ILION – Fall means many things to many people. To those in the health care field, fall often means time to get a flu shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6-months of age and older receive an annual flu vaccine. And with the typical flu season beginning in October, now is the perfect time to get that shot, said Caitlin Pohleven, Supervising Pharmacist at Kinney Drugs in Ilion.
“The flu vaccine takes two weeks to become fully effective in a person’s system,” Pohleven said. “So we start giving flu shots in the end of August. Any time now is the ideal time to get your flu shot.”
According to the CDC, flu season in the United States runs October through April, with reported infections generally peaking between December and March. And in case people think the flu is no big deal, between Oct. 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017, 18,256 people were hospitalized in the U.S. thanks to the virus. As of June 23, 2017, the flu claimed the lives of 101 children this past flu season alone.
“The flu can mean serious business, especially for children, those over 65 and anyone with a compromised immune
system or pre-existing lung condition,” Pohleven pointed out. “Antibiotics don’t work because it is a virus, and Tamiflu is only effective (in reducing flu symptoms) if taken within the first 48 hours of exposure, which is very hard to do. Once you’ve had symptoms for a couple days, which is when most people realize it’s the flu and not a cold, it’s too late for Tamiflu.”
Still, Pohleven said she hears many people question the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, while others believe they can catch the flu from the shot.
Each year, the CDC tracks mutations of the flu virus and selects the top three to four strains experts believe will pose the biggest threat during the upcoming season. Even if the strains chosen continue to mutate or deviate from the exact make-up of the vaccine, receiving a flu shot builds the body’s immunity to better handle and fight the virus, Pohleven explained.
“Receiving the shot will reduce the severity of the illness, even if the strain you catch is not the particular strain in the shot,” she said.
As for catching the flu from the shot, Pohleven assures that simply can’t happen.
“The shot is made of inactivated flu proteins, or ‘dead’ strains,” she explained. “It’s impossible for these to cause the flu.”
What can happen, however, is that someone who has received the flu shot, comes into contact with the flu before the two-week immunity-building process is over. Because their body has not finished building up a resistance, they are still susceptible to the virus, Pohleven said, which is why people are encouraged to get vaccinated before flu season really gets going.
Another possibility is that people become slightly more susceptible to illness immediately following the flu shot as their body’s immune system is busy working on the flu vaccine.
“Your immune system is busy building antibodies to the flu, so if you come into contact with a cold a few days after receiving the shot, your body might not be able to handle it as well as it would otherwise,” she explained.
Pohleven recommends those planning to get the flu shot begin taking vitamin C or other immune-boosting supplement a day before receiving the vaccine, and continue to do so for a few days following the vaccination.
“I personally am a big fan of Airborne,” she said.
One more thing to consider, she said, is that side-effects from the shot itself can include a low-grade fever and mild body aches for a day or two, which patients sometimes mistake for illness.
The bottom line, Pohleven said, is that receiving the flu vaccine annually is a safer bet than not.
”I read a great quote about it once,” she said. “ ‘Flu vaccines are like seatbelts. They’re not perfect, but they are the best protection we have against serious injury and death.’”
Most pharmacies offer a variety of flu shots without the need of a prescription nor appointment, and many medical insurance companies cover the cost of the shot completely, Pohleven said. Kinney Drugs, for example, offers the adult flu shot for those 18-years-old and older, a preservative-free shot for women who are pregnant and the high-dose shot recommended for those 65 and older.