It’s shaping up to be a rough flu season. Just a few days into the New Year and there have already been several reported deaths across the country as a result of the flu. With consequences ranging from a few days home from work to life-threatening complications, the flu is no joke. But is the flu vaccine safe or necessary? Dr. Robert Tiballi, infection disease physician, joined The Drew Mariani ShowTM to discuss.
With predictions that the flu vaccine would only protect 10% of the population this year, why bother getting it? “We do like this concept of herd immunity where the vaccine is highly effective. And when we’re able to vaccinate a large portion of the population we tend not to have bad influenza years – a lot of people, if they get the flu they have a very mild case of the flu. So, that 10% might be that some people will be prevented from getting the flu because of the vaccination; other people may get a very mild form of the flu from the vaccination. And even if it’s only 10%, 10% is better than nothing, better than zero,” explained Dr. Tiballi.
“So we continue, despite the fact that we know the flu vaccine is not going to be really highly protective this year, we still strongly recommend it for everybody over 6 months of age. The people that die from the flu are the very young and the very old—children under a year of age and adults over 65—those are the two high-risk groups. Now last year we had about 140, 150 children die from influenza. This year, the numbers are small but they are increasing right now, sadly,” says Dr. Tiballi. “Even this late in the season, we still want people to get their flu shots if they haven’t gotten them already.”
Is it possible to get the flu from the vaccine? “A lot of people think they get the flu, but actually it’s a sign of a good immune system when they get symptoms after the flu vaccine. Now, you can go to your doctor’s office and be sitting next to somebody sneezing on you and the vaccine takes a bit of time—a week or more—to give you immunity and you could catch it from that person, that’s true.”
“But usually what happens is there’s three different strains represented in the vaccine. If your body has seen a natural infection with one of those strains before anytime in your life past, when you get the flu vaccine your immune system is going to go, ‘WOW I got influenza! I gotta deal with it!’ And so it shoots into action and it starts throwing off all these chemical mediators which activate your immune system and it feels like you’ve got the flu,” explains Dr. Tiballi. “When you ‘get the flu’, all those fevers and chills and muscle aches, that’s due to your body’s immune system chemicals reacting to the virus infection. It’s not due to the virus itself.”
Listen to the full interview, including what to do if you get the flu, here: