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Flu Vaccine: Should I, Or Shouldn't I?

December 7, 2022
Sick woman laying on couch blowing nose.

If you've ever had the flu, you know how sick you can be. And there seems to be no shortage of misinformation and bad advice when it comes to dealing with the flu and the flu shot. But the truth is, the flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your odds of spending time in flu agony.

How do vaccines work?

Health professional wearing medical gloves holding flu vaccine bottle.

To understand how the flu vaccine works, you need to understand how your immune system works first. Your immune system fights disease by remembering every single disease you’ve ever seen in your life. Every one of them! In response, your body makes antibodies that tell your white blood cells which infections need to be destroyed.

Your body can crank out antibodies at a moment’s notice for any disease you’ve ever encountered; they tag the offending bacteria or virus and your white blood cells come in and the offender dies a horrible death.

Vaccines work by “training” your body’s immune system. There are two types of vaccines: inactivated, and live/attenuated.

Inactivated vaccines are essentially the protein coat of whatever you’re trying to vaccinate against. Think of it as what the bacteria or virus is “wearing.”

Live/attenuated vaccines are viruses or bacteria that have been weakened. The vaccine isn’t what the virus is “wearing,” it’s just a weak version of the virus itself.

Is the flu vaccine live? No. 

Closeup of flu person holding flu vaccine bottle.

The flu vaccine is inactivated; it’s dead. It is nothing more than the protein coat of influenza with all the DNA removed. It is an empty shell of a uniform.

Your immune system is like an army

Concept image of man holding out hand stopping virus to represent immune system.

Think of your body’s immune system as an army. Giving an inactivated vaccine is like holding up the uniform of an enemy soldier in front of your body’s immune system and saying, “See this, everybody? Go seek and destroy everybody wearing this.”

Giving a live/attenuated vaccine is like finding an enemy soldier, destroying him, and putting it in front of your body’s immune system and saying, “See this bad guy right here? Go defeat anything and anybody who looks like him.”

Now, if somebody has a compromised immune system, the bad guy can still cause a lot of damage, which is why it is recommended that people who are immunocompromised or have a weak immune system not get live/attenuated vaccines.

Talk to your medical professional or Pillway pharmacist about what is right for you.

How is the influenza vaccine given?

The influenza vaccine is given:

  • by an injection (needle)
  • as a nasal (in the nose) spray

The injection is free. The nasal spray may be available from a pharmacist, but you need to pay for it. Talk to your Pillway pharmacist to find out.

Can I get influenza from the influenza vaccine?

You can’t get influenza disease from the influenza vaccine. The vaccine given by injection is made with inactivated viruses or only a part of the virus, and so it can’t cause illness. The nasal spray contains live viruses that are weakened so that they will not cause illness either.

Why do I need to get the flu shot?

Here’s why you must get a flu shot every year: The flu changes its protein coat on a regular basis and new influenza viruses appear each year. When viruses change, so do the vaccines.

The World Health Organization identifies the strains of influenza that they predict will be the most common during the upcoming season. This information is used to develop the vaccine to protect against these strains.

The immunity you get from your vaccine gets lower over time. This means you need to get immunized every year to stay protected even if you've been immunized against the same strain before.

If I’m healthy, why do I need to get immunized?

Senior woman receiving vaccine from nurse.

Getting immunized is one of the best ways to prevent influenza. It’s a good idea for everyone to get immunized, even healthy people that aren’t at risk of complications from influenza.

If you have influenza, you can be sick for 5 to 10 days, but it can take weeks to fully recover.

By protecting yourself, you help protect people around you who are at risk of complications from influenza. If more people are protected, fewer people will get sick from influenza.

How well the influenza vaccine works is different each influenza season. A new vaccine is made every year to protect against the 3 or 4 influenza viruses that are most likely to make you sick. Even when the vaccine does not exactly match the viruses that spread where you live, it can still help protect you from getting influenza or getting very sick from it.

Speak to your Pillway pharmacist for more information and advice on the influenza vaccine.

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