It’s time to line up and get your flu shot once again. All around you people are succumbing to the usual seasonal misery of fever, vomiting and chills. It’s a symphony of achoo out there and the best medical advice is that you should get the flu shot as early as you can.
Indeed, seasonal influenza causes up to half a million deaths every year worldwide, as the New England Journal of Medicine noted, and the nation sees a staggering 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations from the flu annually.
Still, there are some people who should not get the flu shot. But most doctors warn that a lot of what you have heard on the topic is bunk.
“There are a lot of myths about the flu vaccine and not getting it,” says Dr. Jonathan Blum, an Infectious Disease physician at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center.
Blum points out that many groups who may think they should avoid the shot are mistaken. He includes pregnant women, people with autoimmune disorders and people with egg allergies in this group.
“Most people with egg allergies can get the standard flu vaccine,” says Blum. “For people with really severe egg allergies, there is a completely egg-free vaccine available.”
So who should not get the shot? People with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, who have experienced the illness within six weeks of a previous flu vaccine, and people who have had a severe allergic reaction to flu vaccine in the past. And, as the CDC notes, infants under the age of six months should also pass on the shot.
Also, if you are sick right now, you should wait and get the shot later. Right now, stay at home and get some rest. Maybe some nice herbal tea?
“If you are sick, it’s best to get the vaccine after you recover,” says Blum, “but please don’t wait until it’s too late in the season.”
Still uncertain? It’s always a good idea to run any concerns you may have about who should get the shot and when past your doctor.
Of course the fact remains that the efficacy of the shot varies every year. This year’s jab in the arm may be only 10 percent effective against a dominant strain of the virus right now, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine report. That means a whole lot of folks are going to get sick even if they did line up for the needle.
“However imperfect, though,” as the New England Journal of Medicine put it, “current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated.”