The 2017-18 flu season was one of the “worst in decades,” hospitalizing hundreds of thousands and claiming more than 40,000 lives across the U.S.
With the upcoming flu season on the horizon once more, Oklahoma Christian University and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are both looking to help students combat the disease by reminding them of the importance of flu vaccinations.
“These numbers serve as a sobering reminder of the dangers of influenza,” Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation immunologist Eliza Chakravarty said. “Every year, the virus changes and mutates. That is why it is crucial to get vaccinated every year.”
Chakravarty said last year’s flu shot performed poorly, ranging between 10 and 30 percent effective, but that does not mean students should avoid getting vaccinated this fall.
“Usually the protection offered is between 40 and 60 percent, and this year’s vaccine is quadrivalent,” Chakravarty said. “That means it combats four different strains, offering increased likelihood of protection.”
Even if getting the flu shot sounds unappealing, Chakravarty said it is in students’ best interest, and in the best interest of those around them. For those who are averse to needles, nasal spray is available as an alternative for people without conditions suppressing the immune system.
“There is literally no downside,” Chakravarty said. “It is extremely affordable—free in many cases. Even 40 to 60 percent effectiveness still reduces your chances of getting the virus considerably.”
Long term, getting the flu vaccine annually will boost the body’s ability to protect itself if past strains resurface, which happened several years ago with swine flu.
“If you are unlucky enough to get the flu after having the shot, getting vaccinated often means getting a less severe version,” Chakravarty said.
Many still fear getting a flu shot can cause the flu, although Chakravarty said it is not possible.
“The vaccine is made from proteins, not the virus,” Chakravarty said. “The side effects people experience after a flu shot—soreness, swelling at the injection site and low fever— are simply your body doing its job and building up its defenses. If you get the flu, you will know.”
Although peak flu season runs from December until February, Chakravarty said it is possible to get the flu as early as September. The earlier students get their vaccination the better.
Oklahoma Christian students, faculty and staff interested in getting a flu shot can visit the Mercy clinic on campus. While the clinic said insurance usually covers the cost of the vaccination, the shot is around $50 for instances when this is not the case.
“If you can physically get the flu shot, do it,” Chakravarty said. “It saves lives.”
The information above comes from an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation press release.