To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate? That Is the Question.

Susan Szulc, MD

I recently had a patient decline the flu shot, stating she didn’t want to get sick.  I’ve also heard, “I have never gotten the flu before” or “I never get sick” as a reasons to decline receiving the flu shot.  Another patient told me that he had already received the flu shot… last year.

As we head into flu season, I wanted to address the myths and superstitions surrounding the flu.

The flu season begins in October-November and peaks in February.  About 36,000 people die from the flu every year.  It costs the US $87 billion in medical expenses and work days lost from illness.   Yet, there is any easy fix:  prevention.  The vaccination reduces the risk of dying from the flu by almost half.

The flu can affect you, even if you are healthy and “never get sick”.  Last year, I took care of a 30 year old male in the hospital who was so sick from the flu that he ended up on dialysis from kidney injury.  He was someone who thought he didn’t need the flu shot.

So, who needs to be vaccinated?  The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends vaccination for everyone over 50 years old, children 6 months-18 years old, if you are pregnant, if you work in health care, if you have contact with children or elderly, or if you are 19-49 and have any underlying medical condition. Those guidelines include about 85% of the population.  And the CDC recommends everyone over 6 months get the vaccine…no excuses.

Why do we have to get the vaccine every year?  The World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) pick the three most common strains that are likely to cause an epidemic and put them in the vaccine. So this year’s vaccine is slightly different than last year’s version, which is why you need to be vaccinated every year.

So, why don’t more patients get vaccinated?  Fear is a large reason. However, being scared of the vaccine causing influenza is like being scared of monsters in your closet. It just can’t happen. The influenza vaccine comes in two forms:  a nasal spray and an intramuscular injection. The injection is made of DEAD virus. The nasal spray is virus that has had the harmful part taken out. Neither form can cause the flu.

So the bottom line is GET VACCINATED!

About Dr. Susan Szulc
Susan V. Szulc, MD, is a board-certified internist with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Szulc earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., where she also completed a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Szulc is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. Dr. Szulc’s special interests include palliative care and hypertension.

Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, http://www. cdc.gov

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