Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, influenza or flu cases have been lower than usual. However, as Malaysia and the rest of the world start opening up, it comes with no surprise that the cases of influenza are on the rise again.
The human influenza virus was first identified in 1933, but references to the influenza epidemic can be found since the antiquities and the middle ages. In modern times, before the advent of COVID-19, influenza outbreaks occurred almost annually, sometimes on a global scale. Luckily, there is already a way to lessen the impact of the disease: influenza vaccines.
However, as with all things pertaining to vaccines, fake news and baseless rumours abound. As a result, some parents often hesitate to vaccinate their children for fear of adverse consequences.
“Flu vaccines are not safe.”
One of the most common misconceptions about flu vaccines is that they are not safe and often give rise to complications. This is abjectly false. Flu vaccines have long had a very good safety record, and even if there are side effects, these are generally mild and usually subside within a day or two.
Many extensive studies have demonstrated not only the safety of such vaccines, but also the benefits that can be derived if a person is vaccinated, such as lowering the risk of major cardiovascular events and lung infections, as well as protection from flu complications.
“Flu vaccines can cause flu.”
Another misconception is that the influenza vaccine will infect the recipient with the flu. This is also untrue, as the vaccine for influenza is made with a killed or weakened version of the virus or a single protein from the flu virus. Hence, the recipient will not be infected with the flu virus after receiving the vaccine.
“Flu is not dangerous.”
Some people may worry more about the side effects of the vaccine compared to the complications of the disease. In most cases, the symptoms of influenza are mild, but complications can escalate to become fatal and result in hospitalisation or even death, especially for young children, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised or have underlying illnesses.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has estimated that the flu has resulted in 9 million to 41 million illnesses, 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalisations, and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths in the US annually between 2010 and 2020. Hence, the benefits of vaccination substantially outweigh the risks of getting flu.
Vaccination is protection
The flu vaccine provides significant protection against influenza. It reduces the risk of hospitalisation in children and can reduce the risk of developing severe complications. The vaccine also reduces school or workplace absenteeism. The flu vaccine is also advised for pregnant women, who are particularly vulnerable to infection due to the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy.
Time to get vaccinated
Influenza vaccines are administered yearly. This is because the prevailing strains of the virus changes from year to year. In Malaysia, influenza occurs throughout the year, unlike in some countries where there are peak months of transmission. Vaccination should be given on a yearly basis using either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere formulation, depending on which formulation is currently available at the chosen clinic.
Annual vaccination is recommended for children aged 6 months and above. For children under 9 years old receiving the vaccine for the first time, the 2nd dose should be given after an interval of at least 4 weeks. Consult your child’s paediatrician to learn more about getting the flu shots for your little one.
As the saying goes, it is often better to be safe than sorry. As schools and institutions begin opening up and human contact becomes inevitable in our daily lives, the spread of influenza will also increase, putting those unvaccinated at risk of health complications. To vaccinate or otherwise, the choice is yours and it should not be influenced by fake news, misconceptions and hearsay.