“Should I get the flu shot?”
Lots of people are still on the fence, wondering if they should get the flu shot. If you’ve ever uttered words to the effect of
“I’m not anti-vaccine! But, the flu shot…”
There’s something you should know. You might not consider yourself anti-vaccine, but a pinch of the anti-vaccine crowd’s propaganda has almost certainly made it’s way past your defenses. Certain vaccines have a specific set of rumours and myths around them and the flu vaccine is definitely one of them. The amount of misinformation I see, propagated by otherwise rational people, isn’t surprising when you see how hard anti-vaxxers work at getting their dangerous ideas spread all over the internet. So, it’s important to counter it where we can, I reckon.
The Actual Flu Absolutely Sucks
To begin with, the word flu (short for influenza) is tossed around with impunity. People use it to describe head colds, stomach bugs, sinusitis, chest infections and more. But the actual flu, man, that totally sucks. I can’t emphasise that enough. I’ll never forget the last time I had it as an adult.
I was at work and feeling pretty rotten. My joints ached and I felt hot and shivery and I felt asleep on my feet. I had the mother of all headaches when a co-worker took me aside and sat me down. We worked in an aged care facility and had all kinds of nifty tools there. She took my temperature and it was almost 40 degrees. She gave me paracetamol, called me a taxi and sat me outside to wait for it. An hour later, someone else finished their shift and found me still sitting there.
The taxi hadn’t shown and I was too sick to even consider doing something about it or letting someone know. A work friend drove me home and I stayed there for the next few days, coughing, aching, shaking with fever, barely able to speak through the fire in my throat. It was over a week before I felt myself again. I’ve had the shot every year since!
Here’s a thing to remember: nasal congestion, runny noses, excessive sneezing- these are generally NOT flu symptoms. These are more likely to belong to colds, sinusitis and the like. If you’re going through tissues at a rate of knots, there’s a good chance that you actually have a bad cold or sinusitis!
Myth 1- “The Flu Vaccine Gives You The Flu”
Influenza is an enormous burden on the health system- ask anyone who has ever worked a winter in a hospital ED. It also has the nasty possibility of actually killing people. It can and does kill people every single year. Certain groups are more at risk of this outcome than others but even healthy, young people can die from contracting it. So, a vaccine that gives you the thing it’s supposed to prevent seems kinda impractical, don’t you think? This one comes about from not understanding how vaccines work. Vaccines contain inactive (dead) or attenuated (severely weakened) viruses. They provoke an immune response in your body that involves your immunity cells (lymphocytes) producing antibodies. By the time you are exposed to a disease like the flu, your body will recognise this antigen (the bad guy) and be ready with the required antibodies to fight it off.
The flu vaccine injection doesn’t contain a live virus. You can’t get the flu from it.
Myth 2- “But I always get sick after I get the flu shot!”
Correlation doesn’t equal causation. You might have come down with a cold after your flu shot. Keeping in mind that colds are not flu, it makes no sense that your cold was caused by a flu vaccine. I don’t know about you but I share a train, shopping centre, footpath, waiting room and workplace full of people who are sniffling, coughing and not disinfecting everything they’ve touched. Welcome to Winter. It’s not unheard of to simply catch a cold, regardless of getting the flu shot! Especially after sitting in a doctor’s surgery or pharmacy with actual sick people!
You may experience side effects from the flu shot. The most common is soreness at the injection site. Some people experience a low-grade fever and body aches for up to a day or two as well. This isn’t common is healthy people but it’s possible. If this is you, that sucks! But rest assured, you’re experiencing your body’s immune system at work as it builds those all-important antibodies!
The other important factor here is that the vaccine itself isn’t 100%. This year’s shot offers about 6 months protection against the predicted strains. There are others strains that you could have been exposed to. Flu symptoms take a few days to show up after exposure. Remember, the flu shot generally offers 40%-50% protection (which is WAY better than nothing!) so it is still possible to catch it.
Myth 3- “They just guess which strains to put in the vaccine”
They don’t just draw them out of a hat! The method of predicting which strains should be included in the seasonal flu vaccine are actually pretty complex. It’s based on data collected from over 100 countries. They have to look at which strains are spreading,which strains have previously been included and how effective the vaccines were and so much more. This isn’t a couple of guys tossing a coin! It involves reams of data and research and a number of disease research centres. All of this data must be gathered, examined and interpreted by scientists who use all that information to determine which strains are most likely to be problematic. Then they must determine if a viable vaccine can be made for those strains. The vaccines must ten go through testing and approval processes. It’s a wee bit more than guesswork!
Myth 4- “The vaccine causes autism/cancer/diabetes/HIV/AIDS/etc”
I have seen otherwise rational, logical people share dodgy articles with headlines like this. The idea being that a government and pharmaceutical company conspiracy exists to vaccinate people and make them ill. This in turn leads to increased profits for pharma companies. Every logical argument I have made about his has been “refuted” by ever-growing, increasingly fantastical conspiracies. The Illuminati is involved, it’s the Rothschilds, government population control– you name it.
But no one has ever been able to actually explain to me why it would benefit the government to make it’s population ill, especially in a country where we have a public health system. If anything, it costs them more from the public purse when we are ill. It’s much cheaper for the government if you get the flu shot- that they subsidise- rather than spend time in hospital with the flu that you’ve infected a bunch of other people with!
Remember that vaccination is recommended by every leading health authority on the planet. Vaccines have been studied and refined extensively and are largely regarded as one of the biggest life-savers in modern medical history. The idea that vaccines have been used to cause illness makes no sense and is demonstrably untrue when you look at how many people have vaccines without contracting whatever illness the conspiracy theorists claim are in the vaccines.
Stuff to Remember
- Certain groups are more at risk from the flu, such as Aboriginal people, children under 5, the elderly, pregnant women and those with certain health conditions and compromised immunity. If you’re in this group, see your GP about a flu shot ASAP.
- If you aren’t in the most at-risk group, you can help protect those that are by getting your flu shot. It makes sense that if you are less likely to catch flu, you’re less likely to pass it on to anyone else.
- If you think you have the flu, try to get to the doctor ASAP. There are anti-viral drugs that can help!
- I am not a doctor. This shouldn’t be taken as the sole bit of health advice you receive about the flu shot. I am just someone who has been reading up on vaccines for over a decade. For a lay-person, I think I know my shit! But my knowledge doesn’t compare to a medical degree and years of continuous education.
- No doctor or advocate worth their salt claims vaccines are 100% effective or denies that there have been serious adverse reactions to them in the past. There have been. If you have any kind of medical condition and you aren’t sure if you should get the vaccine, see your doctor first!