When the Flu Shot Doesn’t Do Its Job
1. People may be exposed to an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect them.
2. People may become ill from other (non-flu) viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus).
3. A person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different influenza viruses that circulate every year. The flu shot protects against the 3 viruses that research suggests will be most common.
4. Unfortunately, some people can get infected with an influenza vaccine virus despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by influenza vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. However, even among people who tend to respond less well to vaccination, the flu vaccine can still help prevent influenza. Vaccination is particularly important for people at high risk of serious flu-related complications and for close contacts of high-risk people
Who Shouldn’t Get Vaccinated
The CDC recommends individuals with any of the following 5 issues to speak with their doctor before getting s flu shot:
1. People with Egg Allergies. As stated above, the flu vaccine is harvested using chicken eggs, so individuals with an egg allergy cannot be vaccinated unless administered under careful conditions by a qualified physician.
2. Individuals with Previous Negative Reactions. Individuals who have reacted negatively to previous flu vaccinations should proceed with caution and consult their physician to avoid a reoccurrence.
3. People with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). GBS is a rare-yet-severe disorder where a person’s immune system attacks their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and possible paralysis. Between 3,000 and 6,000 individuals develop GBS each year in the United States; the disorder usually goes away after a few weeks. In very rare cases, individuals may develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome several days after receiving a flu shot.
4. Anyone with a Fever at the Time of Vaccination. Doctors and nurses have an obligation not to administer flu vaccinations to individuals who are already sick and have a fever.
5. Children 6 Months or Younger. Very young children have especially weak immune defenses, so they are not permitted to obtain a flu shot of any form (nasally or injected).
Alternatives to the Flu Shot
- Flu Medications: Either over-the-counter or prescription antiviral medications can be used within the first few days of experiencing flu symptoms
- Exercise (Especially Aerobics): Boosts immune system and decreases chance of developing illness
- Sleep: Get six to eight hours a day for optimum results
- Healthy Diet: Nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables
- Vitamin Supplements: Vitamins C & D are particularly important
- Preventive Measures: Wash hands, cover mouth when coughing/sneezing, etc.
The influenza vaccination has been shrouded in controversy since its introduction in the mid-1900s. With the information we’ve provided, you can make an informed decision and decide for yourself whether you’ll be waiting in the flu shot line this year.
This article was reviewed and approved by Dr. Holly Lucille.
Parental vaccine concerns in Kentucky. The Journal of the Kentucky Medical Association, September 2009.
Evidence-based medicine and the governance of pandemic influenza. Global Public Health, October 2012.
Seasonal influenza immunization in early infancy? BMC Public Health, October 2012.
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