Ah, fall. It’s that time of year again where you ignore the advice of health professionals and play Russian roulette with the flu. We know you have your arsenal of excuses lined up. You never get sick. You don’t want the shot to give you the flu—or at the very least its symptoms. You’d rather sit in your apartment in your underwear on the weekend than pay a trip to your local pharmacy.
But, then there’s the debate the flu shot’s a waste of time. It’s not that effective and can seem a bit like of a (literal) shot in the dark since scientists have to forecast what few viruses (among hundreds of identified strains) will be lurking around the most each year.
So, we spoke to LeeAnn Bryant, M.H.S., R.N., C.I.C., an Infection Preventionist at National Jewish Health and Purvi Parikh, MD, an immunologist and allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network to get the facts straight and find out—do we really need a flu shot?
Why the vaccine criticism?
“Remember those studies that supposedly linked vaccines to autism (due to exposure to Thimerosal during infancy) and other issues? That’s been debunked with no scientific merit, numerous times,” Parikh says.
You might have also heard in January 2016, government officials revealed flu vaccines are only 50-60 percent effective, per the CDC (and those against vaccinations believe its ability is far lower than that). “Where the controversy lies is in the timing of receiving the shot for maximum efficacy,” Parikh says. Most pharmacies start marketing and encouraging people to get vaccinated in August. But some experts argue it might be better to wait until late September or October so the immunity lasts through the flu season—especially for the elderly, she explains. What’s more, the influenza virus has the ability to shift itself in terms of strain. “Experts do their best to try to predict the following season’s strain but it’s hard to know in advance until the season is upon us and then it’s too late to mass produce a vaccine,” Parikh says. So, yeah, there’s some merit to this argument, but isn’t 50-60 percent chance at it working better than not lowering your odds at all? Parikh adds: “It’s still better to have some protection than none at all; because if you do get sick, it may be less virulent,” meaning the shot can help reduce the risk of serious complications, make symptoms more mild if you do get sick, and help protect those around you who might be more vulnerable.
What to consider if you’ve never gotten vaccinated
“Not believing in getting a flu shot puts you and others at risk,” Bryant says. Consider this: You wear your seatbelt in the car (we hope) even if you’ve never gotten into a wreck, so you should have the same mindset for the shot. Even if you’ve never had the flu, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated.
While, yes, it’s true young, healthy guys are at a lower risk for suffering severe complications from influenza; you’re still susceptible to come down with the flu. “Plus, once a healthy adult has influenza, they might infect others starting one day before symptoms develop and for 5-7 days after they become sick,” Bryant adds. So you might bounce back pretty fast, but what if you pass the flu onto someone with a high risk of complications—like people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, smokers, people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and children? You’re not the only one being affected here.
And FYI, if you’ve never gotten the flu; it’s absolutely miserable. Just some of the nasty slew of side effects include chills, dehydration, fatigue, fever, runny nose, headache, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, and more.
No, you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine
That said, with any medication or vaccine there’s a potential for reactions. “Minor problems people may experience following a flu vaccine include cough, fever, aches, and fatigue,” Bryant says. “But these symptoms are generally mild, begin soon after the shot, and last 1-2 days,” she adds.
You should also know the vaccine takes about two weeks to go into effect and provide protection. “If you’re exposed to the flu before vaccination or within two weeks after, you may become sick, but it’s not from the vaccine,” Bryant explains.
Why there are different strains of vaccinations and methods
“There are several different manufacturers and formulations of influenza vaccinations,” Byant says. “Your healthcare provider or vaccination center will provide the correct vaccination for your age and consider other health conditions you may have before your shot,” she explains.
There are also different modes of getting your vaccine: the shot and a nasal spray. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people go for injectable vaccines; in fact the nasal spray isn’t recommended this year. “Due to poor activity against one of the major flu strains seen in the US during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 flu seasons, the United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) made the recommendation that the live attenuated nasal spray vaccine not be used for the 2016-17 season,” Bryant explains.
The bottom line: Please get the flu shot.
These exerts agree: Yes, fit men should get a flu shot.