By Amy Surdam, FNP
Vaccines have been one of the most important interventions in public health history. As we are entering flu season, I wanted to discuss flu shots.
As a health care professional I have always received a flu shot. Between that, good hand washing, and a functioning immune system, I have never had the flu (knock on wood!). However, over the years I have both vaccinated and not vaccinated my kiddos. I have four boys who range in age from seven to twenty and so I have had many years of practice making this decision.
There have definitely been years where my kids have gotten the flu and for a miserable five days of fever, runny nose and cough, we have muddled through. I have also witness my youngest come down with the flu and develop a very serious pneumonia subsequently, which nearly put him in the hospital. As time has passed, I have come to realize, both as a clinician and a mom, the value of getting my kids the flu shot and now I vaccinate every year. No. Matter. What.
Is the flu shot perfect? Of course not. It’s developed based on last year’s viruses and what researchers think next year’s viral strains will be. Sometimes they are closer than others with their predication. Sometimes the most prevalent virus strain that will cause illness is difficult to isolate. Last year, I vaccinated my kids and one of them came down with both Flu A and B anyway, while I was in Hawaii. Not ideal. So yes, you can still get the flu if you’ve had the flu shot because it doesn’t convey 100% protection.
Another factor that can and does affect the efficacy of the flu shot is when you receive it. No, the flu shot cannot give you the flu. It is not a live virus. It does however initiate a process in your body, which spurs you to create your own antibodies to protect you against the predicted viral strains. People can also have mild reactions to it such as localized soreness, muscle aches and a low grade fever.
It takes two weeks for this to occur so you are not as protected against the flu during this two weeks. The vaccination is thought to last up to a year, but that depends on an individual’s antibodies and the ever-changing strains of the virus. The best time to get the flu shot is in October. As in now. However, if you miss the October window, it is better to get it later in the season than not at all.
This is why everyone in my family opts to get the flu shot:
We are helping others.
There are many people who cannot get the flu shot: those with severe allergies to eggs, infants under six months old, sometimes those who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and those who are acutely ill (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm). Vaccines work by developing a herd immunity. By immunizing ourselves we are less likely to get the flu and to pass it on to those who cannot receive the shot. According to the CDC, “flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.” If we choose not to vaccinate, in essence we are creating an incubator for the virus. I know when each of my sons where infants, I sincerely appreciated the efforts of others to keep flu away from my babies.
I don’t want my kids to get the flu!
I know the flu shot is not perfect, but in my family, for most years, it has worked. Taking care of kids with high fevers and runny noses is challenging. Complications such as pneumonia can arise from the flu, which can result in antibiotics, nebulizer treatments, and even hospitalization. That is beyond stressful! Now add in that unplanned week off of work. No thank you.
Finally, while the flu shot can help, remember there are other things we all must do to stay healthy and prevent the spread of flu. The flu is spread primarily by droplets, meaning when someone sneezes or coughs on something it spreads the virus.
The virus can live on surfaces for several hours, which means after you touch a door handle, an elevator button, or a light switch you could have touched the flu virus. Please wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (better yet, sneeze/cough into your elbow).
If soap and water aren’t available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the next best thing. And remember, those who do have the flu should stay home until their fever is gone for 24 hours.