What You Need to Know About the Flu Vaccine

Why get vaccinated? Influenza (flu) is a contagious disease. It is caused by the influenza virus, which can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or through nasal secretions. Anyone can get influenza, but rates of infection are highest among children.

For most people, common symptoms last only a few days. These common symptoms include: fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, cough, headache, and muscle aches. Other illnesses can have the same symptoms and are often mistaken for influenza.

Infants, the elderly, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions – such as heart, lung or kidney disease or a weakened immune system- can get much sicker. Flu can cause high fever and pneumonia and make existing medical conditions worse. It can cause diarrhea and seizures in children.

Each year thousands of people die from seasonal flu. You can protect yourself from the flu and avoid spreading it to others by getting vaccinated.

2 types of influenza vaccine: ” Inactivated ” or “Live Attenuated”.
The Inactivated vaccine involves injecting a dead version of the influenza virus into the muscle of an individual. This vaccine is what is known as the “flu shot”. The Live Attenuated vaccine involves spraying a weakened version of the virus into the nostrils. With either vaccine, the person is exposed in some fashion to the virus and the healthy person will then produce antibodies to protect them against the virus over a two week period. The protection usually lasts about one year. Be sure to speak with your health care provider to find out the best time for you to be vaccinated. A high-dose of Inactivated influenza vaccine is available for people 65 years of age or older. Ask your health care provider for more information.

Each year a different vaccine is produced in order to protect health care consumers from one or more specific influenza viruses. For example, some years the vaccine provides protection against A/H1N1 influenza ( swine flu), influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B. This particular vaccine wouldn’t prevent llness caused by other viruses.

Some people are concerned about the preservative thimerosal used in some Inactivated vaccine. Thimerosal-free influenza vaccine is available. Ask your health care provider for more information.

Who should get vaccinated? All people 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine. Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of severe influenza and their close contacts, including health care personnel and close contacts of children younger than 6 months.

When should you get vaccinated? Influenza can occur at any time, although most influenza outbreaks occur from November through May. The highest rates of infection seem to be in January and February. Obviously, getting the vaccine as soon as it is available will provide protection if the flu season comes early. You can get the vaccine as long as illness is still occurring in your community. However, remember that it takes your body about 2 weeks to develop protection from the vaccine, so you may be exposed before you have protection if you wait too long.

Adults and children over the age of 9 only need one dose of the vaccine each year. Some children younger than 9 years of age may need 2 doses to be protected. Again, speak with your health care provider about this.

The influenza vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines, including the pneumococcal vaccine.

Some people should not get vaccinated: You should let your health care provider know if you have any severe or life-threatening allergies. Allergic reactions to the Inactivated influenza vaccine are rare, but they can occur. Influenza vaccine virus are grown in eggs so people with severe egg allergy should not get the influenza vaccine. A severe allergy to any component of the vaccine is also a reason not to get the vaccine. If you have ever had a severe reaction after a dose of influenza vaccine, tell your health care provider. Also tell your health care provider if you have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, referred to as GBS). Your provider will help decide whether or not the vaccine is recommended for you. People who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting the flu vaccine. It is usually safe for people with mild illness to get the vaccine. If you are ill, talk with your health care provider about whether to reschedule the vaccination.

What are the risks from the Inactivate Influenza Vaccine? A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small. Serious problems from the vaccine are very rare. The viruses in Inactivated influenza vaccine have been killed, so you cannot get influenza from the vaccine.

Mild problems include: soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given; hoarseness; sore, red or itchy eyes; cough; fever; aches. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last for about 1-2 days. If they last more than 2 days, notify your health care provider.

Severe problems are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. These reactions include life-threatening allergic reactions or Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The GBS occurs in no more than 1 or 2 cases per million vaccinated. This is much lower than the risk of severe influenza, which can be prevented by vaccination.
The safety of vaccines is constantly being monitored by the government and the scientific community. For more information, visit:
www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccine_Monitoring/Index.html andwww.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Activities/Activities_Index.html.

What if there is a severe reaction? Any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes can be indicative or a severe reaction to the vaccine. Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness, wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart rate or dizziness. Should any of these symptoms occur, call a doctor immediately or get the person to a doctor or emergency room right away. When in doubt as to the severity of the reaction, call 911. Be prepared to describe the patient’s signs and symptoms to the the health care provider, the date and time they occurred, and when the vaccination was given. Ask your health care provider to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System  (VAERS) form. Or you can file this report yourself through the VAERS website at www.vaers.hhs.gov or by calling 1-800-822-7967. VAERS will not provide medical advice. Their role is to collect data about adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Compensation if injured by a vaccination: The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was created in 1986. People who believe they may have been injured by a vaccine can learn about the program and about filing a claim by calling 1-800-338-2382 or visiting the VICP website atwww.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.

How can you learn more? Discuss any concerns you have with your healthcare provider. Ask them for the vaccine package insert or ask them if there are any other sources of information. Call your local or state health department. Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by calling 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or by visiting their website atwww.cdc.gov/flu

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