Fact or fiction: will the flu shot make you sick?
When it comes to the flu vaccine, there are two factions: those who believe in it and get it every year and those who are adamant that it makes you sick or that it’s a mere moneymaking scheme. To sort fact from fiction, we spoke to three healthcare practitioners.
We asked them the question, “Should I get the flu shot or will it make me sick?” Here are their responses:
Dr Sindisiwe Van Zyl
General practitioner at Arwyp Medical Centre in Kempton Park, Johannesburg
I always advise patients to get the flu vaccine, especially if they're living with a chronic illness, such as HIV or diabetes. A bout of flu can [cause complications] and you could end up hospitalised. Get the jab!
Dr Fikile Mabena
Paediatrician and infectious diseases specialist at the University of the Witwatersrand
Everyone should — and can — get the flu shot. Those individuals who are 65 years of age or are immuno-compromised have a lower protective immune response than others. The vaccine does offer these high-risk groups some protection.
The vaccine cannot result in influenza infection as there are no live viruses contained within it. Some people may experience mild fever and local pain at the injection site but, overall, the vaccine has an excellent safety record.
Unfortunately, the influenza vaccine will not protect against the many other viruses that circulate during the winter season and cause respiratory infections.
The flu vaccine cannot result in influenza infection as there are no live viruses contained within itDr Fikile Mabena
The flu vaccine is developed each year according to the prediction of virus strains that will be in circulation for that season and should, therefore, be administered every year as the strains evolve continuously.
For the South Africa influenza season, the optimal time for vaccination is around March/April each year. The vaccine is effective after 10 to 14 days, and the flu season typically starts around May, so it’s important that the vaccine is administered in time for the flu season. However, getting vaccinated even later can be protective, as long as flu viruses are still circulating.
Professor Diana Hardie
Clinical virologist and head of the diagnostic virology laboratory at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town
Influenza can be a severe, debilitating disease even in young, healthy adults and may be fatal in the elderly, young infants, immuno-compromised people, pregnant women and those with underlying heart or lung disease.
Vaccination of pregnant women is safe and also provides protection to their infants for the first few months of life. It may not be safe for individuals known to have severe egg allergy (the vaccine is currently prepared in eggs). Such individuals should consult their doctor before being vaccinated.
The effectiveness of the vaccine depends on how well the vaccine matches the virus that actually causes the winter epidemic. Sometimes the vaccine does not prevent infection entirely but does, nonetheless, reduce the severity of infection.
The vaccination should be given just before winter as the duration of protection is short lived — only about three months. It is recommended for all individuals who are at risk of severe influenza infection, as well as for community and family contacts of at-risk patients.