Understanding the Flu Shot
It’s that time of the year again, everyone around you is getting sick and you start to see “get your flu shot” advertisements everywhere. However, just because it’s everywhere doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your due diligence and investigate what you are putting in your body and finding out exactly what the “Flu shot” is. Lucky for you we have done the work and compiled a guide of everything you need to know about flu shots.
- Origin of the Flu Shot
- Common myths about the flu shot
- How does the Flu shot affect your body?
- Potential side effects
- What are the benefits of the Flu shot?
- Complementary tips to avoid the flu
- Where to get the flu shot
Origin of the Flu Shot
The history of the flu shot originated from the United States, during the 1918 “influenza Pandemic” when they realized that bacteria was not what caused the influenza disease otherwise known as “the flu”. It was finally confirmed in 1933 from multiple researchers that the flu came from influenza virus types A, B, and sometimes C. The first official vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis in 1938, in preparation against the flu for the U.S military fighting in World War II. However, the vaccines made in between the 1940-1960s occasionally caused fever and fatigue, which are similar symptoms to the flu. For this reason, the flu shot was often misconstrued as causing the flu virus when it was merely short-term side effects.
The first time in history where the flu shot was taken by the mass general public was in 1979, in a program designed to stop the “swine flu outbreak”. During this year around 25% of the population in the United States received a flu vaccination. At this time people started to associate getting the vaccine with a small increase in chance to get the Guillain-Barre syndrome which was a severe neurological condition. This risk however was later estimated to be a one in a nine case per million doses of vaccine. With this scare, public researchers focused on making the flu shots safer and continually developed them year after year. One of the biggest developments was to make it safe for people with egg allergies because of how the flu shot was being extracted from chicken eggs. Another development was capturing the vaccination in a nasal spray form to make it easier for children and people that are fearful of needles.
Here are some common myths about the flu shot:
Common Myths about the Flu Shot
- The flu shot can give me the flu
This is the biggest misconception of the flu shot. This dates back to the 1940s-1960’s where the side effects were severe fever and fatigue compared to today’s vaccines with mild symptoms of fever and fatigue. The vaccine can take up to 2 weeks to protect your body against the flu so if you do have the flu it is very likely that you have been exposed to the virus before or during the 2 weeks. However, the vaccine helps protect against different types of flu and does not guarantee complete protection since new viruses can be introduced to the body at any time.
- I Don’t need the flu shot because I got one last year
Every year the potential virus strains are different. That is why the flu vaccines are yearly because the vaccine is particularly made for viruses that may be around for the current season. If it’s the same vaccine as last year – which is unlikely – you should still get the flu shot because vaccines wear out over time (think of it like an expiry date).
- I Can’t get the flu shot because I have an egg allergy
Have you ever wondered why when you fill out the application form to receive a flu shot it asks if you have an allergic reaction to eggs? That is because in 2013, the flu shot developers would cultivate the viruses in eggs and extract it back from the egg. However good news! Now there is a vaccine called FLUBLOK that is cell based, cutting out the need for the eggs meaning there’s no reason why you can’t get a flu shot.
People often think that it is too late to get the flu shot and there’s no point if the “season” has passed. This is a myth because if healthcare providers have the option to give the flu shot than you’re not too late! The flu virus is unpredictable and can show up anytime with the peak season being January – March.
This is thought by many people because the symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be similar, such as having a sore throat, stuffy nose and cough. This may sound like it’s the same however the difference is that people are hospitalized because of the flu every year. So it’s better to be safe than sorry, as you are better protected with the flu vaccine than nothing at all.
How does the Flu Shot affect your body?
The Flu shot is normally injected into the muscle of your arm but can be offered as a nasal spray in some cases, depending on availability from vaccine manufacturers. The Flu shots are composed of the potential flu viruses mixed with the components that kill the viruses in your body. The point of the vaccine is to introduce your body to the virus strain so that if you do come into contact with the virus, your body will recognize the strain and defend against it.
