Dr. Oscar Radebe, Clinical Manager: Senior Medical and Communications Consultant: Health4Men, answers some questions about getting the flu vaccine.
- What is the flu vaccine, and how does it work?
Flu vaccines are created to protect against seasonal flu, which affects millions of people each year. The vaccine is trivalent, which means it is three vaccines combined into one to protect against three common viruses: influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, and the influenza B virus. The vaccine is injected to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, which can take up to 2 weeks to fight against the virus. So, it is recommended that you get a vaccine, at least, a month before flu season starts (May/June).
- My friend said that he got sick after he took the vaccine. Is it possible that the vaccine itself can make you sick?
No, the flu vaccine does not make you sick, but there could be other reasons why you became ill and the common ones are:
- You vaccinated late and had already been exposed to the flu virus
- Your immune system was weak at that time of vaccination, so your body could not produce enough antibodies to fight the flu
- You vaccinated in time, but the strain of the flu virus in that particular year has mutated or changed and has become resistant to the vaccine that you got
It’s important to remember that these flu viruses change all the time (mutate), and the companies manufacturing the vaccines have to make new vaccines regularly that will cover these strains.
- Why do we need to take vaccines?
The flu vaccine is not 100% effective, but it is efficient enough to protect you from getting severe influenza infection that could lead to complications such as pneumonia and meningitis, which could be fatal.
- Do you believe that HIV-positive individuals and people with weak immune systems should take the vaccine?
Yes, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, HIV-positive people and those who may have a low immune system; such as small children, the elderly and those who are already ill, need to be vaccinated every year.
- If I already have/had the flu, should I still get vaccinated?
Yes, you can still get vaccinated as you will reduce your chances of getting the flu again. Remember, you can get infected with flu many times in a season.
- Is there a natural alternative that can be taken instead of the vaccine?
There are many “natural” alternatives that people use, but they will not necessarily protect you from the flu. The vaccine has a unique function that is designed to stimulate the immune system in your body to make antibodies targeted for the flu virus. Vitamins and remedies like lemon and honey can be used in combination with the vaccine, though.
- Can I get the vaccine at a Health4Men clinic? How much is it?
Yes, you can get it at our Health4Men clinic, for free.
- How else can I strengthen my immune system?
It’s important to eat healthy, drink lots of water, take vitamin C based supplements, exercise, get enough sleep and try to avoid stress so that your immune system is in better condition to fight any illness that you may be exposed to. Junk food, alcohol and smoking puts you at risk of a lowered immune system.
- Are there other things that I can do to avoid getting the flu?
It’s not easy to avoid the flu virus as it is airborne and you can breathe it into your lungs without even knowing. The best advice is to limit exposure to people who are already infected and maintain a strong immune system.