A spike in flu hospitalizations occurred after a strand of influenza was not covered in the vaccination for 2014. Almost 2,300 Oklahomans were hospitalized last year, while only 1,355 were hospitalized in the 2013-2014 season. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) hopes the 2015 influenza vaccine will better fight against dominant strands of the flu this flu season.
“There are a number of reasons [the vaccines] may be perceived as ineffective,” said Dan Jernigan, CDC Division of Influenza deputy director. “Individuals who have gotten the flu vaccine in the fall may get another virus in the winter. The vaccine for 2014 was 62 percent effective. It’s not a perfect tool, but it’s the best we have right now.”
Ten Oklahomans have already been hospitalized for the flu this season, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health. The new vaccine furthers the debate of whether or not vaccines are harmful or helpful.
“There are multiple strands of the flu, so the CDC looks at what they think will be the strongest strands,” said Rachael Valentz, stimulation lab manager at ORU. “They start preparing in March, but last year they misjudged one of the strands, and we weren’t vaccinated against one of the most prevalent strands.”
Pharmacies have different options for the vaccine, but most are a multi-dose vial, called trivalent or quadrivalent. These are estimated to be $15-$40 without insurance.
While there are many health benefits to getting a flu vaccine, there are potential risks including exposure to mercury as well.
According to the CDC, there are two types of mercury to which people may be exposed. Methylmercury is the type of mercury found in certain types of fish. Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is cleared from the human body more quickly than methylmercury, and is less likely to cause harm. The CDC uses thimerosal.
“The side effects of the flu shot are from the preservatives, and the fact the vaccine is man-made. Any time a pharmaceutical is injected, it forces a chemical reaction, which in turn causes side effects,” said Dr. Barry Gardner. “The body does not know the difference between a dead virus and a live one. The body produces antibodies when it detects the virus. The CDC runs computer scenarios and guesses what virus will be most prevalent and produces vaccines to counter it.”
Many pharmacies, such as Walgreens, offer a preservative-free vaccine as an alternative protective option for those who ask, pregnant women and people with egg allergies. It is debated whether thimerosal is toxic to the body, or if the vaccine has toxins—anything which causes a negative reaction and is harmful to the body. The preservatives are necessary, however, to be able to meet the population’s demand.
“Vaccines are big money revenue sources,” Gardner said. “Pharmaceutical companies manufacture a mass quantities of the vaccine at one time, requiring preservatives to keep them viable. It is not cost effective to make small batches continually to meet demands.”
The new vaccine is not the only way to prevent the flu. Old-fashioned, everyday precautions, such as hand washing and covering your cough, can help prevent catching and spreading the flu.