January 11, 2013

The Efficacy Of The Flu Shot

Back in December, I wrote a blog about the early flu season this year. In it I explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that the best way to combat the flu is to get the flu shot, and though this is the absolute truth, there are a few things to know about the flu shot and its effectiveness.

National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported about people getting the flu even after taking the flu shot. Let’s look at why that could have happened.

First of all, the flu vaccine is not perfect. In fact, according to the NPR report, each year the flu vaccination has only about a 60 percent effectiveness rate. This is because scientists must do a lot of guess work to determine what three strains of the flu might be the culprits for any given year.

Because the flu shot is a guesstimate, it may not combat all of the flu viruses out there thus people get the flu even though they have had the flu shot. The good news for this year is that the flu vaccine is a very good match for this year’s strains of the flu.

The fact that the flu shot is only 60 percent effective also means that it just will not work for some individuals. If you have ever been one of those who went through the process of getting the shot, then healing from it (because it hurts, can make you achy, and can cause a low-grade fever), yet you still got the flu, then likely you will be less willing to go through it all again. If it does not work once, then that makes it harder to convince individuals to go get one again.

Another reason that someone might still get the flu is that she was either already exposed to the virus prior to getting the shot or she was exposed in the time that it takes for the protection of the flu shot to kick in, which requires two weeks.

Sometimes it takes a few days for flu symptoms to kick in. If an individual has been exposed to the flu but gets a flu vaccination in that time, that person will likely still come down with the flu. The flu vaccine does not cure the flu when one has it; the flu vaccine works to protect us from contracting it. It does not matter if a person gets the shot if one has already been exposed to the virus.

The same is true of exposure during the two weeks it takes for the vaccination to take effect. In that two weeks individuals may still get the flu because the vaccine has not settled in to protect against it. Again, it does not cure the flu. It only protects against it.

Finally, the flu is not the only virus with respiratory symptoms, so someone might get the flu shot that protects them from the flu virus but still come down with another virus that has similar symptoms. It’s not always the flu that makes us achy, feverish, and even nauseous.

Despite all of this, doctors and scientists alike still promote the flu vaccinations for all those who can get one. The CDC states that the only individuals who should not get the flu shot are those who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs, had a serious reaction to previous flu shots, or have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

I feel bittersweet on this topic. First, I know the statistics and information about the flu shot and its importance in keeping people healthy, but I am also weary of too much vaccination. I believe we should take control of our health, but I also think that sometimes we have to let our bodies naturally build immunity. Here is where the balance between Western Medicine and Nature really battles within me.

And, frankly, I had two bad experiences with the flu shot. In the early 2000s, I took one and still got the flu. As stated above, I either was exposed to it prior to getting the shot, got exposure during the two weeks, or it just did not work for me. I do not know which it was, but I do know that I got the flu…bad.

However, I didn’t let that keep me from getting a shot the next year. That’s when I had a serious reaction to the flu shot. I do not know why I didn’t have one the first year, but I most definitely did the second. I was out of breath, lightheaded, pale, and dizzy almost immediately after getting the shot. Luckily, I was at my general practitioner’s office who immediately saw what was happening and helped me.

For me, the flu shot is not an option. So I try to keep my immune system healthy through diet and exercise. I also try to keep away from the flu as best as I can. I obviously cannot protect myself 100 percent, but I do my best. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had the flu in my life, so I must be doing something right. Even though the flu vaccine did not work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for others.

The flu shot is something that we all must consider for our own health. Know your health and take control. Talk to your doctor about getting the shot.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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