As cold and flu season kicks into high gear, one of the most frequent questions people have is whether or not they should be immunized with a flu shot. Although the flu shot can be effective at preventing you from getting the flu, many people do not think it’s worth the time and effort. They… The post Should I Get A Flu Shot? appeared first on .
As cold and flu season kicks into high gear, one of the most frequent questions people have is whether or not they should be immunized with a flu shot. Although the flu shot can be effective at preventing you from getting the flu, many people do not think it’s worth the time and effort. They may believe the flu vaccine won’t protect them, or that it may only lead to getting sicker than they would be without the shot. They may think their immune system is strong enough to protect them from the flu without the shot, or that the flu shot is unnecessary.
Even though the flu shot is not perfect when it comes to preventing everyone from getting the flu, there still are benefits to having as many people as possible immunized that can result in overall greater public health. Thus, lowering the risk for people who are especially vulnerable to infection. What follows is a brief summary of how the flu shot works, who benefits most from it, and why it’s important to get one.
How the Flu Shot Works
What we know as “the flu” can be any one of the more than 200 strains of the influenza virus. The flu shot contains several of the viruses predicted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be the most prevalent during the current flu season. Once injected into the bloodstream, these dormant viruses trigger the production of antibodies by the immune system. By having these antibodies in the bloodstream in preparation of infection, the immune system is better prepared to fight the flu virus if and when it is exposed to it.
Because health officials are only making an educated guess about which flu viruses should go into the vaccine, the flu shot’s effectiveness in preventing individuals from contracting the illness is typically lower than other types of vaccines. Its effectiveness also can vary from year to year, depending on which flu viruses spread more effectively and how accurate the predictions are. This means that even if you get a flu shot every year, you may still come down with the flu, unfortunately.
Why You Should Still Get Immunized
However, just because the flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective at preventing you from getting the flu, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother. Even though it may not protect everyone in every circumstance, the flu shot’s benefits go beyond the individual.
Getting the flu vaccine does more than reduce the likelihood that you will get the flu — it also helps protect people with compromised immune systems from being exposed and potentially dying. Even at its mildest, the flu kills thousands of people in the United States every year; and thousands more could die without the rest of the population being vaccinated because of the principles of herd immunity.
In a population in which no one is immunized, the flu virus can spread freely — even if just a tiny fraction of that population is sick and contagious. In populations where a small percentage of people are immunized, the disease still can run rampant throughout the larger population that is not immunized. However, immunizing the vast majority of the population can prevent the virus from spreading to those who are truly vulnerable. This is because contagious people are more likely to be isolated in populations where most people are immunized. This effectively disrupts the network of contagion that viruses such as influenza depend upon to spread. The fewer opportunities it has to infect, the less likely the virus is to become a full-scale outbreak.
Everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot before flu season begins, generally early in the fall. Because the antibodies take about two weeks to develop in the bloodstream, the earlier the shot is administered, the better. Children younger than 6 months and anyone with severe allergies to the flu vaccine should not be immunized.