National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) is a national awareness week that focuses on stressing the importance of getting your influenza vaccination. This year, the event falls on December 4-11, 2021.
What Is the Influenza?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Generally, most people experience mild symptoms that usually go away within 1-2 weeks. However, some people have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms/complications. Those in the high-risk category include:
- Adults 65 years and older
- Adults with chronic health conditions
- Young children (including infants)
- People with disabilities
While influenza activity is on a national low, the CDC states that its surveillance system continues to detect slow but steady increases in the flu.
There are two main types of influenza viruses: Types A and B. Type A influenza can infect both humans and animals (such as birds and pigs). It constantly changes and is primarily responsible for causing large flu epidemics. Influenza A can also be further divided into different subtypes.
Meanwhile, type B only infects humans. It may cause less severe symptoms than type B, but it can still cause harm. Influenza B is not divided into subtypes and does not cause pandemics.
Both are extremely contagious, and people who are sick can spread the disease whenever they cough or sneeze near someone within 6 feet. Both viruses also spread if you come in contact with a surface that has the virus, and then you touch your mouth or nose.
What Can Help with Influenza?
Everyday Preventative Actions
There are many preventative actions to take to help protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick. These include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are already sick.
- If you are sick, try to limit your contact with others as much as possible. Stay at home from work/school. Try to stay within one area of your living space if you live with others.
- Cover your cough and sneezes.
- This means covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or the crook of your elbow. Never with your hands! Throw away any tissues you use in the trash afterward.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. If you do not have access to soap, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
- For the flu, the CDC recommends you stay at home at least 24 hours after your fever disappears (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).
- Take any medications your doctor prescribes to you.
However, the CDC states that the annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu and potentially severe complications. It is recommended for everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine.
What Are Some Misconceptions Around The Vaccine?
There is still lots of misconceptions and misinformation surrounding the flu/influenza and the flu shot. Oftentimes, this even comes from our own family and friends. Below we list some common misconceptions around the vaccine.
Myth: The vaccine gives you the flu.
The vaccine does not cause the flu. Flu vaccines are made with inactivated (killed) viruses- or with a single protein of the flu virus. However, it is not enough to cause an infection.
The nasals spray does contain live viruses, but they are weakened and cannot cause illness.
It is common to experience symptoms related to the flu. You may experience tenderness or redness in the area you got your shot. Or you may develop body aches, a mild fever, or a runny nose. However, this does not mean that you got sick with the virus.
Myth: It is better to get sick with flu than get the flu vaccine.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or death. One can never know how the infection will affect them. While you may not be as likely to develop severe complications, there are people around you who may be at high-risk. Influenza can be a serious disease among young children, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions and low immune systems.
Myth: You don’t really need the vaccine every year.
In order to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu, you need to get your vaccine every year. As time passes, the vaccine becomes less effective. Also, the vaccines’ composition usually changes every year to provide the best protection. Flu viruses are always changing, so they are usually updated to best protect people against the strain circulating that season.
Myth: I’m young and healthy, so I don’t need to get the flu shot.
It is recommended that everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine shot. Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to other severe illnesses such as pneumonia.
Even if you are healthy, you can still spread the virus to other people who are at high risk of being hospitalized or dying.
Also, keep in mind, anyone can contract influenza. Even if you are healthy, you can still get sick. Especially during the flu season, there is an increased chance that you will come into contact with someone who is sick (or a contaminated surface).
Myth: I’m pregnant so I can’t get the flu vaccine.
The CDC highly recommends that pregnant women get their flu vaccine. Pregnant women have a high risk of developing severe complications from influenza. An infant is also susceptible to contracting and developing severe complications from the flu. Therefore, the flu vaccine will help protect both mother and child. Studies also show that the flu shot protects the baby for a few months after delivery. These findings are important considering that infants younger than 6 months cannot get the flu shot.
Myth: I got the flu after getting the shot, which means it must not work.
Some people think they are sick with the flu but are really suffering from another respiratory disease (such as rhinovirus). These viruses usually cause symptoms that are similar to the flu.
It is also possible that you were exposed to influenza before the vaccine was able to kick in. Usually, it takes the body up to two weeks to develop immune protection after receiving the flu vaccine.
People may also get sick from a flu virus that was not included in that year’s shot.
It is also the case that flu vaccines vary on how well they work. Some people still end up getting sick after receiving their shot. Again, this depends on a person’s immune system and the strains that are spreading during that season. Nonetheless, vaccinated people usually experience a reduction in the severity of illness than those who are unvaccinated.
Myth: The vaccine causes lots of side effects.
Some people may experience mild side effects from the vaccine (usually soreness and tenderness around the injection site). However, that does not defeat the fact that the flu shot has been tested throughout many clinical trials and has a great safety record.
Myth: It is common to have a severe reaction.
Serious allergic reactions are rare. If they do occur, they usually happen within a couple of minutes to a few hours after vaccinations (which means that you and your healthcare provider can be on guard). While these reactions can be life-threatening if left untreated, there are many treatments available to help.
Myth: If I get vaccinated two I increase my immunity.
As of right now, there is no sufficient evidence that shows any benefits of getting more than one dose of the flu shot within the same influenza season. Not even in elderly people or those with weakened immune systems. Only one dose is recommended for each flu season.
What Are the Benefits in Getting Vaccinated?
There are multiple benefits to getting your flu/influenza vaccine every year. The CDC website goes more into depth, and they even provide evidence by referring back to various studies. However, here is a brief overview of how the vaccine can help:
- The flu vaccine can keep you from getting sick.
- According to the CDC, during 2019-2020, the flu vaccine has prevented about 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits, 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths.
- It can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization.
- According to the CDC, during 2019-2020, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
- It helps protect pregnant people during and after pregnancy.
- It can be lifesaving for children.
- It not only protects you but also those around you.
- This season the CDC states that the flu vaccines are designed to protect against four flu viruses that research dictates will be the most common this flu season.
- It is a vital preventive tool for those with chronic health conditions.
- Those with heart disease can experience a lower chance of developing some cardiac events.
- The vaccine can also reduce the risk of a flu-related worsening of chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
- Those with diabetes or chronic lung disease have a reduced level of hospitalization from a worsening of their chronic conditions.
Brought to you by Febo Health