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The Flu: To Get the Shot or Not

Should I Get a Flu Shot?

I am not an anti-vaxxer. I believe that each person should be able to make their own educated decision about whether or not to be vaccinated. However, I also believe that vaccinations should be personalized and tailored to each individual depending on immune and health status.

In the United States, a yearly flu vaccine is recommended to every person over the age of six months, except for those who have severe allergies to the vaccine or one of its components.

The question is: do you really need to get a yearly Flu Shot?

The influenza virus is a highly infectious and contagious virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 10-20% of the United States population gets the flu each year. It is an awful virus causing fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, headache, eye pain, cough, and nasal congestion. Most people recover within 10 days, but those at high risk can go on to develop complications.

Is the Flu a Big Deal?

The severity and complications of the flu are greatly exaggerated.

It is often stated that the flu is the 9th leading cause of death in the US. This is because flu is grouped together with all cases of fatal pneumonia and respiratory and circulatory causes of death. The CDC estimates that only a small portion of these cases, about 8.5% of them, are actually caused by the flu.

Over 90% of flu deaths occur in those older than age 65 who have health conditions that compromise their health.  These deaths are typically caused by secondary bacterial pneumonia. Conditions of the lung (asthma, COPD, and Cystic Fibrosis), heart (congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease), neurological conditions, suppressed immune function (HIV, AIDs, cancer, and chronic steroid use), diabetes, and extreme obesity are all factors that put a person at higher risk of complications from the flu.

Does a Vaccine Help?

The flu vaccine can be helpful. The CDC estimates that the yearly vaccine protects 10-60% of people who receive the shot. This assumes that the particular strain of virus in the vaccine matches the strain that is circulating.

Each year, the influenza virus shifts and drifts, creating new strains. The vaccine is created based on the most likely strains to cause infection in a given year. As the vaccines are made, the virus continues to change, making it very difficult to match the vaccine to the circulating virus.

In fact, the CDC gives this vaccine the lowest effectiveness ranking of any vaccine.

The vaccine may not be effective for most people getting it, and it may also do more harm than good. The Journal of Virology reports that the annual flu vaccine actually weakens the immune response to other flu viruses. Natural flu infection imparts lifetime immunity to that particular strain of flu virus. While the immunity conferred from the vaccine lasts only one year.

Build Your Immunity

Building up that immunity is important to protect you in the future, when getting the flu might actually be harmful to you. I would argue that if you are young and healthy, skipping the flu shot will better protect you from getting the flu when you are older and at higher risk.

If you are older and at higher risk, the flu shot may be protective, and should be considered as part of your yearly prevention regimen.

Foregoing the flu shot does not mean that you are going to get the flu! There are many ways to avoid and treat the flu without getting a yearly vaccine. I’ll address this in my next blog, stay tuned!

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