INTRODUCTION: WHEN TO GET THE FLU VACCINE
It’s mid-late Autumn. Time is running out for us to share Flu Season prevention tips! This article will do that, especially providing information on the flu vaccine.
Seasonal viruses are already floating around. And on top of this, in 2020 there is also the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.
Winter in the Southern Hemisphere starts in May. The recommendation is that people start preparing for Winter, by having the annual Flu vaccine in March. In the Northern Hemisphere, Winter begins in November, so flu vaccination should ideally be done in August or September.
But the flu vaccination can still be done with a high level of efficacy up to late-Autumn. Indeed, it can be administered even after Autumn. But then the chances of building enough antibodies against the expected strains of influenza for the Winter, will be much less if vaccination is delayed.
So in those countries where there are no lockdown measures, dear Readers should try to get their annual vaccination done as soon as possible. And for those under quarantine, the vaccine should be sought as soon as possible when the restrictions are lifted.
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WHO SHOULD GET FLU SHOT?
Literally, it’s anybody who desires and does not have contraindications to the vaccination. It is advisable for all people to get the annual influenza vaccine. This is in view of the disruption, harm to the economy, morbidity and even mortality that results from influenza every year around the world.
But some people choose not to vaccinate because
- they rarely contract flu, and
- the influenza vaccine is not very cheap.
That is understandable.
There are however categories of people where annual influenza vaccination is STRONGLY recommended. These people tend to have the highest flu related mortality or serious illness. These include
- young children under the age of five,
- the elderly,
- people with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease
- People with weakened immune system e.g. due to HIV, diabetes, immune suppressive medications, also should get vaccinated against influenza annually.
- People who serve multitudes of people who may include sick people or carriers of the influenza virus, should also be vaccinated. These include Healthcare Workers, Cashiers, Tellers, etc.
- People living in institutions are also at high risk.
- Sports people are another category of people that should strongly consider annual flu vaccination. This is because if a sports or exercise person should contract a viral infection like flu and continue to exercise or partake in matches, there is a risk of a serious condition of the heart’s muscles called VIRAL MYOCARDITIS. This condition, though rare, has a very high mortality even in the best healthcare settings.
Also, if a sports person gets the flu or common cold, they may end up taking polycomponent medications. These medications are notorious for containing drugs that are not permitted in sports. For professional sports people, the expense of a flu shot is worth it, given what is at stake if one catches the flu and gets laid off.
Many Medical Aid schemes, cognisant of the losses to the world economy caused by influenza, have for a number of years been sponsoring flu vaccination.
TYPES OF FLU VACCINE
The injectable influenza vaccine comes in a very small volume of 0.5ml. Consequently it is pretty painless.
Flu vaccine can be injected into the muscles (intra-muscularly), or just under the skin (subcutaneously). The syringe and needle are very tiny devices, therefore don’t cause pain or anxiety, even in children.
Children of ages 6-35 months, get half of the normal dose of most vaccines. (Children less than 6 months old may not be vaccinated.) Children from 36 months of age, get the adult dose.
The nasal mist flu vaccine is sprayed into the nostrils. But it can only be used in ages 2 through 49. In children, the shot seems to be more effective than the nasal flu vaccine.
EFFICACY OF FLU VACCINE
It is important to emphasise that the influenza vaccine, though good, is only 70% effective. That means that 3 out of every 10 vaccine recipients, will still get influenza annually, at best. So people still have to take utmost care to protect themselves from flu.
People can protect themselves from flu by following the seasonal tips of:
- avoiding close and/or prolonged contact with people with respiratory infections,
- hand washing or using sanitisers (above link),
- not touching their faces with unclean hands,
- good nutrition,
- having good indoor ventilation, etc.
It is recommended to attend to daily intake of Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, green peppers, etc, or to take a good quality Vitamin C supplement, aiming for a minimum of 300mg daily. Links are provided above for online purchase of Vitamin C and multivitamin-multimineral preparations.
INGREDIENTS FLU VACCINE
The flu vaccine contains dead strains of influenza virus. There are many different strains or types of the flu virus.
Every year, different parts of the world are affected by different combinations of strains. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advices the different regions as to which strains to include in their vaccines for the year.
For the past decade since the advent of the H1N1 virus, the flu vaccine has incorporated the H1N1 vaccine. This has been without a significant increase in price. This has been very helpful.
The flu vaccine is synthesised using egg yolk. Therefore people with egg allergy cannot have the vaccine.
WHO SHOULD NOT RECEIVE FLU VACCINE?
The following people should not receive flu vaccine:
- people with a previous adverse reaction to flu vaccine
- people with egg allergy (above)
- children younger than six months
Should pregnant women get the flu vaccine? YES. It is strongly recommended that that they do get it.
Flu vaccine is safe in pregnancy. It poses no risk to the mother or the unborn baby. And it protects the mother from potential problems that could be caused by contracting influenza.
HOW WILL THE ONGOING COVID-19 PANDEMIC IMPACT OR BE IMPACTED BY SEASONAL FLU?
Lockdown or quarantine measures that have been instituted by many countries, mean that people will be living in close quarters more than normally. This could encourage the spread of the seasonal viruses like influenza and common cold.
But if people observe the Social Distancing messages being taught extensively, the chance of the seasonal viruses spreading, should be less than in prior years. Furthermore, there has been a massive handwashing drive, which will drastically lessen the chances of getting seasonal viruses by the hand to face route.
Acquisition of the flu vaccine has so far this year proved harder than is the norm because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has put on industry and transport. Therefore many people have not updated their flu vaccine status yet
There is as yet, no vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. So this will not be incorporated into the flu vaccine like that of H1N1.
The flu vaccine is not indicated as protection against COVID-19, and those vaccinated against influenza will still have to continue taking all precautions to avoid the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, it is advisable to vaccinate for influenza (especially in countries with a high incidence of COVID-19), so that people may not confuse the symptoms of the serious COVID-19 with influenza.
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