Despite spotty effectiveness, flu vaccine still best way to ward of illness, experts say
With the sound of coughs and sniffles in lecture halls on the rise, students and residents are faced with the decision of whether or not to receive a flu shot.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website, preventing the contraction of influenza is vital. A CDC study in the U.S. saw an estimate of between 3,000 and 49,000 flu-associated deaths between 1976 and 2007.
The CDC website encourages receiving the flu vaccine to avoid the contraction of influenza. They claim if the vaccine does not prevent the influenza, it will at least make the sickness less severe.
While the CDC does admit side effects of the vaccine are similar to influenza symptoms, the CDC website reassures the flu vaccine does not cause influenza. The CDC recognizes the variables related to the effectiveness of a flu vaccination: age, health and how well the vaccine "matches" the flu season's current strain affect whether or not the vaccine works.
Peter Gulick, an associate professor of medicine at MSU, said the vaccine’s is not always as effective as it should be during flu season.
“Different strains come out every year," Gulick said. "Scientists test these strains and create a vaccine inhibiting the virus, which stimulates the body’s immune system to fight it. Last year when they created the vaccine, the flu was not affected by it. The vaccine didn’t work, but was still administered and more people got sick.”
While the vaccine did not cause the increased cases of influenza, it did not properly work to prevent influenza and more people contracted the illness.
“The more people who don’t get vaccinated, the more people can transmit it,” Gulick said. “The flu can spread rapidly throughout a dorm full of students.”
While Gulick encourages the public to receive vaccines, he said the vaccine is not for everyone.
“People with egg allergies should avoid the vaccine," Gulick said. "The flu vaccine can also worsen symptoms of patients with Guillain-Barre, a pre-existing neurological disorder, that causes ascending paralysis in the body. The vaccine can worsen these symptoms exponentially, often leading to respiratory problems.”
Gulick said there are ways to prevent influenza even if an individual is ineligible for a vaccine.
“Oral antiviral medications are an alternative for high risk patients,” Gulick said. “Vitamins and general hygiene are effective strategies in preventing the flu.”
Gulick remained firm with his stance on the vaccine. He believes preventing influenza prevents complications, which prevents unnecessary deaths.
Many students reflect on the vaccine’s side effects before making the decision to get the receive it.
“Traditionally, my mom has had me get the vaccine every year, and I never really had a problem with it,” journalism sophomore Sarah Sparkman said. “Lately, I’ve been wanting to do my own research after hearing why other students don’t choose the vaccination because of side effects and other issues the shot can cause.”
Kimberly Mitcham, an assistant professor of health programs at MSU, said students should be wary of the online sources saying the vaccine causes autism.
“There was a study that received a lot of media coverage, conducted by Dr. Wakefield, that supposedly linked vaccines to autism," Mitcham said. "An investigation was launched, and he later admitted to modifying the results because he was being paid to do so. The effects of his study are still relevant. There was a rapid increase of the measles because people were opting out of vaccinating their children because of his misinformation.”
With many different studies being conducted by various members of the medical field, it has students really thinking about whether or not getting an influenza shot is right for them.
“It makes me want to do a little more research before I make my decision,” political science sophomore De’Nye Hopkins said. “It definitely makes me a little more skeptical of the research though.”
There are only a handful of studies regarding the influenza vaccine leading to critical health conditions. Despite Gulick’s encouragement, the debate on whether or not students think they should receive the flu shot will remain until more extensive research is conducted.
Both Mitcham and Gulick encourage individuals to know their medical history, consider their options and do their research before receiving any vaccinations.
For those looking to get their flu shot this year, Olin Health Center offers immunizations. The center is also hosting a competition between Universities to see which student body garners the most vaccinations, similar to the one held last year.