Calling the shots: everything you need to know about the flu vaccine

By Lucy Matzilevich

Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

With flu season swiftly approaching, now is the time for students to begin considering whether or not they will choose to be vaccinated against the influenza virus this year.

The flu vaccine remains one of the most highly declined vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends everyone over the age of six months be immunized. Unlike other vaccinations, the flu vaccine is reviewed annually and sometimes updated due to the changing nature of the virus, resulting in a procedure that is surrounded by both controversy and misinformation. Here’s what you need to know.

Getting a flu shot does not guarantee immunity against the flu. According to the CDC, trivalent and quadrivalent forms of the vaccine only protect against three to four strains of the virus, respectively. The influenza virus mutates naturally at a rapid rate, resulting in other strains that may not respond to vaccination.

Recent studies indicate that vaccination reduces flu risk by between 50 and 60 percent. Flu shots remain the most effective method of protection against both contracting and spreading the virus.

Some students at the University of Massachusetts believe that the flu shot should be added to the list of mandatory vaccinations that undergraduate and graduate students must receive before coming to campus. Ellen Burton, a mathematics major, believes the rule would be in the best interests of those who are unable to be vaccinated themselves. Burton stated, “We need to protect the people who cannot receive the shot because of medical conditions.”

One common misconception of the vaccine is that it has been known to actually cause the flu in certain cases. While some individuals who receive the shot may experience symptoms of headache, mild fever and muscle soreness, the virus inside the vaccine is inactivated, making it impossible to cause infection. On occasion, recipients of the shot who already had the flu virus in their system mistook their illness to be a result of the vaccine itself.

Most people who receive the shot can expect some redness, soreness and possible swelling at the sight of the injection. The vaccine is prepared in hen’s eggs, which may rarely cause an allergic reaction for those with an egg allergy. While the shot is usually available in a nasal spray, the CDC warns that it may not be an effective form of immunity for the coming season.

While students are encouraged not to delay, getting a flu shot too early may result in a less effective form of immunity. The increase in the number of in-store clinics and a recent law that allows pharmacists to administer vaccines led to a frenzy of clients lining up for their shots months in advance this past summer. Some studies suggest that getting the flu shot too early may result in a loss of protection by the time flu season hits. In order to remain in a prime state of immunity, it is recommended that students get vaccinated in the months of October and November.

Although the flu shot doesn’t guarantee a clean bill of health for the upcoming season, there are many other precautions that can be taken to help fight any strain of the virus. Maintain good hygiene and exercise regularly. And be careful with what you eat: A diet heavy in fried foods, sugar and white flour can weaken the immune system.

While declining the flu shot won’t result in you becoming patient zero of a national pandemic, you may want to consider if you are in a position that is more likely to put yourself or others at risk. Are you frequently in the presence of very young children or the elderly? Do you spend time with anyone who may be immunocompromised as a result of HIV, AIDS, diabetes or other conditions that put the body’s defenses at risk? Do you spend ample amounts of time at a hospital, nursing home or other healthcare center?

Students at UMass may receive their shot right on campus. From October through December, the University offers vaccinations through walk-in clinics at multiple locations including the Recreation Center, Berkshire Dining Commons and the University Health Center. A complete list of locations, dates, and times is available at UHS’ website.

Lucy Matzilevich can be reached at [email protected]