Flu shot 101: Get the basics on why to vaccinate — or not — against the virus
Special to the Daily
• During the 2015-16 season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the flu vaccine prevented 5 million cases of the flu, the same amount of people who fly through Denver International Airport in a month.
• Although, during the same time, the CDC estimates 25 million people, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, developed the flu.
• Of this number, 11 million cases needed medical care and 310,000 people were admitted to the hospital.
• 12,000 people died from flu complication during this same timeframe.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Local flu clinics
• City Market Pharmacy, West Vail, 970-476-1621
• Eagle Valley Pharmacy at the Vail Valley Medical Center, Vail, 970-479-7253
• Edwards Pharmacy in the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, Edwards, 970-569-7676
Cold and flu season is upon us, and although living in a bustling ski town filled with people from around the world can make us a bit more susceptible to the seasonal virus, building up immunity, a flu shot and maintaining a level of basic hygiene can all be useful in warding off the bug.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses with symptoms ranging from fever, cough and sore throat to runny nose, body aches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Many people recover from instances of the flu in a matter of days to a couple of weeks — in more severe cases — although some cases of flu can lead to pneumonia or have complications that result in hospitalization or death.
Some demographics are more prone to the flu; elderly people, children and people with lowered immune systems all are more likely to see instances of severe flu symptoms if it’s contracted.
Really anyone who comes in contact with lots of people during flu season — school children, teachers and the vast majority of people working within food, beverage or hospitality settings in Vail and Beaver Creek — all are more inclined to experience the flu, especially with guests from around the country and world boarding planes or using public transportation to get to the Vail Valley.
The flu vaccine can differ each year in potency, as well, making some people wary of getting a shot that might not cover a strain that will make them ill. Sometimes, the vaccine that’s circulated is a good match for the strains of influenza that end up making the global rounds, and other times, different strains might be more prevalent, making the vaccine not quite as potent, although still effective for many.
The CDC points to some mild side effects, such as muscle soreness, that can come with getting the shot, although the vast majority of people who choose to get vaccinated don’t experience these side effects, with statistics from the CDC showing more serious side effects being a rare occurrence.
Many people around this time of year choose to get vaccinated against the flu, and many others don’t. There are sides to each argument, although most health care professionals and the CDC recommend getting the preventative treatment for flu season.
“The biggest reason is that it’s protective for the community, although the people that are going to be least susceptible tend to be the middle-aged group that do not have kids, but once you put a teacher in their midst you have a higher risk, so there aren’t many people that we would advise not to have a flu vaccine,” said Tania Engle, a physician’s assistant at Vail Valley Medical Center.
Some people cite cases where they — or people they know — have gotten sick shortly after receiving the flu shot as reason not to get it, although most clinicians say those cases are rare and may be related to another illness that coincides with lowered immunity as opposed to a flu virus from a flu shot.
“The biggest complaint I tend to have is that people got the vaccine and they got sick afterwards, and if your immune system is down and then you get the vaccine, there is a slight probability that you’ll get ill, but that’s not typical, and if you do get sick, it’s most likely not related,” Engle said, before adding that most people are pretty receptive to coming in for a shot.
Others think that there are more holistic ways to avoid falling ill during this time of year. Deborah Wiancek, of the Natural Health Clinic in Edwards, advocates spending time prior to flu season building up the immune system with a comprehensive multivitamin and then doubling down during the winter months with other immune-system enhancers such as vitamin D and elderberry, antiviral herbs and healthy lifestyle habits to try to lessen the chances of catching a flu virus.
“Building up your immune system is the best way to protect yourself,” she said. “Eating healthy, regular exercise, reducing stress and avoiding too much sugar, watching alcohol intake and hand washing are all important to staying healthy.”
She said each year’s flu vaccine is a guess at which strains will be prevalent, and it doesn’t necessarily protect against all strains, so patients who opt to get the vaccine still have a chance of falling ill, even if they’re vaccinated.
A healthy balance
Most health professionals agree that taking some of these more holistic approaches to safeguarding against the flu is another important part of mitigating the risk for avoiding both the flu and a range of other common winter ailments.
The CDC specifically points to more at-risk groups of people as ones who, even with some strains not being covered via the year’s vaccine, might want to look into getting a vaccination, as having the odds in your favor of not getting sick can lessen the chances of developing serious complications from the flu.
Specifically, the CDC points to a 2014 study that showed that between the years of 2010 and 2012, children’s likelihood of being admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit for flu-related symptoms dropped 74 percent when a flu vaccine had been administered preventatively. They also published a study in 2016 that linked a 57 percent drop in hospitalization for people older than 50 who had received the flu vaccine.
Someone with no children who works from home might have different feelings about getting vaccinated compared with someone who touches glassware or spends time driving around the afternoon carpool. Regardless, it’s important to get all the facts about what health experts are saying about this year’s vaccine, flu season and preventative measures to reduce your risk of getting sick.
For more information on this year’s vaccine, general statistics on the flu and more in-depth analysis and research on the subject, check out the CDC’s website at cdc.gov.