National Influenza Vaccination Week: Time to dispell myths

By Raymond Sobczak

Alicia Walsh, an exchange student from Swansea University in Wales, refuses to get the flu vaccine.

“I got the flu shot once when I was younger, and it made me sick,” Walsh said. “I remember not feeling right a few hours after I had gotten the shot … My mom had to call me out of school.”

When it comes to the flu shot, or influenza vaccine, there seems to be more myths spreading than the virus itself. Some, like Walsh, believe the vaccine can adversely cause sickness rather than prevent it. Still, health care centers across the nation encourage the preventive measure during every fall and winter season. But what exactly does the vaccine do?

National Influenza Vaccination Week, running Sunday to Saturday, aims to emphasize that it is still important to get the flu vaccine throughout the winter season, especially for people who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. This week can be used as an educational opportunity to learn about the truths of the influenza virus and vaccine. 

According to the Office of Women’s Health, the influenza virus “attacks the nose, throat and lungs and can cause mild to severe illness,” including pneumonia, ear and sinus problems, and in some cases, death. The virus is much worse then the common cold but often begins with the same symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “influenza viruses typically circulate widely in the United States annually from the late fall through early spring.” That makes this month the opportune time to take preventive measures.

There are actually three different types of the influenza virus, with only two causing seasonal epidemics: influenza A and B. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main difference between the two is the severity, with type A generally causing more extreme reactions and accounting for the majority of large epidemics.

This year’s influenza vaccine has now been available in the U.S. for several months, with the McKinley Health Center offering free vaccines for all students, faculty and staff. McKinley is using the Fluarix Quadrivalent vaccine, which carries four different types of dead influenza viruses. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this vaccine was approved by the FDA in December 2012. The vaccine includes two influenza A and two influenza B strains to best ensure the maximum amount of protection.

Michelle Duprey, senior in Nursing, has given out more than 200 influenza vaccinations through her clinicals and is a firm believer in the flu shot.

“I believe everyone should get a flu shot,” she said. “It is beneficial to not only them but to the people around them, especially in a college town.”

Viruses spread more quickly in college dorms because of the close contact residents have with one other, Duprey said. She advised if anyone is planning on getting an influenza vaccine, now is the best time to do so because the virus tends to spread more quickly during colder months.

Although the Flaurix Quadrivalent vaccine carries four strains of the virus, there will always be more out there because of the constantly changing nature of influenza.

“I had to get the flu shot because I work at a hospital,” said Karen Smith, a patient care technician at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. “But it doesn’t really guarantee that you wont get the flu … This is because there is no way to accurately predict what the strain of the virus is active this season.”

However, Smith said she still advises her patients to get the vaccine because there is always the chance that it will help their immune system if they contract any of those particular strains.

According to McKinley Medical Director Dr. Maureen Malee, one of the most common side effects of the vaccine is soreness in the site of injection. However, there are some other possible side effects that may appear within seven days of receiving the vaccine, including a cough, runny nose, sore throat, chills and tiredness. These are more common in adults ages 19 through 49.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, other more serious side effects may include ocular and respiratory symptoms having to do with oculorespiratory syndrome. This side effect will typically develop within 24 hours of receiving the flu vaccine and should clear up around 48 hours after symptoms begin. Such symptoms include “red eyes, cough, wheeze, chest tightness, facial swelling, difficulty breathing and sore throat.”

Though serious side effects exist, the chances of experiencing them are very low. Around 10 to 20 patients out of 1 million have experienced any of the symptoms that are listed.

Although McKinley encourages everyone to get a flu shot this season, there are certain people, or “high priority groups,” that should get the vaccine more so than everyone else. This “high priority” system is only put into effect when supplies of the flu vaccine are limited, and it includes pregnant women, those with chronic diseases, young children and the elderly.

Those looking to get the flu shot can receive a free influenza vaccine at McKinley Health Center, located at 1109 S. Lincoln Ave. in Urbana. The center offers the free service from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

According to Dr. Malee, McKinley has distributed over 10,000 flu vaccines this flu season. Malee confirmed that there are side effects to receiving the flu vaccine, as stated above; however, in her opinion, the side effects are more manageable then actually contracting the flu virus.

Raymond can be reached at [email protected]