Every year the Canadian Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts studies to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine against the flu. Since the vaccine is composed of different strains every year, it can range in terms of effectiveness depending on the prediction of the viruses. In general, flu vaccines have been proven to reduce the risk of catching the flu from 40% – 60% effectiveness.
The Vaccines effectiveness on the body also depends on multiple factors such as the age and health of a person and if the virus is the same strain as the one in the flu shot. The age and health of a person makes a difference in the effectiveness because if you have a good immune system, this will increase the strength of the vaccine and prevent it from entering your body. The second factor is if the same strain is not in the vaccination, then your body won’t be able to fight against the new foreign strain and the vaccine will be little to no help defending against it.
Potential side effects
Since the vaccine contains parts of the virus, your body is working to understand what came into your body and sometimes this can result in the following side effects.
- Instant Reaction
- This can occur immediately or a short time after getting the vaccination and is typically noticeable in the area of where the needle was injected. This can show in multiple ways such as redness, warmth and sometimes even swelling but this should subside in less than a couple of days.
- Body pain and aches
- Sometimes the muscle in the arm and even your body can feel sore or ache for a couple of days after the shot. It is recommended to have plenty of rest and restrain from heavy physical labour.
- Faint and Dizziness
- For some people, getting needles in general may cause the feeling of dizziness and fainting. For others it may be due to not having enough food before getting the shot. If this has happened in the past, make sure you tell the vaccine administrator to ensure all the proper precautions are taken.
- A Fever is a common side effect that can occur directly after the flu shot as long as it is 38°C or less. This should last no longer then a day or two. If, however the fever is persistent past a couple of days or is higher than 38°C, call your doctor as soon as possible.
What are the benefits of a flu shot?
Receiving a flu vaccine helps prevent millions of illnesses and flu related issues every year. According to the CDC the vaccines are associated with lower rates of cardiac arrests for those that have heart conditions. The flu shot is also safe and tested for pregnant women and reduces the chance of the flu by 50%. With children, the flu shot can potentially save their lives if they were to catch the flu because the symptoms are worse on your body when you are a child.
Every year there are new influenza virus strains that are airborne and health researchers update the vaccine every season to combat the new ones. This is why it is important to continuously get the flu shot every year to protect against the new potential viruses. Every year the government of Canada updates their site on which Influenza types the vaccine will help protect against.
Complementary tips to avoid the flu
- Wash your hands frequently
- Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly for a minimum of 15 seconds during flu season
- If you do not have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer instead
- Disinfect and clean everything
- Whether it is your phone screen or your computer keyboard there is bacteria everywhere and by not disinfecting things you touch every day the bacteria will multiply and can make you sick.
- Avoid touching your face
- The flu virus is most commonly entered into your system by touching your face such as your eyes, nose and mouth.
- If your sick stay at home
- Save your friends and coworkers from getting sick, if you are not sure if you have a cold or the flu. It is dangerous simply because viruses spread easier in group settings.
- Protect others when you cough or sneeze
- If you are feeling sick and have to go in to work, take some cautionary steps to avoid giving the same to your coworkers. This can be done by covering your cough or sneeze with your sleeve and throwing away any used tissues right after you use them.
Where to get the Flu Shot?
The Flu shot is offered in a lot of places all across Canada with the most common being at your local clinic or from your family doctor. Some other places can be; participating pharmacies like shoppers drug mart and sometimes even at your own workplace! Ask your employer if there is going to be flu shots provided at work to save you time. Here at Closing the Gap healthcare we offer corporate wellness programs like corporate flu clinics to benefit both the employers and employees. See below for a list of places to get your vaccination today:
- Family Physicians
- Walk in Clinics
- Urgent Care Clinics
- Local Pharmacies
- At your Workplace
Now that you are more informed about what the flu shot is and how it affects you and your body, it is time to decide. The vaccinations are regulated by the CDC and offered by the Canadian government in hopes of preventing hospitalization and deaths from the flu every year. Remember to refer back to this guide before every “flu season” to help refresh your mind on tips and information about the flu shot!