By Alex P. Vidal
“The flu is very unpredictable when it begins and in how it takes off.”—Harvey V. Fineberg
FIVE days after I canceled my scheduled flu vaccine at Duane Reade on Broadway in Queens, I received a warning from my insurance provider that “this winter, you may have a greater risk of catching and spreading seasonal flu.”
My insurance provider, EmblemHealth, added: “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), the 2022-23 flu season infection rates were back to pre-COVID-19 levels.”
It added: “The 2023-24 season flu vaccine limits your risk of hospitalization if you or are a family member catches the flu. Visit your doctor or go to a local pharmacy and get your vaccination.”
It’s not yet December, but New York City still (technically) saw its first snowflakes of the season as a mid-week blast of cold weather swept through the area.
The bitter cold kept temperatures downright frigid November 28: Highs barely topped the freezing mark throughout the day, with earlier wind chills in the teens and 20s.
Because of that bitter cold, weather experts have warned there was a chance NYC would see some snow in the morning and afternoon. And that came true, with some snowflakes seen falling in the wind around Rockefeller Center.
As soon as I moved to schedule another flu vaccine probably in the first week of December (I had my flu shots in October every year for the past four years), I became worried after learning from Facty Health Staff Jamie that there are side effects of flu shots.
“At one point or another, you’re going to get the flu. Most likely, you’ve already experienced the bed-ridden days of bad daytime television and a congested respiratory system peppered with the inability to keep solid food in your body,” Jamie warned.
“A flu shot can help you bypass these miserable symptoms. Flu vaccination should not cause the flu in the people to whom it is administered; there are no active viruses in the shot. Some people experience a few mild side effects, but the flu itself is worse than these, making vaccination a good idea for most people.”
The possible flu shot side effects, according to Jamie, are the following:
- Mild Fever. It takes 14 days for a flu vaccine to become fully active. A small percentage of people who get the vaccine develop a low-grade fever of 101 degrees or less. It is possible that your immune system is aggressively responding to the vaccine.
- Muscle Aches. The flu shot is an intramuscular injection, which means the needle is inserted straight into the muscle tissue. This causes microscopic injuries to the muscular cells. Ten to 64 percent of people who get intramuscular injections experience muscle aches in their upper arms or pain at the injection site.
- Redness, Swelling, and Sore Arms. If you notice increased swelling or redness or endure discomfort in your arm after receiving the flu vaccine, you’re experiencing what immunologists call a topical reaction. This is a telltale sign that your immune system functions well. However, if you experience extreme swelling at the injection site or any facial swelling, seek immediate medical attention because you may be allergic to the vaccine.
- You Shouldn’t Get the Flu. There is a lot of misinformation about the influenza vaccine. There aren’t any active viruses in the shot, so there’s no way you can get the flu from the jab. This misconception probably comes from the fact that most people get the flu shot during flu season; an individual may have already contracted the infection before administration of the vaccine.
- Allergic Reaction. It’s very rare for someone to be allergic to the influenza shot. Anaphylaxis is the allergic response that can cause wheezing, difficulty breathing, the excessive swelling of the mouth and eyelids. Symptoms of allergic reactions include paleness, an outbreak of hives or rash, an increased heartbeat and general weakness. The symptoms occur within a few minutes to a few hours which require medical intervention.
- Types of Flu Virus. Different strains of influenza produce different symptoms and side effects. The primary types of the flu virus are A, B, and C. Type A flu viruses are the worst of the lot and cause the most harm; they are capable of mutating and defeating the current vaccines. H1N1 or swine Flu is a type A flu virus. Type B flu, a weaker strain of influenza, mainly affect children and the elderly. Type C flu viruses are common, and symptoms are comparable to the common cold.
- Nausea. It is possible that the flu jab will cause nausea or an upset stomach. Again, immunologists believe this is due to the body’s robust immune response to the vaccine. The immune system is responsible for fighting off germ invaders like viruses and bacteria. In the course of aggressively protecting you, you may experience discomforts like nausea and fatigue.
- Fainting. Only a tiny population of people who get a flu vaccine experience fainting or dizzy spells. This is most often due to the fear of getting the injection than the injection itself. If you are belonephobic, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Warn the medical professional who gives you the shot and make sure you sit down during and following the injection.
- Headaches. Many side effects experienced from the influenza shot are demonstrations of your immune systems vitality and strength. Immunologists use the term ‘regulation’ to describe the body’s internal and often microscopic balance preventing the immune system from harming beneficial elements. Headaches, soreness, patches of hives, and even a mild temperature are all signs that your immune system is responding to the vaccine appropriately.
- Small Risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Only one or two people per million injected with the flu vaccine contract Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). The condition is more prone to develop during an active flu outbreak than through a flu vaccine injection. 70 percent of all individuals who contract GBS fully recover, though this can take between a few weeks and a few years. GBS damages the nervous system and causes symptoms such as muscle weakness, numbness, and even paralysis. There is no known connection between the disease and the nasal flu vaccine.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)