Your annual flu vaccination: It’s a no-brainer
Update – January 2018
The CDC reports that the current flu season is a severe one. Signs are that the 2017-18 flu season may prove one of the harshest in recent history. Your best preventative step remains getting the flu vaccine. Since it takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, the sooner you get it the better. While Stanford’s walk-in clinic dates have passed, you can still make an appointment at several clinic locations listed on flu.stanford.edu. Or, stop by your neighborhood pharmacy and get vaccinated. For additional preventative steps to take to avoid getting the flu, see this CDC guide.
While most people in the Stanford community do get their annual flu vaccination, there are still some “hold-outs” who, for one reason or another, don’t get it done — either because they just get too busy or because they may not fully appreciate the value of the task.
Why is the flu shot so important?
The influenza (“flu”) viruses are dangerous and unpredictable. Every year in the U.S., from mid-fall through mid-spring, there is an epidemic caused by flu, often referred to as seasonal influenza. In recent decades, there have been 3,000 – 49,000 deaths each year in the U.S. attributed to flu. In addition, there are many thousands of people who end up feeling really lousy for 3-7 days due to infection with flu, and this results in millions of days lost from work and school.
Did you know? The Flu Is Contagious!
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.
Thus, “it’s a no-brainer” to get the flu shot
Yearly vaccination is absolutely the most effective way to decrease the risk of infection with flu. Also important for limiting spread of flu and most other common respiratory illnesses (including colds, strep, and mono) is good hand washing (soap and water) or sanitizing (gels) and good etiquette with regard to coughing and sneezing.
Who is eligible for free seasonal flu vaccination at Stanford?
In a generous effort to promote campus health, Stanford University subsidizes flu vaccine for most members of the university community. Flu vaccination is free to all registered students, spouses/domestic partners of graduate or undergraduate students, active university faculty and staff, retirees, and postdoctoral scholars/fellows. Spouses/partners of faculty/staff, retirees, postdoctoral scholars/fellows, and SLAC employees are eligible to receive the vaccine for a fee. (Children will need to obtain the vaccination from an outside care provider.) See http://flu.stanford.edu for eligibility information and dates/times of on-campus vaccination programs.
Note also that persons covered under most health insurance plans can receive flu vaccination at local pharmacies and clinics, usually with no or low out-of-pocket expense.
Is it the same vaccination I would get at my doctor’s office, local clinic or pharmacy?
Yes, Stanford provides licensed influenza vaccines. This year, 10 different brands and types of flu vaccine are available in the U.S. For the 2017-18 year, the CDC is recommending:
- A trivalent influenza vaccine, containing an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09–like virus, an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus, and a B/Brisbane/60/2008–like virus (Victoria lineage).
- A quadrivalent influenza vaccine, containing the three above viruses and an additional influenza B vaccine virus, a B/Phuket/3073/2013–like virus (Yamagata lineage).
One is no longer recommended:
- FluMist Quadrivalent (LAIV4; MedImmune, Gaithersburg, Maryland) should not be used during the 2017–18 season due to concerns about its effectiveness against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses in the United States during the 2013–14 and 2015–16 influenza seasons.
No preferential recommendation is made for one influenza vaccine product over another for persons for whom more than one licensed, recommended product is available. A summary of this season’s CDC recommendations includes the entire list of licensed seasonal influenza vaccines.
Pregnant women may receive any licensed, recommended, age-appropriate influenza vaccine.
Persons 65 years of age and older who are interested in receiving the high-dose influenza vaccine should see their primary care provider or go to a local pharmacy.
What’s the best time of year to get vaccinated?
According to the CDC, vaccination by the end of October is recommended because we never know exactly when the epidemic will begin. However, vaccine administered in December or later, even if influenza activity has already begun, is likely to be beneficial in the majority of influenza seasons.
Do I need to get vaccinated every year?
Yes. The strains of flu circulating in the environment vary from year to year. Accordingly, annual flu vaccines are produced based on scientific predictions of which strains are likely to be the most prominent for the upcoming season. Since the prominent strains of flu differ year-to-year, current versions of the flu vaccine are not designed to induce long-term or life-long immunity. Thus, it is imperative to get re-vaccinated every year. While there is much research being done to create a universal (effectiveness against many or all strains) flu vaccine that provides long-lasting protection, no such type of next-generation product has yet hit the market.
Contributions by Cornelia L. Dekker, MD and Nancy Stoll MS, RN, BC; edited by Lane McKenna.