Newswise — While many believe this year’s influenza vaccination, better known as the “flu shot,” will not protect against the predominant H3N2 strain, influenza expert, Shane Speights, D.O., contends that the vaccine’s benefits still far outweigh the risks, and people who forego vaccination could be putting themselves and others in danger.
“The biggest complaint I hear from patients is that ‘the flu shot didn’t work because I still got the flu,' which comes from their misunderstanding of what a vaccine does and doesn’t do,” says Speights, dean and associate professor of Medicine, NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University (NYITCOM at A-State). “Basically, a vaccine is an injection of a small amount of a virus or bacteria that’s just enough to trigger the immune system to recognize it. Once triggered, the immune system creates memory cells, which allow the body a jump start on fighting the virus/bacteria in future instances.”
Although the flu vaccine is anywhere from 30-60% effective in preventing the virus, the newly created memory cells allow vaccinated individuals to experience a milder infection with a shorter course. According to Speights, this can be the difference between feeling mildly ill for two to three days, or being bedridden – or worse hospitalized – for up to a week with significant muscle aches, fever, cough, and fatigue. “By the way, when the body is creating those memory cells, it causes an inflammatory response,” he adds. “So that mild ache, fatigue, or runny nose that only lasts a day or so after you got your flu shot is a good sign – it means it worked.”
Speights notes that each strain of flu is different, and while this year’s vaccination may be relatively weak (39% effective) in preventing H3N2, this season’s most common strain, it still reduces illness severity and offers protection against other strains in circulation. While January and February are typically the peak of “flu season,” getting vaccinated now can still reduce the risk of illness or spreading the virus to vulnerable populations, including the elderly, the sick, or babies less than 6 months of age who are too young for vaccination.
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