Why We Think Flu Vax Gives Us Flu (But We’re Wrong)

17 12 2015

My Uncle Wayne will swear that, in 2008, he was vaccinated against flu and within a week was laid up in bed with—yes—a case of flu.

A lot of us believe that getting the flu vaccine will infect us with flu, and here’s why that idea is so common (and so wrong):

Reason 1
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective in our bodies. If we’re exposed to a flu virus anytime just before or after our vaccination, our bodies are on their own.

Getting vaccinated and then getting the flu . . . it’s really just a matter of timing. Coincidence. The two events happen around the same time – getting vaccinated against flu and getting infected with flu – but one doesn’t cause the other.

Reason 2
Around this time of year, flu is what we hear about. The public health people are out in full force to get us vaccinated against the prevailing flu viruses. It’s called cold and flu season, but flu is the star.

But, there are cold germs and other viruses floating around that cause symptoms similar to flu symptoms. Our default thinking is that we have flu, but the reality may be that we have a bad cold, which also stinks, but is not influenza. So, it’s a misdiagnosis.

Reason 3
There are many flu viruses floating around the world. Each year, the World Health Organization and others try to determine which viruses will be dominant during that particular flu season. Sometimes they’re wrong, and the available flu vaccines, which were made to fight those specific flu viruses, don’t do a good job of protecting us from what’s really out there.

Reason 4
No vaccine protects 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. It’s possible to get vaccinated against the flu strains currently in your area and still end up with flu because, for whatever reason, the vaccine simply did not protect you.

Reason 5
You cannot get flu from the flu vaccine because it’s made to prevent that very thing from happening.

The flu vaccines that are delivered through a needle are made from totally dead flu viruses, or tiny specks of deconstructed flu viruses.

There is not a spark of infectivity left in them.

The flu vaccine that is sprayed up the nose has live flu virus in it. But, and it’s a big-sized but, the virus in this vaccine is weakened to such an extent that it can’t make you be sick.

So there we are.

The flu vaccines protect many people. Getting vaccinated is a good idea, and one you should discuss with your provider.

To help prevent infection, get vaccinated as we discussed, and keep your hands clean all day. Try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes with hands that might not be clean. Those areas are prime spots for disease transmission.

See you on the other side of cold and flu season!



by Trish Parnell

Ask Emily

27 10 2011

I got a flu vaccine one year and ended up getting the flu anyway. Doesn’t that mean the vaccine doesn’t work?

Influenza viruses are notorious for constantly changing. Making vaccines against them is also notoriously difficult because it requires several months of advance preparation before the viral doses can be ready.

If you’ve heard of “bird flu,” you may realize that flu viruses flourish pretty well in the bird-related environment, and vaccine developers grow their viruses within fertilized chicken eggs (that’s why you’ll be asked if you’re allergic to egg proteins). Every vaccine requires about three eggs to yield sufficient (killed) virus, which translates into millions of chicken eggs (i.e., making 300 million vaccine doses would require 900 million eggs).

It also translates into six months of lead time for producing the viruses required to make the vaccine. To find out more about the current year’s strain selection, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, which offer comprehensive information about influenza vaccines.

That advanced lead time means a delay between growing the viral strains authorities have determined may be most prevalent in the upcoming flu season and the actual arrival of the current season’s viruses. Experts can keep an eye on how flu goes in the southern hemisphere’s winter and use that as a gauge for which strains may be most prominent during winter in the northern hemisphere, but there’s no real guarantee that the viral strains pinpointed as most likely for a given season will turn out to be an accurate prediction.

The global surveillance network consists of 130 centers in 101 countries monitoring which strains are most prevalent. These are the people who try to predict months ahead of time which patterns of infection will prevail in a given geographic area.

So, it’s possible to be vaccinated against the flu and still get the flu. Why? Because if you’re exposed to a circulating strain that’s not included in this year’s vaccination mix, then you’re not vaccinated against catching that particular form of the virus. The good news is, the predictions generally turn out to be pretty on target, preventing most people who receive a vaccine from developing influenza.

Keep in mind that even if the vaccine misses a circulating strain, if you choose not to be vaccinated, you can contract influenza more than once in a season if you’re exposed to two different circulating strains.

Final answer? Yes, you can receive a flu vaccine and still come down with the flu. But that doesn’t mean the vaccine didn’t work. It did work against the strain it targeted, and if it hadn’t, you might’ve had to go through that misery more than once. So, get the influenza vaccine as indicated. It will certainly prevent infection from the strains it targets, and at the least can save you half the misery of flu season.

Do you have a question for Emily? Send it to: pkids@pkids.org

By Emily Willingham

Don’t Wait – Vaccinate!

20 12 2010

(courtesy of CDC)

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. Even healthy adults 19 through 24 years of age should get vaccinated.

Life can get pretty hectic sometimes. Whether it’s school, work, or your social life, you probably think you have other, more important things to do than get vaccinated against the flu. Last season, the flu attacked adults 19-24 years of age much more than usual, which resulted in missed classes, missed work, and far worse–trips to the ER, hospitalization, or even death.

Fortunately, there’s a quick and easy way for you to protect yourself, and to keep from spreading the flu to friends and family. Get a flu vaccine. One shot or nasal spray will help protect you against the three strains of virus predicted to cause illness this season—including the 2009 H1N1 strain, which is still circulating.

If you think you don’t have time to get vaccinated, think again! It’s easier than ever to get a flu vaccine.  And if you ’re healthy, you can get the nasal spray if you’re afraid of needles! You usually don’t even need a doctor’s appointment. Most pharmacies, drugstores, and supermarkets offer walk-in clinics that are usually very quick and have convenient hours.  In addition, most university clinics offer free or reduced-price flu vaccination for students. But the longer you wait, the longer the lines are likely to be. Flu vaccine is now available in various locations. So don’t wait–vaccinate.

The few minutes it will take you to get a flu vaccine is much shorter than the days you might have to take off from school, work, or both if you get sick with the flu. It takes about two weeks to build immunity against flu, so it’s important to act now in order to be fully protected by the time flu outbreaks begin. By immunizing yourself against flu you’ll help protect your family, friends, classmates, and co-workers, too.

For more information, visit http://www.flu.gov/, http://www.cdc.gov/flu or call 1‐800‐CDC‐INFO (800‐232‐4636).