Editors: Dr. Talha Ghadai & Dr. Waheed Khan.
Millions of Canadians each year are infected by Influenza virus or “The Flu” . It Is a serious respiratory illness that is contagious and spread easily through person to person contact. Each year in Canada, The Flu causes approximately 12,200 hospitalizations and 3500 deaths. Fortunately, The Flu is preventable and significant efforts are made each year to help prevent the spread and minimize deaths by this virus through Influenza Vaccinations or “The Flu Shot”.
However, despite having the Flu Vaccine available, many people choose not to vaccinate themselves. In Canada, only about 30% of people will get themselves immunized.To put this into perspective, in order to see significant benefits of a vaccine on a population level, at least 80% of the population should be vaccinated.
The goal of this article is to explain a little bit more about how The Flu shot works, the benefits and risks of the vaccine and to share one compelling reason why you and your family should be vaccinated.
Facts about the Flu Shot:
The flu vaccine works by inserting a small inactive piece of virus into the body which triggers the immune system to build antibodies to prepare against a real infection. In Canada for the 2017-2018 year – there are two main types of flu vaccines. The first is called the inactive influenza vaccine (IIV) which uses dead flu virus and is given by needle usually in the muscle of the shoulder. The second is the live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) which uses a live influenza virus that is significantly weakened and is given as a nasal spray and inhaled. There is some controversy over the effectiveness of this second version as the United States has scrapped the LAIV vaccine due to ineffectiveness (quoted protection rates or “vaccine effectiveness” as low as 3%). Despite the US recommendations Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) has found the LAIV to be as effective as the IIV for children aged 2-6 and are supporting its use for ages 2-17 in Canada.
Why is the flu shot given yearly?
The flu shot is a seasonal phenomenon for two main reasons. Firstly, unlike other immunizations that we receive in childhood, immunity to the flu can decrease within months after receiving the flu shot. Secondly, each year the flu virus changes and so the vaccine contents have to also change. This is also why the range of effectiveness of the vaccine can vary so greatly (3%-80%) – because vaccine manufacturers are making an educated guess on what strains to include in the yearly batch of vaccines.
Why people choose to not receive the flu shot:
1) Fear of Needles – Needles can be painful and scary for many - so much so that it’s enough to turn people away from getting the shot. Needless to say that saving yourself from a week of illness and potentially saving others’ lives is definitely worth it.
2) “The flu is not so bad” – People feel that having the flu is just like having a bad cold and its really not so bad. Although it’s true that the majority of people who get the flu virus will recover within to 7-10 days - wouldn’t it be better to save those days off work or school by getting one shot?
3) “I’m really healthy – I don’t need it” – Some think that they are unlikely to even get the flu in the first place so why even bother with getting the vaccine? Surprisingly, millions of Canadians will get the flu regardless of age which is about about 20-30% of the population.
4) Side effects - Many fear that the flu shot can cause serious harm such as autism, miscarriage, and the actual flu infection. These are all myths. The only common side effects that can occur are redness, swelling and soreness in the area of the injection. The main rare side effect is Guillain Barre syndrome, the risk of which is approximately one in a million vaccinations.
5) Convenience and Access - Some people might feel that they simply do not have the time or can’t remember to get the shot. Fortunately, access to the flu shot is now easier than ever as most local pharmacies - in addition to medical clinics - carry the flu shot and have minimal wait-times. Lastly, remember that the flu shot is offered completely free of charge!
Despite these facts, there is still one strong and compelling reason why we will get the flu shot, and why you should too.
Remember that The Flu kills thousands of Canadians each year - mainly the young and the old - those whose bodies are too weak and who usually succumb to the pneumonia brought on by The Flu. Giving the vaccine to these populations is a priority, however, because the vaccine cannot fully prevent infection in these populations, having everyone in the population vaccinated creates “herd immunity” and drastically reduces the chance of spread of the virus. In fact, a study done in England in Wales found vaccinating the younger population was a better strategy in preventing infection than immunizing the elderly themselves.
In other words, getting immunized with the flu vaccine will ensure that you are doing your part in helping to prevent the flu and protect those who are most vulnerable from it. Not only will getting the flu shot possibly save you a week of sick days from work or school - but it might also prevent several others who are more susceptible around you from getting severe illness and possibly dying. These include interactions with your own family members, a passerby next to you on the public transit, or perhaps one of your co-workers or customers at work or at school. No doubt, the best reason to get the flu shot is not for yourself, but for doing your part in rolling up your sleeve and helping to keep influenza at bay from harming those who are most vulnerable.
Where can I go to receive this vaccine?
Stop by any local pharmacy, your family doctor or any walk-in clinic to get your shot this season! Remember, the earlier you get it on board, the fast you’ll have your immune bodies and the longer you keep yourself and others protected.
The Flu kills up to approx 3,500 Canadians each year
The Flu is preventable and the Flu shot is one of the best tools for prevention we have
Only about 30% of Canadians will actually get the vaccine even though true benefits of the vaccine are seen at vaccination rates above 80%
Even if you feel you might survive the Flu and don’t need the vaccine for yourself - you should still get the vaccine to prevent spreading to other who may not survive
The needle injected flu shot has shown consistent benefit and efficacy whereas the nasal spray flu shot has had inconsistent efficacy - therefore we would recommend going for the needle injection
The Flu vaccine is completely free and can be conveniently given at your local physician's office or pharmacy
Table 1: Influenza Vaccination is particularly recommended for the following groups.
Source: Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2017-2018: National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Oct. 2017. Table 1. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-statement-seasonal-influenza-vaccine-2017-2018.html
1. Canada, Government of Canada Statistics. “Health at a Glance.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 27 Nov. 2015, www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2015001/article/14218-eng.htm#n1.
2. Canada, Public Health Agency of. “Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2017–2018.” Canadian-Immunization-Guide-Statement-Seasonal-Influenza-Vaccine-2017-2018 - Canada.Ca, 18 Oct. 2017, www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-statement-seasonal-influenza-vaccine-2017-2018.html.
3. “Influenza (Flu).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Oct. 2017, www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm.
4. Hodgson, David et al. Effect of mass paediatric influenza vaccination on existing influenza vaccination programmes in England and Wales: a modelling and cost-effectiveness analysis. The Lancet Public Health, Volume 2 , Issue 2, e74 - e81