The winter months are in full swing right now, and the chances of getting sick are at their highest. As a precaution, our doctors and medical advisors have always told us to get our flu shots to prevent sickness from spreading. However, the question arises: how effective is the flu shot in preventing sickness? In many cases, we hear about people who get the flu shot but still end up getting sick. That said, is getting the shot worth the trouble?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that all Americans who are older than six months old get the flu vaccine each season. This recommendation is also sent out to people who are at a higher risk, such as those with medical conditions such as heart or lung disease. The CDC also claims that those at elevated risk also include people who over 65 years old, pregnant women and even health care professionals.
So, what do we know about the flu? The flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness. Along with being a normal sickness, it can manifest into further complications such as bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic health conditions like diabetes. The flu can also be fairly deadly. The CDC estimates that between 1976 and 2006, the amount of deaths caused by the flu ranged from 3,000 to 49,000.
Another important aspect to realize is that while we call it “the flu,” it isn’t just one strain of virus. The flu virus actually consists of multiple strains that differ slightly each year. The reason we have deemed it the flu rather than specifying which strain, is because the virus functions more or less the same and appears each year in its seasonal epidemic.
The question that arises from these facts is how effective is the vaccine? Unfortunately, the vaccine’s effectiveness varies from year to year. Typically, the flu vaccine will protect between 40-60 percent of the people who get it according to the CDC. However, there are many variables that alter whether the vaccine will be effective such as age, your immune system and the circulating virus itself. Despite these numbers, this year is shaping up to be a harsh one for flu recipients. Research by Canadian scientists which was published on thursday suggests that this years flu shot is only around 17 percent effective against H3N2 which is causing 80 percent of influenza cases this year.
To increase the stakes, there is also some research surfacing that is less than supportive for the flu vaccine. A 2011 study, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, looked at data from 1967 to 2011 pertaining to the flu vaccine and reported that the vaccine was only about 60 percent effective for people aged 18 to 65.
For those of us who get the flu vaccine but still end up getting sick, there is no need to worry about the flu shot making us sick. Despite people who swear that the vaccine gave them the flu last year, doctors inform us that this is medically impossible. More often, a person who experiences this may have actually caught a different virus and mistaken it for the flu.
For me, I have never received a flu shot in my entire life. Of course, this made me susceptible to any potential sickness that came my way. However, in my 21 years of life, I have only been truly sick twice. I endured the week I was out from school and returned to find half of my class empty from the same reason. I watched as many of my friends who got their flu shots annually would still end up sick somehow and be quarantined from the world by their parents.
In the best case, the flu vaccine is meant to prevent you from getting the flu, but it also has other purposes as well. The main purpose is to reduce the number of severe flu illnesses that require hospitalization. In other words, the real goal of the flu shot is so that you do not get as sick as you may have, had you not gotten the vaccine. So if you’re still a little skeptical, maybe it’s time to talk with a healthcare professional; perhaps they can provide better reasoning to get the flu shot. Or perhaps we’re all better off getting sick once and a while.