General Question

robmandu's avatar

Flu shot: help or hype?

Asked by robmandu (21285points) September 15th, 2008

I’ve heard that the previous batches of influenza vaccine which were distributed in past years have been largely useless because they protect against strains of the flu virus that don’t really become prevalent.

See, the manufacturers must research and develop what they think will be coming out in the following season. And then they must cook it all up, distribute it, etc.

By the time all that happens, the flu variant that ends up coming around has mutated into something else entirely.

In essence, it’s a shot in the dark. The vaccine manufacturers might get lucky, but the odds are very much stacked against them… especially for something so likely to mutate, like a virus. It doesn’t matter that a single vaccine can cover multiple strains of the flu, it still cannot cover them all… and some have yet to have a vaccine created yet.

Or am I misinformed? Will you getting the needle this season?

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30 Answers

El_Cadejo's avatar

I wouldnt bother getting one unless you were either
A really young (which your not or)
B really old (which i dont think you are)

Otherwise its not worth it. Plus if you get the flu shot this year, and then dont get it next year you have a really high chance of catching the flu. So its like once you start with them you gotta stick with it. Not worth it IMO.

rss's avatar

While it’s true that it is hard to determine the exact strain of flu, it is not quite a “shot in the dark.” Flu strains have been studies for decades now, and there are patters that emerge as to where and when they strike.

Older people and young children are most susceptible to serious flu complications – however giving them the vaccine isn’t always enough to protect them. By vaccinating a large enough segment of the population then the spread of the virus is reduced and then less likely to spread to more vulnerable populations (this is the same concept of herd immunity that exists for measles/mumps etc).

shilolo's avatar

@Uber. Not to disagree with you, but… There is no truth to your statements. The people who must get it are the young, the old, the infirm (i.e. diabetics, people with lung disease like emphysema, heart disease, weakened immune systems, etc.). As rss said, the more people that are vaccinated, the better the immunity is for everyone. Further, I don’t know what information you are using to say that getting the flu shot one year (but not getting it the next) increases your chance of getting the flu.

If you have access to it, the Flumist vaccine is more effective than the flu shot. As Rob said, virologists use surveillance and epidemiology to predict the emerging strains for the following year. Getting an annual flu immunization is easy, (relatively) painless, and of great (potential) benefit. I don’t see the downside.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Though if there is a shortage of shots and you know that you have a great system and very, very rarely get sick not getting the shot can be a way of leaving it for someone who needs it.

(Okay, so I just don’t like shots. But I almost never get sick, I’ve never gotten the flu, so I like to pretend I’m helping when there is a shortage.)

robmandu's avatar

Assuming little or no effectiveness, I guess the downside would include:

- loss of the $25–45, cost of the vaccine
side effects, flu-like symptoms

I’m sure the vaccine works great against those flu types its compatible with. I just wonder how well it measures up against the flu strains that actually come over in the wild. Because people who’ve gotten the vaccine are still susceptible to other strains.

shilolo's avatar

I love the patients who I see who have been previously healthy, who say “I never get sick. How could this happen to me?”
Me: “Um, it just does.”

Lightlyseared's avatar

What a lovely bed side manner you must have Dr.

shilolo's avatar

Thanks. Typically, it is someone who doesn’t believe that they could have (name your disease), because they didn’t have it before, so how could they have it now?

EmpressPixie's avatar

Psh. My opinion upon getting sick is usually “well, I guess it’s been a long time coming.”

Then I demand soup and nurturing from everyone.

shilolo's avatar

@Uber. Those side effects, in general, are 1) mild and 2) overstated. Secondly, people who need the vaccine should get it from their doctor, at little to no cost. The economics of vaccination are definitely in favor of it, from a public health perspective and from a personal perspective. If you invest $25 in a shot, and it spares you even one day of work, you’ve come out ahead, as has your company, and the economy at large. If you are ill at baseline, and it saves you (and the economy) an expensive hospitalization, even better.

shilolo's avatar

edit: that last comment was meant for Robmandu. Sorry for the confusion.

Poser's avatar

Don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but the Navy used to force me to get the flu shot every year on my birthday (“Happy Birthday! This is going to hurt.”) in November. And every year, I’d get really sick around Christmas. When I transferred and they weren’t as strict about the yearly physicals, I stopped getting sick.

Last year I got the mist, and wasn’t sick.

