ALBANY, GA — Each year when seasonal flu returns, it is often accompanied by another hazard – anti-vaccine myths that are not backed up by facts, say Public Health experts.
“The vaccines approved by FDA to protect against influenza have a long and successful track record of safety and effectiveness in the United States,” said Southwest Health District Immunization Coordinator Sue Dale.
“Seasonal influenza vaccination is the most important way of preventing seasonal flu and potentially severe complications, including death. Seasonal influenza vaccination reduces the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza or transmitting influenza to others,” she said.
While no vaccine is 100% effective against preventing disease, vaccination is the best protection against influenza and can prevent many illnesses and deaths, Dale said.
Yet at the same time county health departments gear up for their annual flu shot campaigns, myths and misconceptions about the safety of seasonal influenza vaccine typically start to circulate, said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.
“A common misconception concerns thimerosal, a preservative derived from mercury used in multi-dose packs of vaccine,” Grant said. “People can request thimerosal-free vaccine, even though the amount of thimerosal used to prevent the batches of vaccine from going bad is too tiny to cause cancer.”
Another myth – that vaccines cause autism – has been popularized by Andrew Wakefield, a British physician whose work was discredited and who has been banned from working in medicine in his country.
“Autism is a neurological disorder that public health takes seriously,” Grant said. “However research shows no link between autism and vaccines. What research does show is that vaccine protects us from vaccine-preventable diseases that can cause illnesses and, in some cases, death.”
The reason people should get vaccinated against influenza each year is because flu viruses are unpredictable and mutate frequently. So each year, scientists analyze data to determine the three viruses most likely to cause illness in the season ahead and formulate a vaccine to protect against them. This year’s flu formula protects against the Pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus (the seasonal vaccine always contains an H1N1 strain); an A-H3N2 strain; and a B-Brisbane strain, Dale said.
Flu shots can’t cause flu because they don’t contain live viruses, Dale added. FluMist® does contain weakened live viruses, but getting flu from FluMist® is extremely rare because screenings are performed to ensure it is given to healthy individuals between 2 and 49 years old.
However, people concerned about getting the live virus vaccine can choose injectable vaccine instead of FluMist®, she pointed out.
“When people catch the flu after getting flu vaccine, it probably isn’t because the vaccine failed to protect them but because either they caught a strain that wasn’t included in the annual vaccine or they were already exposed to the virus prior to receiving the vaccine,” Dale said. It usually takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection against the flu virus.
“However, flu shots are generally 70 percent to 80 percent effective in healthy people, so it is possible to be vaccinated but still catch influenza,” she said.
This year, Southwest Health District is administering both nasal spray and injectable seasonal flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months old and older unless their healthcare provider indicates otherwise.
The August salmonella outbreak in eggs didn’t affect vaccine production, she added. “The eggs used for influenza vaccine production are different from eggs that are used for food,” she said.
Southwest Health District’s 14 county health departments are expecting to begin administering seasonal flu vaccine later this month, Dale said.
The vaccine costs $25 per dose. County health departments will bill Medicare, Medicaid, PeachState, WellCare and AmeriGroup and state health benefit plans of United Healthcare and Cigna.
For more information, please contact your local county health department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.