Updated: November 24, 2013 6:18AM
Is getting a flu shot in your plans, as health officials insist to most Hoosiers?
With flu season running now through March — and predictions of an early start similar to last year — this is the time to consider if a flu shot is for you or not. Generally, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.
I have never received a flu shot, not even when it was offered free of charge by an employer. As with most vaccines, I feel that the flu shot is great for the masses but typically not for me. It’s not that I’m strictly “anti-vaccine.” It’s simply that I’ve been doing OK without one up until now.
In January of this year, after struggling with the flu for a couple of miserable weeks, I wrote in a column, “It would probably be a lot easier to simply get the flu shot, and I will definitely do it next flu season.”
However, this flu season is here again and I’m on the fence about getting one. How about you? Education usually cures my fears about health-related decisions so I did some research on this matter. Here’s what I found.
First and foremost, there are more options than ever regarding flu shots for the public. It’s not any longer the simple choice of either a nasal squirt versus a shot in the arm.
There’s a smaller, less-painful needle available to only prick the skin, not inject into the muscle, and also a special shot for people age 65 and older, who are most susceptible to the influenza virus.
Each year, up to 220,000 Americans are hospitalized from influenza and up to 30,000 patients die from its complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the first time, an estimated 30 million of the roughly 137 million doses of influenza vaccine for use in this country this flu season will be a “quadrivalent” flu vaccine — made to protect against four different flu viruses.
This bolstered vaccine may be more effective for kids, I learned. (For the record, of the 105 flu-related pediatric deaths reported to the CDC for the 2012-2013 season, 90 percent occurred in children who had not received a flu shot.)
The rest of this year’s shots will be the more traditional “trivalent” flu vaccine, made to protect against three different flu viruses: Two influenza A viruses and an influenza B virus.
Another new aspect is that standard shots are manufactured using viruses grown in eggs, but this year a special vaccine has been made using cell technology for people with egg allergies.
Last year’s most common flu strain, the nasty H3N2, hospitalized tens of thousands of patients and killed at least 18 children. This year’s flu vaccines are designed to protect against the influenza viruses that experts predict will be the most common, including H3N2.
“The composition of influenza vaccines is changed in most seasons, with one or more vaccine strains replaced annually to provide protection against viruses that are anticipated to circulate,” said Amanda Turney, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health.
Three kinds of viruses commonly circulate among most people: Influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. So each year these viruses are used to produce seasonal influenza vaccine.
For anyone who’s interested in the technical aspects behind this season’s vaccine, it’s made from these three viruses: an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus; an A(H3N2) virus antigenically like the cell-propagated prototype virus A/Victoria/361/2011; and a B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus. Got that?
“The CDC does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other. The important thing is to get a flu vaccine every year,” the federal agency states on its website, echoing state health officials recommendations.
For weekly reports by the Indiana State Department of Health, visit www.in.gov/isdh/25462.htm.
I conducted a highly unscientific poll regarding flu shots, via social media, and the results were overwhelmingly against health officials’ recommendations.
“Don’t get one,” advised Tracy Bogner of Valparaiso. “I did about five years ago and that year I was the sickest I had ever been. I don’t believe in it.”
“I never get one,” replied Lisa Mills-Laux of Portage.
“Doesn’t our immunity work anymore?” asked Sharon Stefankiewicz of Chesterton. “If it didn’t, we’d all be dead.”
“With dozens of strains of the flu out there, there’s no guarantee it would cover you,” she added. “Plus, our bodies are designed to fend off colds and flu with first line defenses. A shot goes straight into the bloodstream and hits every major organ with that pathogen vaccine within seconds. I prefer to strengthen my immunity by normal means, not have a chemical cocktail injected into my veins with iffy results.”
Regardless of your decision, here are the “three C’s” to remember to help avoid the flu this season:
Clean: wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water;
Cover: cover your cough and sneeze with your arm or a disposable tissue;
Contain: stay home from school or work when you are sick to keep your germs from spreading.
Keep in mind the most germ-infested objects in public places include restaurant menus, ketchup bottles and lemon wedges, restroom door handles, soap dispensers, grocery carts and cell phones.
Laura S. of Porter said she has already received a flu shot, but it was mandated by her hospital employer. This prompts me to ask if all hospital employees should be forced to receive flu shots for the sake of public health?
Since last year, most health care professionals in this region are mandated to do so, but I say although this policy protects public health it also violates the civil rights of those employees. I’m against mandatory flu shots for anyone, health professionals or not. You disagree? Join the discussion on my Facebook page and blog.
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.