Influenza immunizations: risks and benefits
With flu season drawing to a close, many are wondering whether they made the right decision regarding vaccination and deciding their choice for next year. Wright State has a diversity of perspectives on the issue.
Dr. Donald Clark of Wright State Physicians supports the established medical orthodoxy.
“We recommend that everyone these days get the flu vaccine,” Clark said. “We especially recommend it for people at the highest risk: the young and the elderly, anybody who is exposed to those infected with the flu and people in schools and colleges where infections go around pretty rampantly due to many people being in close proximity.”
Undergraduate student Emily Gay agreed that immunization is a good idea for at-risk individuals but did not believe that everyone should get them.
“I am a healthy young adult, and my immune system is strong enough to fight off influenza,” Gay said. “I’m not saying that everyone should avoid the flu vaccine, but I do believe that for healthy young people who drink water, eat healthy and exercise, that the vaccine is not necessary.”
WSU Virologist Dawn Wooley agreed with Clark.
“I believe in flu shots and have been getting them every year since I was 28 years old. They work,” Wooley said. “The only danger is for people with certain medical conditions. This is why a medical professional should discuss the potential side effects and review contraindications.”
The Boonshoft School of Medicine requires that all medical students and staff get vaccinated. One such student, Phillip Wenzell understood the rationale for this policy.
“I’ve never gotten a flu shot before, but I think it makes sense now since health care workers are easy vectors of transmission for the flu, especially among high-risk populations seen in hospitals,” Wenzell said. “In other words, we’re exposed to the flu more frequently, and we come in contact with patients with weakened immune systems.”
The clear benefit of influenza immunization is the reduced risk of serious infection, but what are the risks? Clark believed they are minimal.
“Most people don’t get sick as a result of vaccination,” Clark said. “Some people can have an achy, sore arm for a day or two, but that usually resolves.”
There is also the possibility of allergic reactions to the immunization. Most influenza vaccines are created using eggs so those with egg allergies should consult their physician before getting vaccinated. However, vaccines that don’t contain eggs are now available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some people associate vaccinations with autism due to premature announcements by the media linking the two, before reliable scientific evidence could be gathered. One component of some vaccines, thimerosal (or thiomersal), is a mercury-based preservative, which has been alleged as a possible cause of autism. However the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has concluded that “there is no evidence of toxicity from thiomersal in vaccines.” Clark agreed with the WHO’s assessment.
“The research on autism and immunizations has been fairly clear; in that no immunization has ever been found to cause autism,” Clark said.
Wenzell agreed with Clark.
“I’m completely for vaccinating children, and I think the unfounded arguments of opponents have led to an unnecessary, irrational fear of them,” Wenzell said.
It is important for those considering influenza immunization to consult their healthcare providers and rationally weigh the risks and benefits of vaccination, according to Wenzell.
“It’s worth talking to your doctor about every medication and vaccine you receive, and he/she should be more than happy to present information regarding the risks and benefits of each treatment,” Wenzell said. “Just remember that you pay doctors to look out for your best medical interest; people on the internet have no such obligation.”