By Taylor Liu, Volunteer Blog Contributor
As Fall rolls around, so do the sniffles. With the weather starting to cool , you may find yourself wondering, “Should I get the flu shot?” The short answer is yes, yes, yes! But before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s take a look at a few common questions you may have about the flu vaccine:
What is a vaccine?
The short answer: A vaccine is a preparatory mechanism for your immune system. It basically presents dead viruses, or parts of a virus, to your immune system so it can get familiar with the virus and start producing antibodies in preparation for a possible infection.
What is the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a deadly virus that has many types and variations. The capacity of this virus to develop different variations of itself is nearly endless, and it’s part of what makes it so deadly.
Why do I have to get the flu shot every year?
Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) observes common flu infections in the Southern Hemisphere during their winter to develop the vaccine for our current flu season. Since the flu virus has a high capacity for changing, as well as many different variations, it becomes important that we get the flu vaccine each year to match with what may be more infectious.
What does quadrivalent mean?
You may hear this term come up when you’re getting the flu shot, and it refers to the design of the vaccine. The quadrivalent flu vaccine is made to protect against four different types of the flu: two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. This allows for greater protection against different types of flu viruses. It may also be reassuring to know that developed immunity against certain strains may help to promote immunity for other, non-vaccinated strains.
Why do I still get sick even though I’ve gotten the flu shot?
This is a bit of a tricky question, since the symptoms that the influenza virus presents frequently coincide with a number of other possible infections during the colder seasons, such as rhinovirus (common cold), and mild pneumococcal infections (pneumonia). A lot of these illnesses involve fevers, chills, and coughing, all symptoms that can be misperceived as the flu. So while you may suffer from fever and coughing, the direct cause may not actually be the influenza virus. If it does turn out to be the flu virus however, we need to remember that the flu vaccine is preparatory and not necessarily preventative. This means it helps to prepare your immune system more than it can do to prevent an infection.
Naturally, if your immune system is strong enough, the vaccine will help reinforce and prevent infection. If you do end up infected however, the flu vaccine helped prepare your immune system, so the length and intensity of the infection should be significantly less compared to if you didn’t get the shot. In 2018 alone, 80,000 people died from the flu, and a majority of those deaths were preventable had they gotten a flu shot. The flu vaccine may not be very effective in preventing infection, but it is very effective in preventing death, especially in patients 65 and older.
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