Get your jab

There's a time to sniffle, a time to sneeze, a time to cough and a time to wheeze. Yes, there is a season for all things - and with autumn comes the flu, along with some inevitable nonsense about vaccines.

There’s a time to sniffle, a time to sneeze, a time to cough and a time to wheeze.

Yes, there is a season for all things – and with autumn comes the flu, along with some inevitable nonsense about vaccines. Really, it’s incredible what otherwise intelligent people will say in order to justify their irrational fears of getting a needle in the arm.

Let’s start with the claim that the vaccine actually gives you the flu. This is a myth. In fact, the injected vaccines used in Canada only include dead specimens of the beastly bug. It cannot reanimate, zombie-like, to reproduce. But its presence allows your body to produce antibodies to fight its living brethren.

Occasionally people report feeling achey for several days following the jab. And it’s entirely possible to become sick following a vaccine – but that doesn’t mean the vaccine is to blame. Instead, chances are you were becoming ill before you got the needle.

There’s also the claim that the vaccine doesn’t work. This is another myth, although it contains a grain of truth, in that the flu vaccine appears to be less effective than previously thought.

In 2011, a study of studies by the Lancet concluded that the flu vaccine is effective, on average, in 60 per cent of adult cases. Other studies since then have concluded the flu vaccine is considerably less effective for seniors.

With this in mind, some – particularly those hale and healthy – wonder why bother with the inconvenience and discomfort of a jab?

This overlooks a phenomenon called herd immunity. In short, it means that the weak and vulnerable in a population are protected when enough people are shielded by vaccination.

Let’s remember that the flu isn’t just a discomfort for infants and the elderly. Instead, it can be deadly. Each year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die from the flu or its complications, according to Health Canada.

If you’re healthy, perhaps you will only contract minor symptoms from the flu. You may not even realize you are carrying the disease. But you could still end up infecting an elderly cancer patient standing behind you at the check-out aisle, or a pregnant woman you pass en route to the banking machine. Why take the risk?

This explanation should also dispose of another ill-considered notion: that it’s better to inoculate yourself against the flu from developing the disease, rather than receive the vaccine. Not only does this approach put others at risk – it also ignores that you will remain vulnerable to other flu strains.

While most Yukoners who avoid getting the jab likely do so out of indifference, a smaller number may be motivated by fear. Among the most pernicious – and wrongheaded – concerns is that vaccines cause autism.

This idea has its roots in a 1998 study that linked the preservative used in the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism. This theory has since been thoroughly debunked. In 2011, the journal that published the article retracted it, and the British Medical Journal later called the study “an elaborate fraud.” The author, Andrew Wakefield, was found guilty of professional misconduct and banned from practising medicine. Today there is consensus among medical authorities that there is no link between autism and vaccines.

The flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it remains one of the few tools available to fight the spread of the disease. Part of the difficulty in fighting the bug is that it quickly mutates, creating new strains that are able to overcome previous immunities. That’s why it’s important to get a vaccination each year.

Last year about one-quarter of Yukoners received their flu vaccine. Clearly, there’s room for improvement.