Time to get Vaccinated
Your healthcare provider may not have reminded you that it’s that time of year again: flu season. Each year, mostly late fall, all winter and early spring, the season for getting an infection in your airways, that’s in the nose, throat and lungs, returns. During this time the risk for getting the flu, and getting an infection severe enough to activate asthma or cause bronchitis or pneumonia peaks. There are many viruses that cause infection, not just influenza virus, but also, for example, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus and others. Without testing, these infections usually look very similar, so we (and you) can’t tell if you have the common cold or influenza. However, if the infection is from influenza, a small number can get sick enough to require hospitalization or even die. Every year your chance for getting influenza is about one in ten, and when you get it, most years you probably won’t know you got it. On the other years, you will have been stuck in bed, lost time off work or even had more severe consequences like needing the help only offered by a hospital. As you get older or if you have diabetes, heart, or lung disease, your risk for hospitalization, heart attack, stroke or death increase. For this reason, each year your healthcare provider will want you to get your influenza vaccine. It’s covered by your insurance, so it’s no cost to you. You should plan to get it in the fall, but if you miss that chance, you can still get it later in the flu season, even in March. If you 65 years old or older, you may want to choose one of the vaccines specifically licensed for your age group, such as the “high dose” (Fluzone HD®), the adjuvanted influenza vaccine (Fluad®) or the recombinant influenza vaccine (Flublok®), which appear to be more effective than the standard vaccines. Even if you are eligible for one of these newer vaccines, if you have hesitancy about the newer technology, any of the other available vaccines will still offer protection, so hesitancy is not a great excuse to avoid vaccination.
There are several beliefs that are wrong. If someone asks, you should know you cannot get autism from vaccine. Your provider doesn’t reuse needles, so you cannot get a transmitted infection from the vaccine. You cannot get influenza from the influenza vaccine, as there is no live virus in the shot. It does however, take 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine, for it to give you protection. If you were exposed to the flu virus during that 2 weeks, you could still get the flu, but a weaker case since you will have some protection from the shot.
You should expect the muscle in your arm to be sore for a day or two where the shot is given—that’s a sign that the vaccine is working, and your body is responding to it. Likewise, some individuals will have other temporary complaints, such as headache or even a runny nose—again, signs that the vaccine will be more effective.
These viral infections, influenza and others, can also increase the risk for a later bacterial pneumonia. The most common form of bacterial pneumonia is caused by S pneumoniae, and there are two vaccines that can prevent this, a 23 valent polysaccharide vaccine (Pneumovax®) and a 13 valent conjugate vaccine (Prevnar-13®). If you are 65 years or older or have a “high risk condition” like heart or lung disease, diabetes, cancer or receive steroids, you may be eligible for one or both. Ask your doctor if it is right for you.