Will the flu shot help you?

Brandon Paykamian • Dec 14, 2017 at 12:14 AM

Though reports suggest this year’s flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective against a mutated strain of the virus, health care professionals in Tennessee are still urging people to get their shots.

An examination of flu cases in Australia, used because the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season is earlier than in the north, charted a record number of cases of illness, indicating the vaccine used this year doesn’t work as well as in other years.

“The influenza vaccine is still proven to be the best protection we have against the flu and I urge everyone six months and older to get a flu shot now,” Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said in a recent press release.

According to the state Department of Health, Tennessee typically sees the highest number of flu cases in January and February, and while the vaccine does not ensure immunity to influenza, it does help reduce the chance of getting sick.

Though the vaccine is not completely effective, some local Johnson City Press readers weighed in on social media and said they still plan to get the flu shot.

“Get it every year. Ten percent is better than zero percent,” David King wrote.

“I go with the scientists on this and take the vaccine and practice good hand-washing techniques,” Mischele Hart wrote.

But others are not convinced.

“I was a teacher for 20+ years… never caught the flu... so I am against the drug companies getting rich off of yesterday's flus,” Nadine Anna wrote.

“Never had one after the flu shot almost killed my mother. I have been fine. I’ve never had the flu, don't plan on getting one,” Davi Sweeny wrote.

Despite the debate, Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention for Mountain States Health Alliance, still highly recommends getting a flu shot before the season sets in.

“A common myth is that the flu shot can give you the flu,” she said in a recent press release from Mountain States Health Alliance urging local residents to receive the vaccine. “That is absolutely false. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Instead, the flu vaccine acts by allowing your immune system to create the ability to fight the flu in case you are exposed.

“When your immune system kicks into gear making antibodies, your body’s natural response can involve fatigue, soreness and even mild fever. This is your immune system doing its job, and should only last a day or so. Most people have no reaction at all, other than mild soreness in the arm where the shot was administered.”

The flu shot is recommended for everyone over 6 months old, especially pregnant women, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems — not only to prevent catching the flu, but also prevent its spread.

Swift added that influenza is a serious illness, and every year, local health care providers see multiple deaths as a result. Since October, Mountain States said they’ve encountered more than 80 cases of the flu.

She agreed with King that “10 percent is better than zero percent” when it comes to the effectiveness of the vaccination, and even if the vaccine is not as effective against one strain, it could be more effective against another.

“It most likely will be true, but we don’t want people to say, ‘Well, I might as well not get vaccinated.’ It still will provide protection,” she said. “I think the biggest thing with that 10 percent is that it comes from the effectiveness in Australia, but so far you can’t measure its effectiveness in the US.”

At the very least, she said the vaccine can help make flu symptoms milder. 

“We know that if you’re vaccinated for the flu and exposed, your symptoms are typically more mild,” she said.

After getting the flu vaccine, it’s still important to practice good health habits to protect yourself from the flu and other viruses, and to prevent spreading them to others if you do get sick. Swift said the recommended practices, combined with the vaccine, can help folks stay flu-free.

To avoid the flu:

• Wash hands frequently with soap and water for about 20 seconds,

• Always cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve or a tissue, and

• Stay home from work, school or other gatherings when sick to help prevent the spread of flu or other illnesses.

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