Thursday, December 12, 2013

Received Your Flu Shot? Why Not?

By John T. Carlo, MD
Chair, TMA Council on Science and Public Health

It’s December, so by now most of us who are going to receive the influenza vaccine this year have already received it. Thank you. You have done your part in preventing the flu, not only for yourself but also for those around you. The influenza vaccine is the safest, most effective way to prevent the flu, so I’m glad that more than 56 percent of children and 41 percent of adults each year in the United States do their part.

So, what about the rest who have not yet received their influenza vaccine this year? Good news. There is still time! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that vaccination should be completed in as many persons as possible before the start of the flu season. And since 1976 more than 80 percent of flu seasons did not peak until January or later, you still have time.

Even with plenty of flu vaccines available this year, there are still those who will choose to not vaccinate. Let me talk to you for a moment. If you don’t vaccinate because “you never get the flu,” I’ve got news for you. Studies show that up to 50 percent of influenza infections are asymptomatic, which means you may not have any signs or symptoms of the flu, but you can still transmit the virus to others. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing you lowered someone else’s risk of catching a severe flu infection this year by vaccinating yourself? How about if you are going to be around those who are likely to suffer severely from a bout with the flu, such as the very young or old, or perhaps someone with a chronic medical condition? Isn’t it important for you to do your part?

Is safety your concern? Look, the influenza vaccine is one of the safest measures we have in medicine. Think about the hundreds of millions who have received the vaccine since it became available in the early 1950s. We carefully are on the look-out for side effects and adverse reactions through the Vaccine Adverse Reporting System. Getting a flu shot is safer than taking an aspirin. Think about it.

How about, “I got the flu after I received the flu vaccine.” Absolutely not possible. Influenza vaccines contain only parts of, or completely inactivated viruses that have been rendered incapable of causing an influenza infection. Now, it is very likely to catch another flu-like virus around the time you received your influenza vaccine in the past — there are certainly lots circulating this time of the year. It is also possible you were infected with the flu virus before you received the vaccine, or before the vaccine had time to take effect — that’s also a potential problem, particularly for you procrastinators. Nope, a sore arm, and maybe some muscle aches are the most one can expect from a flu shot. But the return, not getting the flu, or preventing someone else from getting it, how is it not worth it?

Dr. Carlo is a Dallas physician and CEO of AIDS Arms, Inc.

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