Facts About The Flu Vaccine

Every flu season is different, and influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Unfortunately, influenza infection can affect people differently. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends receiving a vaccine to help protect against influenza yearly.

Statistics show millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. If you are looking for protection against flu viruses receiving an annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way. There are many benefits to having a flu vaccination including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.

Facts About The Flu Vaccine: How Flu Vaccines Work

When trying to find out the facts about the flu vaccine, many people are unfamiliar with how the flu vaccines actually work. The vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine selected.

The seasonal flu vaccines protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.  There are two types of flu vaccines, traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) and quadrivalent vaccines.

Trivalent vaccines are made to protect against three flu viruses; influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, an influenza B virus. Quadrivalent vaccines are vaccines that protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus as well.

There are many vaccine options to choose from. It is recommended for children 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year as well as adults. If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.

There are different influenza vaccines that are approved for the various age groups. However, some age groups it is not recommended to receive a flu vaccine. Certain factors like a person’s age, health (both current and past) and if they are allergic to flu vaccines or its components.

The protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.

Facts About The Flu Vaccine: Getting Vaccinated

Before the flu viruses start to spread in your community, you should understand the facts about the flu vaccine and then go get a flu vaccine. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu, it is best to get the vaccine early. Make plans to get vaccinated early in the fall, prior flu season begins, especially if you are at a high risk of flu environment.

The CDC, Centers for Disease Control recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, if you are vaccinated later it would still be beneficial. On the contrary, getting vaccinated too early can reduce your protection against the flu later in the flu season.

Flu vaccines are offered in many doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, and pharmacies. If you are 6 months of age and older, it is best to get your flu shot, as long as you are healthy enough.

Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like Restore Health Urgent Care Center.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Flu vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary. There are several variables when it comes to the protection provided by a flu vaccine. Many aspects are dependent on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation.

Even receiving a flu vaccine does not guarantee that you will be immune from getting the flu.  It is possible to get sick with the flu for several different reasons:

  • You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. After being vaccinated it takes 2 weeks to be immune.
  • You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate from season to season. A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that are most common.
  • Unfortunately, some people can become infected with the flu virus even after receiving a flu vaccine that was designed to protect again that flu strain.

Vaccine Benefits

There are many reasons to get a flu vaccine each year. The benefits of yearly flu vaccination are reducing the chance to get sick, hospitalization and serious medical events all related to the flu. No matter the years of age, getting a flu vaccination holds many benefits as listed below:

  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu. Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year.
  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization.
    • A 2018 study showed that from 2012 to 2015, flu vaccination among adults reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82 percent.
  • Flu vaccination helps prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions.
  • Vaccination can help protect women during and after pregnancy.
    • Vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by up to one-half
  • Flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

Not only does getting vaccinated protect yourself, but it may also protect the people around you. This is important for those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Vaccine Match

Vaccine match means that the viruses in the vaccine and circulating influenza viruses are similar. A “good match” is said to occur when the flu vaccine and the viruses circulating among people during any given influenza season are closely related and the antibodies produced by vaccination protect against infection.

However, during some seasons one or more of the circulating viruses will be different from the vaccine. This difference, known as drifting, can alter the effectiveness of vaccines. Flu viruses are constantly changing, called antigenic drift, they can change from one season to the next and even with the course of one flu season.

Scientists must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for a vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. Due to being created early there is always the possibility of a “less than optimal” match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.

Vaccine Production

The production process for some seasonal vaccines also can impact the effectiveness of the vaccine against certain viruses. Scientists utilize eggs as part of the production process for most seasonal flu vaccines. While all influenza viruses undergo changes when they are grown in eggs, the changes in influenza A(H3N2) viruses tend to be more likely to result in antigenic changes.  Influenza A (H3N2) changes more frequently than compared with changes in other influenza viruses.

These so-called “egg-adapted changes” are present in most of the vaccine viruses. It is seen in almost all of the recommended vaccines that are in production and may reduce their potential effectiveness against circulating influenza viruses.

Luckily, advances in vaccine production technologies and advanced molecular techniques are being explored as ways to improve the flu vaccine effectiveness.

Vaccine Side Effects

Despite old wives’ tales, the flu vaccine is not able to cause flu illnesses. The vaccines that are administered with a needle are made in 2 different ways. The first is with flu viruses that have been killed (inactivated) and the second is with proteins from a flu vaccine virus, not the flu virus itself.

However, the viruses are weakened, and therefore unable to cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses are inadequate to infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.

Even though the flu vaccine can not give you the flu,  there are several side effects that may be associated with getting a flu shot or nasal spray flu vaccine. While the side effects are mild and short-lasting, it is still better than the symptoms of the bad flu.  The risk of flu complications is rather small, however, it is still best to make sure to go to a professional when receiving a flu shot.

The Flu Shot

The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated, so you are unable to get the flu from the flu shot. Some minor side effects that may occur are:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

The Nasal Spray

The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness.

In children, side effects from the nasal spray may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever

In adults, side effects from the nasal spray vaccine may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

If these side effects start to occur, they will normally begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. Almost all people who receive the influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. People who think that they have been injured by the flu shot can file a claim for compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).

Special Consideration Regarding Egg Allergy

People with egg allergies can receive any licensed, recommended age-appropriate influenza (flu) vaccine (IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) that is otherwise appropriate, from a certified health care provider.  Especially people who have a history of severe egg allergy (those who have had any symptoms other than hives after exposure to egg) should be vaccinated in a medical setting and supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.

Receiving a flu shot at Restore Health Urgent Care can assist in monitoring your symptoms, especially if you have severe reactions to eggs.

Facts About The Flu Vaccine: Conclusion

Even though the flu comes every year, vaccination is especially important to get yearly. There are different types of flu strains and some can occasionally morph into different strains that the vaccine is not designed to prevent.

It is always best to speak with your primary care physician if you have concerns about your vaccine.  However, there are times when your doctor is not available. Restore Health Urgent Care is available after hours to help you get prepared for this flu season. Contact us today to get your vaccine.