August is National Immunization Awareness Month, highlighting the important role of vaccinations in protecting yourself and the community. One of the various vaccines recommended by health officials is the flu vaccine. With the new flu season quickly approaching, many Idahoans might question whether it’s worth the trouble to get this annual vaccine.
A simplistic way of explaining how a vaccine works is that it teaches your immune system to be able to identify and eliminate a specified virus. The influenza virus is distinctive as it is capable of mutating and thereby producing different strains. Each year an assessment is made to determine which strains of the flu virus are most prominent and circulating. A vaccine is then constructed to target those identified strains. Each year is different, though — which is why there is a new flu vaccine each time.
The common symptoms of the flu include runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever and fatigue. The combination of these symptoms typically last for a week or so. The flu is responsible for over 100 million lost workdays per season, equating to over $7 billion in lost wages. A week of being sick can be more impactful than you think. For students, that could be loss in study preparation for exams. Going that long with poor or no exercise can hinder an athlete’s performance when it’s time for competition. The flu season continues to be rampant throughout the holidays; don’t let this ruin your plans with friends and family.
For most people, getting the flu only means being sick for a troublesome week. Others won’t be so lucky, because even the healthiest of individuals can be hospitalized. Severe illness such as pneumonia, bronchitis, worsening of chronic conditions (asthma, heart disease, diabetes, etc), or even death can be triggered by the flu. This is more common in certain high-risk populations, including newborn babies, the elderly, pregnant women, those who have a compromised immune system, or those with existing health conditions. The symptoms of the flu typically don’t get severe; the problem is it makes your body enter a vulnerable state. Vaccinations can help protect your body.
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However, not everyone will be a candidate for this vaccine. It is crucial to talk with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether you fall into this category. This could be due to assorted reasons but everyone gets screened prior. So how can these people stay flu-free? They can stay protected when members in the community around them choose to vaccinate. This concept is known as herd immunity. The idea is you essentially don’t give the virus a way to spread from one person to another. When community members choose not to vaccinate, the potential for an outbreak rises.
Vaccination is the most effective way of staying healthy and saving money. It is encouraged for everyone to make this responsible decision. A simple visit to your local pharmacy is all it takes. Pharmacists are well trained and educated on this subject. Getting vaccinated is more than just protecting yourself; it’s also your responsibility in protecting others in our community.
David Tran is a third-year pharmacy student at Idaho State University’s Meridian Health Science Center.