The Flu Vaccine – Worth a Shot?

 

Our clinic just received its supply of Government funded flu vaccines (insert hands up emoji here). It got me thinking – how many people know who is eligible to receive the free Govenmernment funded flu vaccine ? And why might you still want to get the jab even if you have to pay for it?

 

Lots of patients will say that they don’t get the vaccine anymore because they “had it once and got the flu straight after.” I swear I say this a thousand times in flu season – “the vaccine CANNOT give you the flu.” It is not a live vaccine – we do not inject any of the live virus into your body. It dose make your body mount an immune response (that’s how all vaccines work) so you may experience some muscle aches (but most likely you will just have a sore arm). What is MORE than likely (if you do get sick a few days after it) is that you were incubating some sort of virus before you got jabbed, and the illness declared itself coincidentally in the few days after and you blamed the poor vaccine, when it fact you should be blaming the snotty guy at work who doesn’t wash his hands – ever! A reminder also that like any vaccine, the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective and covers 3 or 4 strains of the flu virus (depending on which vaccine you get) when there are in fact many other strains in the community. Despite the fact it isn’t the magic bullet the vaccine does reduce the risk of flu by about 50 to 60% in the general population – and trust me if you’ve been in bed for 2 weeks with aching muscles and fevers you’ll take anything you can get to reduce your risk of getting it again.

 

There are certain people who get the flu vaccination for free in Australia- anyone over 65, Aboriginal and Torres Stait Islander people, pregnant women and patients with chronic medical conditions such as asthma (where the flu can trigger severe flares) or diabetes (where the immune system is suppressed). There are many other conditions that qualify for the Government funded vaccine so it is worth checking with your GP if you have a chronic medical illness. If you are fit and healthy then you can still get the vaccine- you just have to pay for it (between 15 to 20 dollars). I get it every year – I would be stupid not to in my line of work. I couldn’t tell you how many people I see in the flu season with the classic fevers and aches who look like they’ve walked straight from a steam room into my office – I’m talking sweaty, clammy, “death warmed up” kind of look. If you’ve had the flu before you will do anything to get the vaccine. And before you say “I’ve had the flu and it wasn’t that bad”– the flu is NOT a cold- they are caused by completely different viruses. A cold is often something like rhinovirus or human metapneumovirus whereas the flu is caused by viruses like Influenza A, B or H1N1 (also known as swine flu) – completely different nasties. The flu is debilitating – muscle aches, high fevers, runny nose, headaches, low appetite for up to 4 weeks – you are house if not bed bound. It can lead to pneumonia and even death in the vulnerable (infants, elderly, immunocomporomised to name a few). The flu isn’t the sore throat and headache you had for 5 days last week – it’s much much more than that, trust me.

 

I’m terrified of needles (yes, no joke!). Happy to jab my patients but if you come near me with a needle I will hyperventilate a little (and try very hard to hide it) which sometimes makes me  bit woozy and faint (I know, could it be any more dramatic?!). But guess what I’m doing this week? Yep, getting a flu shot because for me, a young mum, I can’t afford 4 weeks off and I certainly can’t be bringing the flu home to my little girl. A quick jab in the arm versus 4 weeks in bed – up to you!

 

If you would like to read more about the Influenza vaccine, including vaccination of children, check out http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-influenza