Every year, Oklahomans ask the same question. And every year, physicians across the state give the same answer.
Yes. You should get a flu shot.
About 36,000 Americans die each year because of the influenza virus. Around the world, that number is a shocking 500,000.
“Somewhere around 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized because of the flu,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Getting the flu is miserable enough, but with the added cost of missing work and paying for a hospital bed—it just makes sense to get a flu shot.”
Despite what many believe, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot, he said. That’s because most influenza vaccines are made up of proteins from different strains of the virus. Others have inactivated viruses that can’t cause infections.
If someone got the flu right after getting the vaccine, that’s because it takes about two weeks for the body’s immune system to make the antibodies that will counter the flu virus, he said.
“It’s rotten luck, but don’t blame it on the vaccine. You’re still better off getting the shot,” he said.
Even patients with immune system issues should get the flu shot, said OMRF scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D.
“I recommend the flu shot. Most of my patients are immunosuppressed, so they have a higher risk of complications from the flu than other people,” she said. “Since the flu shot does not contain any live-virus, it is safe for the majority of those patients.”
While many received their influenza vaccines in September and October, flu season can stretch well into the spring, she said.
“It is not too late to get a flu shot,” Chakravarty said
Flu shots actually include three or four influenza vaccines. Once they’re injected into the bloodstream, the body’s immune system sends white blood cells to investigate. White blood cells draw up plans for proteins called antibodies that will kill the viruses and produce a surplus that can be used if you come into contact with the flu.
Even those who received a flu shot last year should get another shot this year…and every year. Influenza viruses are constantly mutating, and the immune system needs to be prepared for the newest iterations, Prescott said.
“We provide the influenza vaccine to employees because we think it’s important. They’re available at doctors’ offices, drug stores and even Wal-Mart these days,” he said. “So when someone asks me if they should get a flu shot, with very few exceptions, my answer is yes.”