Flu season has come to the U.S. once more, bringing back the question of the flu shot. I don’t get sick very often, which is why I didn’t get a flu shot and why I didn’t really know what to do when I got the flu. I considered getting a flu shot next year but then a week later, one of my teachers was out of school with the flu even though he got a flu vaccination recently. Does the vaccine really help?
First of all, the Center for Disease Control recommends that anyone six months of age and older get the flu vaccine each year. This recommendation was first released in 2010 because the CDC wanted to “expand protection against the flu to more people.”
They also admit, however, that the vaccine protects only against a small number of strains of the influenza virus each year and only in certain circumstances. This year, the vaccine is meant to protect against three different strains of the virus and it is estimated to reduce the risk of getting the virus and showing symptoms by 50 to 60 percent.
Additionally, if someone is exposed to the virus before they get their flu shot or if they were exposed to a strain of the virus that the shot did not protect against, they will still get sick with flu-like symptoms.
Despite it not seeming to help much, this shot still does prevent the flu in many cases. Yet there are still people who do not get the shot and who talk, write and blog about it being dangerous. The reason people seem so scared of the virus can be narrowed down to mercury. According to these bloggers, there are small trace amounts of mercury in many flu vaccines, scaring people out of taking steps to prevent getting the flu.
These people may be right about one thing. Mercury is considered a toxic metal and in large doses, can cause major memory loss or even kill someone. The problem is, flu vaccines contain no elemental mercury whatsoever. There is, however, a compound called Thiomersal in multi-dose shots of the flu vaccine, making it absent from most vaccines.
Thiomersal does contain one atom of mercury, but according to the CDC, Thiomersal breaks down into a less dangerous version called ethylmercury. So, most of the time there is no mercury at all in a flu shot. If someone were still worried about Thiomersal, they could easily avoid that by not getting a multi-dose shot.
Despite this information, blogs and Facebook posts still rage about the dangers of the flu vaccine but then those same people will go eat at a seafood restaurant. All seafood contains small amounts of mercury, a dangerous kind called methylmercury, but people who avoid the flu vaccine like the plague will gobble down tuna like it isn’t the most well-known source of mercury in food.
Even though it isn’t dangerous, there is still the question of whether getting the vaccine is worth it. For some people, it may be a life or death situation. According to the CDC, many people are at risk for severe complications from contracting the influenza virus, including children under five, adults over 65, pregnant women, people in nursing homes and Native Americans. Additionally, people with illnesses that compromise the immune system like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, HIV or AIDS and cancer are also at high risk. Even the anti-mercury bloggers admit that these people should probably get the vaccine every year, just in case, which to me means that they are admitting that the vaccine works.
I’m not trying to get everyone to take the flu vaccine. There are some people who shouldn’t because they may have a severe allergic reaction to the shot. I, however, have decided to get my flu shot next year. It may be uncomfortable and I may still get the flu, but at least I will be taking steps to prevent myself from getting that sick again and from spreading it to others.