By: Ahmed Ali, Peak Associate
Like clockwork, with another Fall term comes another flu season. The stress of midterms and exams is accompanied by the sounds of coughing and sneezing in halls and classrooms alike. This is to say nothing of having half an entire class sick at home trying to recover.
Fortunately, flu vaccines are here to help prevent much of this pain. HealthLink BC advises people to get a flu shot as soon as they become available in October, as it can take up to two weeks for immunity to fully kick in. Once it does, the vaccine significantly reduces the chances of getting the flu, or dealing with its other potential complications.
In addition, lots of people vaccinating also results in the indirect protection of people who are unable to be vaccinated. This includes newborns, people with immune deficiencies, and elders, through a phenomenon called herd immunity. With fewer people sick and able to transmit the disease, it can’t be spread as easily or as rapidly. This is especially important with the flu, as the disease is highly contagious and carries with it some serious health risks that are often overlooked.
Many people underplay the importance of vaccines. For example, the argument, “it doesn’t give you full immunity and the flu changes every year” misses both the point and the science behind vaccination. While it is technically true that the vaccine only covers the two most common strains in a given year, it’s still worth it. Wearing a helmet only protects your head rather than your entire body, but it still greatly reduces the chance of severe injury. Just think of the flu vaccine as a helmet that also magically protects people near you who can’t wear one.
There’s a tendency for people to argue that the flu isn’t even that serious, which isn’t actually true. While most healthy people are only ill for one or two weeks, influenza can result in additional complications such as pneumonia and sinus infections. It can also worsen previous health problems such as asthma or heart disease. In Canada, the influenza virus contributes to 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths, annually.
Vaccines are an important part of public health. Before vaccination, a lot of illnesses like smallpox and measles were ordinary childhood diseases that simply had to be suffered through — despite the obvious dangers. We can’t afford to let ourselves accept the risks of preventable diseases like influenza just because they’re seasonal.
Finally, there is the misconception that the chemicals in vaccines are dangerous. Ignoring that vaccines can spend decades being tested to ensure safety, the reality is that all substances are toxic at high enough levels. The components of vaccines have been rigorously tested and are safe at low enough levels or particular combinations. The chemicals in vaccines exist in amounts too small to cause any real damage.
It’s not even that hard to find places offering vaccines. Most big stores and pharmacies like Walmart and Shoppers Drugmart are offering them. SFU also offers annual public vaccinations throughout October, November, and December at all three campuses. It’s free for young children, pregnant women, seniors, people with pre-existing medical conditions or dangerous working conditions, as well as people covered by the MSP. For everyone else, believe me when I say $21 cash is well worth the price for health and peace of mind.
Even ignoring all that, just the fact that vaccinations against the flu means less coughing and sneezing during exams should be enough of a positive to get one. Have you ever tried to write a term paper with a fever? One little prick in the arm can help to prevent that.