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Advertising for the flu vaccine is everywhere: public transportation, on the internet and on posters in pharmacy windows. Many pharmacies are even offering free and discounted flu shots, and most medical insurances cover the full cost of the shot. All the signs point towards getting the vaccine being your best bet to avoid contracting the flu, but just how effective is the flu vaccine?
The short answer according to Matthew Arredondo, M.D. an Urgent Care physician with Inspira Health: It depends. “While the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary for many reasons, I encourage my patients to get the shot which is an important tool against the flu,” says Arredondo. “I want my patients to understand that the shot is an important first step in fighting the flu throughout the season but there are other steps we all need to take along with getting the shot every year.”
A variety of different factors go into determining how effective the flu vaccine will be for an individual. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies two major factors that affect the vaccine’s benefits, or lack thereof. The first of those factors is the individual receiving the vaccine, as effectiveness varies for different age brackets as well as different levels of physical health.
The second major factor is how well the strains of flu viruses that are active in the community “match” with the strains that the vaccine was designed to protect. The “match” changes from year to year, as manufacturers of the vaccine attempt to determine which strains will be most prevalent.
The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months gets vaccinated on an annual basis, as even if the strains aren’t a good “match,” there are other benefits that come along with getting vaccinated.
Edward Pirolli, D.O., a primary care physician with Inspira, also recommends the flu vaccine to his patients. “The influenza vaccine may prevent people from contracting influenza. Even if one were to contract the flu despite being vaccinated, the severity of symptoms is significantly reduced compared to people who are unvaccinated, and recovery is generally quicker.” explains Pirolli. “And, just like other vaccinations, being vaccinated against the flu is beneficial to those around you, as your body is less likely to hold the disease in a dormant state.”
“In past years, studies have shown that being vaccinated against the flu sharply reduces the risk of being hospitalized with a flu-related illness by roughly 40 percent,” adds Dr. Arredondo.
Dr. Pirolli notes “Complications from influenza may include severe dehydration, pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections, and even death. Groups at highest risk for these complications include children, pregnant women, patients with chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, and heart failure, and those over age 65. Anyone who has been infected may potentially transmit the virus to those who are at higher risk, putting them at risk for serious illness. Protecting yourself by vaccinating also protects your family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers on the street.”
In addition to getting vaccinated, both Inspira physicians stress the importance of the other steps you can take to protect yourself against the flu include covering your mouth when you cough, washing your hands frequently and not sharing food-related items such as forks or cups without properly washing them first.