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What you need to know about Flu Shots this season

October 25th, 2013

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing color, and pharmacies and doctor’s offices are stocking up on flu shots. Yep it’s flu season, which typically run from September until April or May.

According to information from the polling company Gallup, it appears that the 2013 – 2014 flu season is off to a pretty typical start with about 2.2 percent of Americans reporting being sick with the flu. It’s good to bear in mind that these are phone survey number, and not official numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. Their October flu case numbers have been very delayed thanks to the government shutdown.

Even though 2.2 percent is not a huge number, peak flu season (January and February) is right around the corner. The CDC’s standard guidelines for flu season is that everyone six months of age and older should receive get one. So should you get a flu shot to save yourself from the horrors of the flu?

Credit: mendolus shank, via Flickr under Creative Commons

Credit: mendolus shank, via Flickr under Creative Commons

Risk vs. Benefits

The CDC doesn’t make much of a secret that even if you get the current year’s flu vaccine you still might get sick. The influenza virus is a devilish little bugger of a virus that likes to constantly change. Expert researchers attempt their very best guess every year based on the previous year’s flu season as to what varieties of the virus will become the most prevalent for the following season. The problem though is that they have to make these decisions in February for a flu season that doesn’t start until in earnest until October.

This means that every year’s flu vaccine is a bit of a shot in the dark. But if the experts are right you’ll be safe from the flu that year. Even if they’re wrong the antibodies produced from a flu vaccine will help the body fight any strain of the flu.

Because the flu components of the vaccine are made with deactivated versions of the three major strains the vaccine itself is not dangerous to take. However there is some speculation about a mercury-based preservative thimerosal which is used to keep certain versions of the flu vaccine safe from contamination. Mercury is a known neurotoxin that causes adverse side effects in humans. So it’s no wonder that since thimerosal contains mercury it has a few people worried.

However research from the CDC has found that thimerosal is not dangerous, and has been used for decades in the United States in vaccines of all kinds, according to its flu vaccine website. Despite that if you’d rather steer clear of the substance in your vaccine, thimerosal is only present in the multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine in order to guard against possible contamination once the vials are opened. So that means the single dose vials are thimerosal free.

So what’s the benefit of a flu shot if I still might get the virus even after the vaccine and that my vaccine could have a potentially toxic preservative in it? Well aside from you likely not getting the flu, you might get some unexpected cardiac benefit.

Read up on the full flu season guidelines from the CDC here:

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2013-2014.htm

 

Flu Shots and Obamacare

If you’re looking to get a flu shot where can you go? Well as I mentioned in the introduction you can make an appoint with your doctor to get the shot or you can visit a pharmacy and they will likely be able to administer it for you.

Another good thing to know is that starting next year (if you can wait that long) thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s support of preventative medical services your flu shot will be covered by your health insurance and it won’t cost you a thing. But be careful if you go to a pharmacy to get your flu shot, there is some speculation that certain places are telling customers that they’re not covered for a shot and charging them when in fact the opposite is true.