Just my experiences.

shilolo's avatar

@Poser. That might very well be a coincidence. You were stationed with the Navy at point A (I don’t know if it was a closed environment, like a ship, or somewhere else) and got sick (possibly with the flu, but maybe some other circulating virus) every winter around Christmas (when you might have had leave). Anyway, then you were transferred somewhere else (fewer people ?, less cramped?, cleaner?, different climate?, etc.) and then didn’t get sick? I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from that, other than transferring from point A to point B was good for your health the following year…

Poser's avatar

The transfer was good for my mental health, anyway. It was a ship, and shipboard environments are infection factories. I used to say that after four years aboard the carrier, my immune system was so strong that it could take out an illness from across the room. But I always found it weird that I could go all year without getting sick, receive the flu shot, and a couple weeks later I’d be violently ill. Again, it’s likely a coincidence, and, given that my dose of flu mist early last year didn’t get me sick, I’m more inclined to believe that. Just throwing in my $.02.

edit: Though it was a ship, it wasn’t necessarily a “closed environment,” except when we deployed. While we were in port, I lived out in town and drove to work aboard the ship just like any office building. This one just happened to float.

scamp's avatar

I can’t have one because I have an egg allergy.

sarapnsc's avatar

To get or not to get it?....I say get it if you can…I had the flu once in my lifetime, I hope I never get it again! I think I’d rather have a baby again, than have the flu. I got so sick, I had to be hospitalized, there are days that are gone, that are a blackout to me. I can’t even remember those days. Prior to the flu, I hadn’t been sick in about 10 years…. Get it, if you can.

augustlan's avatar

@shilolo: As one of the “infirm”, I do get the shot every year, in October. After reading a bit about the flu mist vaccine, I’d like to get that, instead. I am perpetually congested, so I’m wondering if it would be effective on me? Must one “breathe” it in to the lungs, or is it absorbed by the membranes?

gooch's avatar

I get it every year I figure some chance of protection is better than none. I also feel its a good workout for my immune system.

shilolo's avatar

@augustlan. Hard to know about your “perpetual congestion”. Perhaps that should be addressed with your doctor as well? The attenuated viruses in the Flumist vaccine are cold-adapted, meaning that they only cause infection in the cooler temperatures of your nose, and cannot cause a lung infection. I assume enough should get in (despite your congestion) for it to be effective.

augustlan's avatar

Thanks, shi. I’m one of those “auto-immune nightmares”...lots of little crap wrong with me that just makes my life irritating! Some things just aren’t worth the trouble of dealing with. For me, congestion is one of them.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@shilolo lol dont care if you disagree with me, im just going off what ive heard. Your the doctor after all. ^_^

gailcalled's avatar

As the greybeard here, I get the shot every year, which is cheap and covered by Medicare. I have no reaction and during the occasional times I come down with the flu, it is mild and short-lived.

My slightly younger sis is anti-vaccines; she got really ill last year. This, of course, proves nothing. But I will continue to get the shot (I’ve had both chemo and radiation, which doesn’t leave my immune system raring to go.)

shilolo's avatar

@Gail. You should also encourage your granchildren (and all the little rugrats you know) to get vaccinated. Many studies (this may not open for everyone as it may require a subscription) have shown that vaccinating children reduces influenza in the elderly (I mean no offense by using the word “elderly”; but that is the generic term).

gailcalled's avatar

@Shi: Call me Ishamel, if that makes you happy.. I got a call last night from a guy from my HS class who is still pursuing me, so I feel terrific.

My sister’s second grandson, who is 2 3/4, has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS (for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified). The parents are, at present, allowing no innoculations, due to the anecdotal info given at the DANS and other support groups.

However the little boy is getting 35 hrs of free in-home therapy (PT, BT, ST, etc) and has made enormous strides. But everyone keeps passing around that “cold.” (similar to the one fruitcake extant…the gift that keeps on giving.”)

tupara's avatar

As an asthmatic I’m eligible for free flu shots so I get one every year. I used to suffer bad flu-like symptons when exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke but haven’t since I started getting the shots.

scamp's avatar

shi.. Are the mist type of vaccines grown in eggs too?

shilolo's avatar

@scamp. Sadly, people allergic to eggs cannot use the flumist either.

scamp's avatar

@shilolo I talked to my doctor about this. I told him I am not sure I have an allergy as much as an intolerance to egg whites. If I eat them, or even smell them cooking, I get such an upset stomach, it becomes painful. He seems to think I should get the shot anyway. I don’t think I will take the risk. Thanks for the answer about the mist. I’ll forego that as well.

shilolo's avatar

I agree with your doctor (surprise). That is not a true allergy, as far as I can tell, so you should be safe. Hard to know if the risks outweigh the benefits for you though. Good luck…

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