post coming out on this exact topic in 2 days!

 

Let me address your flu questions
Let me address your flu questions

Still Have Objections?

If you’ve read this far, then you’re either a great reader (which is awesome), you find my slightly sharp with a refreshing change of pace OR you are still skeptical.  That’s cool.

I’ve written 5 of the most common objections and will answer those for you now!

Q:  Does the flu vaccine give you the flu?

  • No.  The flu vaccine does not give you the flu.
  • I know, I know:  you got the vaccine and then got the flu once.  Still wrong.
    • If you were exposed to a different virus, bacteria or even the flu PRIOR to receiving the vaccine, you might experience upper respiratory symptoms and think you got the flu from the vaccine.
    • You might also have gotten a low-grade fever, achiness or soreness based on your body’s natural immune response to processing the vaccine.  This means your body has done what it is supposed to do and processed the vaccine.  Consider these your ‘success symptoms’ instead.
  • But you did not get an influenza infection because of the flu vaccine.

 

Q:  Can’t I wait and get the flu if it is a bad year?

  • I see what you did there… tried to tell me you’re fine getting the shot but only if needed.  Heck, you’re SAVING the medical system money too, right?
    • Wrong.  Once you get the flu vaccine it takes about 2 weeks before you create influenza immunity.  So once people around you get influenza it will be too late for the shot to do anything for you.
    • Plus, people are spreading the virus but without symptoms for a week before they show symptoms.
  • This is why the flu vaccine is a preventative shot.  Get it now to prevent symptoms.

 

Q:  I got the flu vaccine last year.  Shouldn’t I still be protected?

  • First, great job getting the vaccine last year.
  • But no, it doesn’t help you for this year.  You still need a flu shot this year.  This is for two main reasons:
    • The flu vaccine doesn’t last as long as some other vaccines, so your immune protection will decrease over the year.
    • The strains of flu in the vaccine are created based on what are the most likely types of virus for that year.  This often changes each year
  • So I will commend you on getting your flu vaccine last year, but you still need it get it this year.

Q:  I’ve never gotten a flu vaccine and I’ve never gotten the flu.  So why should I get the vaccine?

  • I think it’s great you’ve never gotten the flu.  But having a record of not getting the flu has no bearing on whether you get it in the future.
    • If you have never gotten in a car accident, does that mean you’ll never get in one?
    • Or if you have never broken a bone, does that mean you’ll never break one?
    • You’ve never gotten pneumonia, so you never will.
    • You don’t have cancer now so you need not worry about for the rest of your life?
  • That’s what it sounds like when you use this excuse on me.  Cheers to you for being healthy up to this point.  Let me help you stay that way.

Q:  Isn’t the flu vaccine just a conspiracy fueled by big pharma to implant everyone with microchips so that the government can track our every move?

  • No.
  • Well, maybe.  I can’t say for sure.  But if it is… that’s one hell-of-a conspiracy.  And probably also related to aliens.

 

Sources:

  1. Belshe RB, Mendelman PM, Treanor, et al. The efficacy of live attenuated, cold-adapted, trivalent, intranasal influenza virus vaccine in children. N Engl J Med. 1998; 338(20):1405-12.
  2. Benowitz I, Esposito DB, Gracey KD, et al. Influenza vaccine given to pregnant women reduces hospitalization due to influenza in their infants. Clin Infect Dis. 2010; 51(12):1355-61.
  3. Ciszewski A, Bilinska ZT, Brydak LB, et al. Influenza vaccination in secondary prevention from coronary ischaemic events in coronary artery disease: FLUCAD study. Eur Heart J. 2008 Jun; 29(11):1350-8.
  4. Colquhoun AJ, Nicholson KG , Botha JL, Raymond NT. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine in reducing hospital admissions in people with diabetes. Epidemiol Infect. 1997; 119(3):335-41.
  5. Ferdinands JM, Olsho LEW, Agan AA, et al. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine against life-threatening RT-PCR-confirmed influenza illness in US children, 2010-2012. J Infect Dis. 2014; 210(5):674-683.
  6. Havers FP, Sokolow L, Shay DK, Farley MM, et al. Case-control study of vaccine effectiveness in preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in older adults, United States, 2010-2011. Clin Infect Dis. 2016; 63(4).
  7. Madhi SA, Cutland CL, Kuwanda L, et al. Influenza vaccination of pregnant women and protection of their infants. N Eng J Med. 2014; 371(10):1918-31.
  8. Nichol KL, Baken L, Nelson A. Relation between influenza vaccination and outpatient visits, hospitalization, and mortality in elderly persons with chronic lung disease.  Annals of Internal Medicine 1999;130:397–403.
  9. Phrommintikul A, Kuanprasert S, Wongcharoen W,et al. Influenza vaccination reduces cardiovascular events in patients with acute coronary syndrome. Eur Heart J. 2011; 32(14):1730-5.
  10. Talbot HK, Griffin, MR, Chen Q, et al. Effectiveness of seasonal vaccine in preventing confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations in community dwelling older adults. J. Infect Dis 2011; 203:500-8.
  11. Talbot HK, Zhu Y, Chen Q, et al. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in adults, 2011-2012 influenza season. Clin Infect Dis. 2013; 56(12): 1774-7.
  12. Tapia MD, Sow SO, Boubou T, et al. Maternal immunisation with trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine for prevention of influenza in infants in Mali: a prospective, active-controlled, observer blind, randomised phase 4 trial. Lancet Infect Dis. 2016; 3099(16):30054-8.
  13. Thompson MG, Li DK, Shifflet P, et al. Effectiveness of seasonal trivalent influenza vaccine for preventing influenza virus illness among pregnant women: a population-based case-control study during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 influenza seasons. Clin Infect Dis. 2014; 58(4):449-57.
  14. Udell JA, Zawi R, Bhatt DL, et al. Association between influenza vaccination and cardiovascular outcomes in high-risk patients: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2013; 310(16): 1711-20.

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