Once again comes that time of year when the sniffles, coughing and hot liquids is the norm, prefacing yet another cold and flu season. With it also comes the age-old question: should I get my flu shot?
If you want a majority vote, the question is yes – you should.
And even though no flu vaccine is 100 per cent guaranteed, in most years it has shown a 60 per cent effectiveness in healthy adults, according to Island Health.
There are, however a few things to keep in mind with that, said Island Health medical officer Dr. Dee Hoyano, who said that while a single flu shot gives you protection throughout the flu season (or about six months), it isn’t a long lasting immunity.
“The strains in the vaccine will change year to year, so if you want protection from what is currently circulating, then you need to have seasonal vaccine,” she said, adding that the flu shot is designed to keep up to date with the type of influenza at hand.
Still, nothing is guaranteed. Last year, the flu vaccine during the December-January season was universally regarded as ineffective, as many who had their shots still managed to get sick.
Hoyano said part of the reason why that happened is because one of the three strains in the vaccine (ever year there are three) was not similar at all to what was in the shot itself. The other two, however, were “pretty good” in terms of their matching.
Fortunately, several tweaks were made to this year’s flu shot, allowing it to provide a higher level of protection, but Hoyano said it’s too early to tell on how effective it will be.
“Influenza changes gradually over time, so at this point it does look like it’ll be a slightly different kind of virus over last year. It won’t feel any different when you get sick, so the formulation we have of the vaccine looks like it should be better than last year in terms of providing protection,” she said.
Hoyano pointed out that even though there’s no sign of a new influenza pandemic yet, people are still encouraged to get themselves immunized as early as possible going into the season.
Contrary to popular belief, a flu shot will not protect you from infection the day-of, as your body takes at least a couple of weeks to build up a full immune response. And, if you do develop it well after you’ve administered the shot, you still may have a much milder form of it.
Not much has changed in terms of who’s at risk either. The elderly, children under five and adults who have existing chronic health conditions remain a priority.
Infection of influenza also continues as “droplet spread”, which means via bodily fluids, coughing/sneezing, touching something that is contaminated and putting that in your mouth, eyes or nose.
Hoyano added that young siblings living and playing in the same house will also be at higher risk of getting each other infected.
As for possible reactions from the flu vaccine, the number of people who experience serious side effects is quite low, Hoyano said, with the most common as redness and a sore arm. Some people may also feel a little fluish after the shot, which is usually a good sign, because that’s a sign the body is adapting to the vaccine.
That’s not to say that serious side effects, albeit very rare, are impossible either.
It’s also important for people to distinguish a cold from full-blown influenza, said Ronald Kumar, pharmacist and owner at Peoples Drug Mart, adding that getting a flu shot on time may very well prevent weeks of debilitating body aches, fever, loss of appetite, among other not-so-pleasant symptoms.
“You can’t tell how bad the flu season has been until after it is over, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get your flu shot done ahead of time,” Kumar said, adding that on average, his pharmacy will administer between 200 to 300 doses until they run out.