Importance and value of the flu vaccine

November 17, 2011 By Camilo N. Echanique, M.D., FACP

By now you've likely seen plenty of notice about availability of flu shots. The flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the flu and vaccination is the main tool used to protect people from influenza.

So your body has enough time to “process” the vaccine to protect from the flu virus, it's best to get your shot before the height of flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot be received before December. This year's vaccine, like most, is targeted toward protecting against the three influenzas that are projected to be most active during flu season which can stretch into May. Most of us get a flu shot, typically in the arm, but some people prefer a nasal vaccine which is available for people ages 2 through 49 but not available for pregnant women. It's important to note that whether the vaccine is received via shot or nasal spray, neither mode causes the flu.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that people 6 months and older get the flu vaccine and especially these groups of people since they're either at higher risk of flu complications or care for others who may be at high risk: pregnant women; children younger than 5; people age 50 and older; those with chronic conditions like diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease; and people who live or care for those in long-term care facilities. Those who should not get a flu vaccine without first speaking with their doctor are people who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs; have had a prior reaction to influenza vaccine; have a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome; are sick with fever; and children younger than 6 months old.

While most people don't have side effects from the flu vaccine, the CDC notes that minor ones from a flu shot that could last up to two days after receiving the vaccine are soreness, redness, or swelling at shot site, low-grade fever and aches. Since the nasal spray contains weakened viruses, side effects may differ from those after the shot and ones common to children and adults are runny nose and headache. Certainly vaccine side effects do not compare with flu symptoms and for that reason protection against the flu is strongly recommended for your personal well-being, that of your family and the community.

Dr. Echanique is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff. He is board-certified in internal medicine. For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 800.321.6244.