The Comprehensive Guide to Influenza Vaccination

by Yuyu. Published on .

Seasonal influenza, commonly known as "the flu," is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can lead to severe illness and even death, particularly in high-risk groups such as older adults, young children, pregnant women, and individuals with certain health conditions.

Influenza vaccination is a crucial preventive measure that can significantly reduce the risk of infection and its complications.

This comprehensive guide aims to provide informative and easy-to-understand information about influenza vaccination, its benefits, and the importance of getting vaccinated.

What is Influenza?

Influenza is a viral infection that primarily affects the respiratory system. It is characterized by symptoms such as sudden fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, and headache. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Unlike the common cold, influenza can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications.

How Does Influenza Spread?

Influenza spreads through respiratory droplets that are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, or they can be inhaled into the lungs. The virus can also spread by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

What are Common Symptoms of Influenza?

The symptoms of influenza typically appear suddenly and can vary in severity.

Common flu symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, headache, fatigue, and nasal congestion.

In some cases, individuals may also experience vomiting and diarrhea, although these symptoms are more common in children.

What Is the Influenza Vaccination Used For?

Influenza vaccination plays a crucial role in preventing outbreaks of the influenza virus (also known as flu), a common infection caused Influenza virus types A and B.

When a significant portion of the population is vaccinated, it creates a protective barrier, known as herd immunity, which reduces the spread of the virus. This not only protects individuals who have been vaccinated but also those who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical reasons.

Even if vaccinated individuals still contract the influenza virus, the vaccine can help reduce the severity of the illness. Vaccination has been shown to lower the risk of hospitalization, complications, and death associated with influenza. It is especially important for high-risk groups, such as older adults and individuals with underlying health conditions, to receive the vaccine to protect themselves from severe illness.

Who Should Receive the Influenza Vaccine?

According to the National Adult Immunisation Schedule (NAIS) and childhood immunisation schedule, the flu vaccine is recommended for ALL healthy adults, children (6 months and above), frequent travellers and caregivers.

It is STRONGLY recommended for the following groups of people who are at high risk of developing influenza complications.

High-Risk Groups for Influenza

Certain groups of individuals are at a higher risk of developing severe complications from influenza. It is especially important for these high-risk groups to receive the influenza vaccine, such as

  • Elderly people 65 years and above.
  • Young children from 6 months to under 5 years of age.
  • Pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy
  • People with chronic medical conditions (e.g. heart and lung disease, chronic liver and kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, intellectual disability etc.)
  • People with blood disorders (e.g leukaemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and thalassemia major)
  • People with chronically suppressed immunity due to disease, cancer treatment, or long-term medication such as corticosteroids or biologics
  • People who stay in intermediate or long-term care facilities (nursing homes, hospices, etc)
  • Children and adolescents aged 6 months to 18 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

Is Influenza Vaccination Safe for Children?

Influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older. Vaccination is particularly important for children, as they are more susceptible to severe illness and complications from influenza.

Pregnant women are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated to protect both themselves and their unborn babies.

When and Where to Get Vaccinated?

Influenza vaccination is typically available before the start of the flu season, which can vary from year to year. It is recommended to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available to ensure optimal protection.

However, vaccination can still be beneficial even if administered later in the season.

Influenza vaccines are widely available and can be obtained from various healthcare providers, including General Practitioners, Paediatric and Polyclinics.

It is important to check with local healthcare providers or public health departments for information on vaccination locations and schedules.

How Is the Influenza Vaccination Administered?

Before receiving the influenza vaccine, individuals should inform healthcare providers about any allergies or previous adverse reactions to vaccines. It is also essential to disclose any underlying health conditions or medications being taken. Pregnant women should consult their healthcare providers regarding the safety and benefits of influenza vaccination during pregnancy.

A paediatrician giving a baby a vaccine injection
Photo by CDC

Influenza vaccines are typically administered through an injection into the muscle or just underneath the skin. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that provide protection against the influenza virus. The process is quick and relatively painless, with minimal side effects.

One dose is recommended per year as flu viruses are constantly changing, and your body’s immunity to influenza viruses may decrease over time.

What Are the Common Side-Effects of the Influenza Vaccine?

Most individuals who receive the influenza vaccine experience no or mild side effects.

Common side effects include soreness or redness at the injection site, low-grade fever, and muscle aches. These side effects are generally short-lived and resolve on their own within a few days.

While influenza vaccination is generally safe for most individuals, certain precautions should be taken. Individuals with severe allergies to any component of the vaccine should not receive it.

Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) are rare and can happen within minutes to a few hours after vaccination.

The symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include one or more of the following:

  • Swollen face/eyes/lips/tongue

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Itchy skin rashes over your whole body

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should inform your healthcare professional immediately.

It is also important to consult healthcare providers if there are concerns about vaccine safety, especially for pregnant women or individuals with specific medical conditions.

When Should I Avoid the Flu Vaccination?

While flu vaccination is recommended for all healthy adults and children, there could circumstances where you shouldn't take the vaccination.

  • If you are feeling unwell or having a fever.
  • If you are known to have a severe allergy to antibiotics such as neomycin, gentamicin, and polymyxin B.
  • If you previously had a severe allergic reaction to the influenza vaccine, regardless of the component suspected to be responsible for the reaction.
  • Persons who have a history of severe egg allergy (i.e. symptoms other than hives) are recommended to have the flu vaccination done in a controlled hospital setting.

What are Key Benefits of Influenza Vaccination?

Protection Against Influenza Infection

The primary benefit of influenza vaccination is protection against the influenza virus. Vaccination helps the immune system recognize and fight the virus, reducing the risk of infection. While the vaccine may not provide 100% protection, it significantly lowers the chances of contracting the virus and developing severe illness.

Reduced Risk of Complications

Influenza vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of complications associated with influenza, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections. By preventing these complications, vaccination helps to minimize the burden on healthcare systems and reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths caused by influenza.

Myths and Misconceptions about Influenza Vaccines

Myth: Influenza Vaccines Cause the Flu

Contrary to popular belief, influenza vaccines do not cause the flu. The vaccines contain either killed viruses or weakened viruses that cannot cause illness in healthy individuals.

Some individuals may experience mild side effects, such as low-grade fever or muscle aches, but these are not symptoms of the flu.

Myth: Influenza Vaccines are Ineffective

Influenza vaccines are developed based on the most prevalent strains of the virus each year. While the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary depending on the match between the vaccine and circulating strains, it still provides significant protection against the virus.

Even if vaccinated individuals still contract the flu, the vaccine can help reduce the severity of the illness.

Influenza Vaccination for High-Risk Groups

Importance of Vaccination for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are at an increased risk of severe illness and complications from influenza. Influenza vaccination during pregnancy not only protects the mother but also provides passive immunity to the newborn baby during the first few months of life. It is safe and recommended for pregnant women to receive the influenza vaccine.

Vaccination for Elderly Individuals

Older adults are more susceptible to severe illness and complications from influenza. Vaccination is particularly important for this age group to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. The high-dose influenza vaccine is specifically designed for individuals aged 65 and older to provide enhanced protection.

Conclusion

Influenza vaccination is a vital tool in preventing the spread of the flu and reducing the severity of illness. It is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older, with particular emphasis on high-risk groups such as older adults, young children, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic health conditions.

By getting vaccinated, individuals not only protect themselves but also contribute to the overall public health by preventing outbreaks and reducing the burden on healthcare systems.

Stay informed, get vaccinated, and help create a healthier community.

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