Why Influenza Vaccination is important
Influenza is often overlooked and not treated seriously, but it can be deadly. Flu pandemics pose an ever-growing threat to public health, but flu shots can help protect you and your family.
It’s been over a hundred years since the influenza pandemic of 1918, but it seems like there are some lessons yet to be learned. The 1918 flu pandemic claimed an estimated 50 million lives across the world, with India bearing the highest burden. Although outcomes would be much better today due to advances in medical care, India would still bear the biggest brunt of a severe flu pandemic when one does strike. A large reason for this is the lack of vaccination and our cavalier attitude to the seasonal flu.
The Importance of Influenza Vaccination
For most of us, influenza is nothing more than a mild illness or an inconvenience. Unfortunately, for many others it can be deadly, leading to severe illness, hospitalization, and even death. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 5 million people suffer from the seasonal flu each year and around 290,000-650,000 succumb to the illness. This high death toll is something that tends to be overlooked, but it is concerning. In developed countries, most fatalities occur as a result of respiratory complications in aged adults, but in countries like India, almost all deaths are recorded in children under the age of five. This is unfortunate as most of these deaths could be prevented with vaccination.
While the role of influenza vaccination in preventing deaths from the seasonal flu is reason enough to encourage vaccination, there’s more than one reason to take your flu shots. Countries that have a routine flu vaccination program are better equipped to deal with pandemics (as and when they occur). Without regular flu vaccination programs, a country’s efforts to procure the vaccine would receive lower priority, even if it were willing to pay for the same during a pandemic. This is precisely what happened with the H1N1 outbreak of 2009. Since then, India has seen a steady number of cases each year, with the National Centre for Disease Control reporting over 28,000 cases and 1,000 deaths in 2019.
Current State of Influenza Vaccination :
Although most experts recommend vaccination, the influenza vaccine is not widely used in India and most Indians regard the flu with the same level of trepidation as they would the common cold. Vaccination for the condition is therefore eschewed. Moreover, the influenza vaccine is not fool proof and needs to be taken every year, which makes people more skeptical and less likely to take it. Most importantly, India doesn’t yet have a national seasonal flu vaccination policy, although the National Centre for Disease Control does recommend vaccination for health care workers, expectant mothers, patients with suppressed immunity, and children between the ages of 6 months to 8 years.
How The Influenza Vaccine Works
The influenza or flu virus is constantly changing, which means that flu shots need to be produced each year to fight the strain that is circulating at the time. This also means that seasonal flu vaccines offer limited protection – against seasonal flu strains in any given year. That’s why flu vaccines are needed every year. In areas with widespread immunization, this may help limit the impact of flu pandemics, as new vaccines are designed to match the pandemic strain.
The influenza vaccine works by triggering your immune system to create antibodies that can fight specific strains of the flu virus. These antibodies develop within 2 weeks of vaccination, giving immunity against the strains of the virus in the vaccine. There are different variations of the flu shots, including trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines. The difference is in the strains against which they protect.
As seasonal outbreaks of flu are common it is advisable to be vaccinated prior to the monsoons, so that the effects last for the entire high risk time period throughout winter.
To get vaccinated or learn more about the flu vaccine, speak to your health care provider. Flu vaccination doesn’t just help you stay safe, but it can also help protect your family and the community at large.
Dr Ahmer Ali Khan
MBBS, MRCP(UK), FICM, FACP(USA)
Consultant - Internal Medicine
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the organization.