Dr. Mobeen Rathore, a University of Florida professor, associate chair of pediatrics and chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology, discusses the benefits of getting the influenza vaccine.
Should I get the influenza vaccine?
“People often confuse the flu with the runny nose and regular cold that people may have. And so we use the term ‘flu’ for lots of things that are not influenza. Influenza itself is a very serious infection and can really cause severe sickness, hospitalization and even death. Every year, several thousand people in the United States die as a result of influenza. Many, many thousands of them get admitted to the hospital.”
Have you ever had the flu?
“So I had flu back in 1990 when I was a little bit delayed in getting the flu vaccine and it really knocked me out for about five days. I was a young, healthy person at that time. I’m still healthy, but not young. Had I taken the influenza vaccine that year it would’ve really helped me. I’ve never missed the influenza vaccine since then and I’ve not gotten the influenza disease. It really can make even health children and adults very sick and can put you out of commission for days.”
When should someone get the influenza vaccine?
“Well, that’s easy. One should get the flu shot every year as soon as it becomes available. I think there is this misconception that you should delay getting the influenza vaccine until later in the season. That is not at all true. You should get it as soon as it becomes available in your doctor’s office or wherever you get your vaccines routinely. It will protect you through the whole season. You do not need to get a second shot late in the season to provide adequate protection throughout the season. The important thing is the vaccine has to be given every year, so all people who are eligible for the vaccine should get it every year as soon as possible.”
At what age should patients begin receiving the influenza vaccine?
“Currently, it is recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics/American Academy of Family Physicians that the influenza vaccine should be given to all individuals six month of age and older if they do not have any contraindications to the vaccine. There are very few contraindications to the vaccine. I think if you have any concerns, you should consult your health care provider. But, as a rule of thumb, there are very few contraindications to the vaccine.”
Can someone with egg allergies be vaccinated for influenza?
“Egg allergies are something that have been of concern with people for a long time. The important thing is that, in 2013, we actually have a vaccine that can be given to anybody who has egg allergies. It’s a vaccine that does not include any egg elements. Even when we had the vaccine that may have potentially some egg elements, most people who had ‘egg allergies’ could still get the vaccine very safely. It is estimated that 1 percent of these individuals have true allergies to the eggs so that they get an anaphylactic reaction — they have respiratory difficulty. Most people, even back then, could take the vaccine. But now, we actually have a vaccine where if somebody is concerned that they have egg allergies, they can ask for the vaccine that contains no egg components.”
Can the influenza vaccine give you the flu?
“That’s a very unfortunate myth that has been circulating for decades. Unfortunately, people believe that if they get the flu shot they are at risk of getting influenza disease, an infection. That is not true. The vaccine that you get has influenza that is basically dead. It cannot give you the infection. Now, once you get the shot, you can get some low-grade fever, you may get some soreness of the arm, a little bit of redness around there, but that’s not influenza. I can tell you, if you’ve had influenza, you’ll know the difference. I’ve had it, and I get the flu vaccine, and I also get a little bit of a sore arm, maybe low-grade fever, but nothing like real flu. Because, as I said, the virus components in the vaccine are just that – components. They are dead. They cannot replicate, they cannot give you the infection.”
What would you say to someone who isn’t convinced about influenza vaccines?
“I think the important thing is that flu vaccines have been around for decades. They are the safest, most effective way that you can prevent getting influenza, and all the complications and hospitalizations and death that come with the flu. We are very lucky that, in 2013, we have several options of vaccine: we have the trivalent vaccine, we have the quadrivalent vaccine, we have the vaccine that is free of egg components, we have intranasal vaccine. With all those choices, the important thing is get the vaccine.”
To find a provider offering the influenza vaccine in Jacksonville, visit http://primarycare.ufhealthjax.org.