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The Boulder

The Boulder

The Bo(u)lder Question

Scientists around the globe are scrambling to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. While the flu is considerably less virulent than COVID-19, it is fatal to many each year. Yet many Americans reject a readily available vaccine to prevent it. We asked these global health majors in professor Sharon Crary’s Global Health Practicum class:

Why is it important to get an annual flu shot?

It is more important to get a flu vaccine in 2020 than ever before. While the United States has enough hospital beds and medical professionals to respond to yearly influenza cases, COVID-19 has overwhelmed hospitals and health care budgets and increased the burden on health care workers. If we all receive our seasonal influenza vaccine, our health care system will more likely be able to cope with a second wave of COVID-19, which is anticipated in the fall.

Additionally, seasonal influenza costs our nation more than $10 billion each year, including direct medical costs and costs from days of work lost to illness. Lowering this cost by increasing vaccination coverage will help our overall economy.

Many people are reluctant to get vaccinated for the flu because of anxiety that the vaccine will make them sick. But the three vaccine types that exist and are effective against the flu cannot make you sick. They give your immune system a “taste” of a virus to help your body recognize and fight it in the future. In killed vaccines, the virus has been destroyed. Attenuated vaccines have a live virus modified to prevent it from infecting you. Subunit vaccines include pieces of a virus that cannot infect your cells.

Quinn Wright '21
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Quinn Wright '21 

Brittany Davis '20
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Brittany Davis '20

Manpreet Kaur '20
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Manpreet Kaur '20

Layla Ahmadi '21
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Layla Ahmadi '21

Two facts may be the basis for rumors about the flu vaccine and illness: One, every year the CDC chooses influenza virus strains to use in a vaccine, based on careful analysis of the virus that has been circulating in other parts of the world. Occasionally the choice is incorrect. In those years, the vaccine will not provide you with full immunity, but will still improve your symptoms and shorten the duration of your illness. Two, you might become sick after getting the vaccine if you were exposed to a sick person within the seven-10 days it takes for the vaccine to become effective. In this case your sickness is not from the vaccine but because you got it too late.

You may not suffer from the symptoms of influenza, but that does not mean you have never been infected with influenza. Those infected can transmit the virus to others, regardless of whether they experience symptoms. The safe thing to do is to get vaccinated to protect those around you.

This idea of getting vaccinated to help others is referred to as “herd immunity,” which is important for protecting those who are immunodeficient and cannot be vaccinated. Vaccines not only prevent you personally from getting sick, but they decrease the likelihood that you would spread a disease to someone else, thus protecting your friends and family.  

 

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