Deemed one of winter’s harshest side effects, the flu affects thousands of Canadians every year. Highly contagious, the flu can lead to hospitalization and even death. Every year, influenza causes an average of 20,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths. Receiving a flu shot is recognized as one of the best ways to prevent you and your family from getting the flu.
Flu viruses change all the time and change very quickly, which is why a new flu shot is made every year. When there is a good match between the influenza strains affecting the community and the vaccine, the shot can prevent the flu in approximately 70–90% of healthy children and adults.
Having said this, getting the flu shot is not always a decision that is easily made. While ongoing research continues to explore its effectiveness, we thought we’d share some of the pros and cons of getting the flu shot to help you make a more informed decision.
First, though, it is important to acknowledge those who are considered high risk and should be receiving the flu shot. Those considered high risk include:
- Children between the ages of six months and five years of age
- Caregivers of children between the ages of six months and five years of age
- Adults 65 years of age or older
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, heart and lung disease, blood disorders, kidney and liver disorders, metabolic disorders, HIV or AIDS, cancer and those who are morbidly obese.
For those who are otherwise healthy, here are a few things to consider regarding the flu shot:
It can be life-saving. If you or a member of your family is considered high-risk and contracts influenza, the shot could save your life by decreasing the severity of the symptoms.
It won’t cause the flu. Despite what many people think, the flu shot will not make you sick. While the shot does contain strains of the virus, they are not active.
They are safe. There has been a lot of debate around the impact of immunizations and the link to childhood autism. For years, it was believed that a preservative found in vaccines called Thimerosal was contributing to autism in children. While research is still ongoing, no link has yet to be found and most flu vaccines given to children today do not contain this preservative.
They are free and easy to get. In Canada, the flu shot is free to everyone. In fact, you don’t even have to make a special trip to the doctor to get a flu shot. Most regions and municipalities across Canada will hold flu shot clinics during the early months of winter, as will most doctors’ offices and walk-in clinics. To find the closest clinic in your region, click here.
They aren’t for everyone. Since the flu vaccine is made in chicken eggs, those with egg allergies were discouraged from receiving the flu shot. However, according to an article written in the Globe & Mail last year, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has deemed the injectable form of the flu shot safe for individuals with egg allergies. Having said this, there still isn’t enough evidence to determine whether the nasal spray flu vaccine is also safe for people with egg allergies. It is therefore recommended that they speak with their physician first.
Side effects. Since the flu shot contains the flu virus, you may experience very mild flu-like symptoms within 24–48 hours after receiving the shot. Most symptoms subsided shortly thereafter and pose no real cause for concern.
It’s not 100% effective. As mentioned earlier, there are various strains of the flu. The strains found in the vaccine typically contain what are predicted to be the most dominant strains for the upcoming flu season. It is not realistic to expect the vaccine to cover all strains of the flu. The Public Health Agency of Canada has created a program called FluWatch so that Canadians and health care professionals alike can see how the flu is currently affecting their communities.
To further prevent the spread of the flu virus, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and on a regular basis, and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Also, if you’re feeling under the weather you should stay home and rest.