Wednesday 13 November, 2019

Everything you need to know about the flu vaccine

From tomorrow (November 5), vaccines for the seasonal flu will be available at the Cayman Islands Hospital, District Health Centres in Grand Cayman, Faith Hospital Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman Clinic.

The flu vaccine is FREE to all residents and no appointments are necessary, but persons should indicate to the registration officer at the clinic that they need to have the flu shot.

For more information on where and when you can get it, click here. And in the meantime, here's everything you need to know about the vaccine.

Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?

Influenza (“flu”) is a contagious disease. It is caused by the influenza virus, which can be spread by coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions. Anyone can get influenza, but rates of infection are highest among children. For most people, symptoms last only a few days. They include: • fever • sore throat• chills• fatigue• cough• headache• muscle aches. Other illnesses can have the same symptoms and are often mistaken for influenza. An annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get flu and lessen the chance that you will transmit it to others.

Will the 2019-2020 seasonal flu vaccine protect against 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu?

Yes. The 2019- 2020 flu vaccine includes protection against the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, Influenza A (H3N2) and Influenza B. 

Who should get vaccinated?

All persons, six months of age and older should get the flu vaccine. It is especially important for people who are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or people who live with or care for them. High-risk persons include:

  • Young children six months to four years of age, but especially those under two years.
  • Pregnant women
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • Persons of any age over six months with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney and lung diseases, diabetes, and morbidly obese people with a BMI of 40 or greater.
  • People who are living in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.
  • Persons with neurological disorders 
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, e.g.: 
    • Health care workers
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
    • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than six months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

Who should not get vaccinated or wait?

The following persons should not be vaccinated without first consulting their physician:

  • Children less than six months of age 
  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken or chicken eggs (the flu vaccine virus is grown on hens’ eggs)
  • People who have had a severe reaction to influenza vaccination in the past
  • People who developed Guillain-Barre’ syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting a vaccine previously.
  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated.
  • Nursing mothers should inform their doctor or nurse that they are breastfeeding before taking the flu shot.
  • People who had convulsions one year before vaccination. 

What kind of flu vaccine is available?

The "flu vaccine” administered in the Cayman Islands is by injection, usually in the arm. The vaccine is approved for use among people six months of age or older, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

How does the flu vaccine work?

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body. These antibodies protect against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the protection to develop after the shot. Protection lasts for approximately one year.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

The HSA recommends that people get their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as the vaccine becomes available. Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest. 

Once you get vaccinated, your body makes protective antibodies in about two weeks. However, children aged six months to eight years who are being vaccinated for the first time need a second dose four weeks later to be protected.

Does flu vaccine work right away?

No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. However, children aged six months to eight years who are being vaccinated for the first time, need a second dose four weeks later to be protected. In the meantime, you are still at risk of getting the flu. That is why it is better to get vaccinated early in the fall before the flu season really gets underway.

Can I get the flu even though I got a flu vaccine?

Yes. 

  1. People may be exposed to an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two weeks that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. Thisexposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect them. 
  2. People may become ill from other (non-flu) viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus). 
  3. A person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine, as there are many different influenza viruses. 
  4. Unfortunately, some people can remain unprotected from flu despite getting the vaccine. This is more likely to occur among people that have weakened immune systems. However, even among people with weakened immune systems, the flu vaccine can still help prevent influenza complications.

Why do I need to get vaccinated against the flu every year?

The immunity (natural protection that develops against a disease after a person has had that disease) that is built up from having the flu caused by one virus strain doesn't always provide protection when a new strain is circulating. Secondly, a vaccine made against flu viruses circulating last year may not protect against the newer viruses. That is why the influenza vaccine is updated to include current viruses every year. 

Can the flu shot give me the flu?

No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The viruses contained in flu shots are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. 

What are the risks of getting a flu shot?

The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.

What are the side effects that could occur?

Common problems: Soreness, redness, or swelling where the vaccine was given, headache, weakness, fever and aches. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the vaccine and last 1-2 days.

Uncommon and Rare problems: Itching, hives, rash, convulsions, encephalomyelitis (inflammation of brain & spinal cord) and Guillain-Barré syndrome (1-2 cases per million people vaccinated). Life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccine.

What should I do if I have an uncommon or rare side effect of flu vaccine?

  • Seek medical attention right away.
  • Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened and when you got the flu shot.

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