Right now in Minnesota, the flu season has reached peak numbers, including hospitalizations and deaths. As a result, there have been concerns raised about the flu vaccine and its effectiveness.
One of the common misconceptions I have heard is that the vaccine is given to prevent the stomach flu (gastroenteritis). This is not true as it is only used for preventing influenza.
What’s the difference, you might ask? Despite both being called the flu, influenza and the stomach flu are different viruses.
The stomach flu is just as its name suggests, an illness that infects your stomach and intestines. Influenza is a respiratory illness. While complications can happen with the stomach flu, influenza is much more likely to cause serious side effects.
Certain symptoms may overlap, but for the most part, they have defining features.
You might have the stomach flu if:
- You experience nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea or low fever
- Symptoms only last for a day or two
You might have influenza if:
- You experience high fever, coughing, congestion, body aches or fatigue
- Symptoms last one week or longer
I’ve also heard other concerns from community members related to influenza and the vaccine.
Is it too late to get a flu shot?
Although flu season has reached its peak in Minnesota, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, as the season could last for many more weeks. Take note, however, that the vaccine takes a couple weeks to build up your immune system, so you are at risk of encountering an infected individual and catching the virus in that time. Even so, by getting the vaccine now, you may be able to lessen symptoms and the risk of complications if you should become ill or prevent the virus altogether.
Will I get the flu from the vaccine?
Though you could experience mild side effects such as fever or pain at the injection site, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine. Click here to read a past Tri Living Well blog with more on this subject.
How effective is the vaccine?
The effectiveness of the vaccine changes every year because influenza itself constantly changes. Flu migration patterns across the world are extensively researched each year to estimate which strains of the virus will be most prevalent in the coming season. To ensure the vaccine is readily available before the flu season, it must be manufactured well in advance, which leaves room for the virus to mutate. For this reason, there is a potential for a bad match.
So far this season, the CDC reports that the vaccine is 36 perfect effective at preventing influenza, as noted in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Though this number might seem low, reports by the CDC show that vaccine effectiveness can vary between 40 and 60 percent in seasons where there is a good vaccine/virus match.
There is still enough evidence this season to suggest getting the flu vaccine can be beneficial. Not only are there minimal risks, but any protection is better than no protection at all.
CDC Statistics for the 2017-2018 season:
- Total hospitalizations in Minnesota as of Feb. 10 are 4,271 compared to 3,738 in the 2016-2017 season.
- A total of 84 pediatric deaths were reported as of Feb. 10. Among those, only 26 percent of children who were eligible for the vaccine received it.
- A new study found that vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65 percent among healthy children.
- The median age of those hospitalized in Minnesota is 74.
About the Author: Alison Meyer is an advanced practice registered nurse and certified nurse practitioner at TCHC’s Bertha Clinic. She takes a special interest in pediatrics, women’s health, and health promotion and disease prevention. Alison and her husband, Jeremy, reside in Hewitt and have two children, Elsie and Harrison.