General Article

Flu Shot Safety

Flu Shot Safety

We are getting healthy here at Healthagen. This week we all rolled up our sleeves and got our flu shots. Prior to the scheduled event we had lots of questions, myths and concerns floating around the office so we thought we would re-visit the idea of vaccine safety.

Vaccines are a great public health success story. The administration of vaccines has eradicated smallpox, nearly ended polio and greatly reduced the outbreaks of measles, pertussis and other illnesses.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states “influenza vaccination is the primary method for preventing influenza and its severe complications.” The year 1580 brought the first known influenza pandemic. Other flu pandemics include: 1889-90 Russian Flu, 1918 Spanish Flu, 1957-58 Asian Flu and 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu. Earliest recorded flu pandemics spread unabated. Over the years physicians and scientists have tried everything from bleeding patients to administering basic palliative care. Finally advances in microbiology allowed the discovery of viral growth in fertilized hens’ eggs in the 1930’s. The US Military approved the first vaccine for influenza to be used during WWII. This is why people with severe (life threatening) allergies to chicken eggs should not be vaccinated.

In the United States all vaccines must be approved and licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All new vaccines are first put through computer models to predict their effectiveness then they are subject to animal and human clinical trials. When the FDA is satisfied with both the clinical trial results and the proposed labeling for the vaccine they will issue a license. This process for new vaccines can take up to 10 years.

Fortunately, the seasonal influenza vaccine is different because they do not start from scratch each year. Each year the flu vaccine is reformulated. The World Health Organization (WHO) collects strains from around the world of possible virulent strains that will cause human suffering. From these stains they coordinate the contents of the vaccine for the upcoming year. This is how the seasonal flu vaccine is formulated and manufactured annually. Occasionally the strains mutate at a faster rate than expected and the vaccine “misses” its effectiveness target.

Vaccines are held to the highest standard of safety. The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. Rare side effects and/or delayed reactions may not happen until the vaccine is given to millions of people. As with all vaccination programs the Vaccine Adverse Reporting System (VAERS) will take all reports of health problems that occur after a vaccination.

If you are suffering from a reaction to a vaccine call your doctor immediately. If the reaction is severe get the person to medical treatment immediately. Ask your doctor or nurse to file a VAERS form documenting your reaction and the circumstances around your vaccination. According to the CDC 30,000 VAERS reports are filed yearly with 10-15% being classified as serious. The FDA and CDC use VAERS data to monitor vaccine safety and conduct research studies.

If you want to learn more about the flu please read our recent blog series Countdown to the Flu 2010. In this series our physicians compare some of the common symptoms of the flu with other conditions. If you need to locate a flu shot use iTriage on your phone or go to to locate a physician, or retail establishment to administer your shot. Join Healthagen and let’s make the flu a non-event this year.