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The Flu Vaccine: Is it Worth It?



Many individuals find vaccinations from the Influenza virus to be unnecessary. They think that since not many people die and actually get infected, they do not need to get vaccinated themselves. However, this is untrue as some individuals took the responsibility to be inoculated in order to build up their immunity and reduce their susceptibility to various viruses. Some may wonder, how was this virus discovered in the first place?


The first recorded findings about the flu date back to 412 BC. It was then that the greatest physician of antiquity, Hippocrates, described a disease similarly to the flu. The patients had a sharp rise in temperature, headaches, muscle aches, and presented with a sore throat. Additionally, if at least one person fell ill, dozens of others also became sick after a couple of days. In a week, there would be hundreds. This was the beginning of an epidemic. In the Middle Ages, outbreaks of influenza were not uncommon; people even came up with a special name for it: "Italian fever". People thought that Italy was the origin of the illness. Historical records contained references to major influenza epidemics in 1510 and 1580, and the disease was first officially named "influenza" in the same century. There are two hypotheses about where this term originated from. Astrologers suggested that the appearance of the disease is associated with the influence of the stars. When the heavenly bodies line up in a special sequence, an epidemic hits humanity. The word “influenza” in translation from the Italian language just means “influence” or “impact”. The other version stated that when scientists noticed that epidemics occurred during the colder months, they suggested that the reason for this was the effect of hypothermia. The word "influenza" came in handy here. Another official name for the disease is "flu", which appeared three centuries later. If the name "influenza" is associated with the causes of the disease, then the word "flu" (from the French word "gripper" and the English word "grip" - to grasp) indicates its symptoms.


Why does the flu occur? How is it treated? Why do epidemics occur every 30 years? Doctors continued to fight unsuccessfully over the cause of the flu until 1889. German physician Richard Pfeiffer put an end to these debates. During the epidemic of 1889-1892, from the sputum of patients, he isolated an extremely small bacterium, similar to a rod. Was it causing the flu? The scientific world celebrated a victory: the cause of the flu is finally known; it is a bacterium - Pfeifer's bacillus! Only in 1931 did Richard Shoupe, an American who was studying influenza in pigs, discover that the disease is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Research continued, and two years later, the virus that causes human influenza (Orthomyxovirus influenzae) was discovered. In 1933 in London, scientists at the National Institute for Medical Research named Wilson Smith, Christopher Andrews and Patrick Laidlaw first isolated a human influenza virus, which was named "influenza type A virus".


After it became clear that the causative agents of influenza are viruses, it became possible to explain many mysterious facts from the history of the disease, for example, its variability and infectiousness. A virus, unlike a bacterium, cannot be called a full-fledged organism, it is, as it were, on the border of living and nonliving, which means that it is impossible to kill it. All that a virus has is a nucleic acid chain with genetic information and a protective membrane. Only by invading foreign cells can a virus exist. With the help of special structures on its surface, it attaches itself to the host cell, and then penetrates inside, where it begins to dictate its own rules. Virus nucleic acids are incorporated into the DNA of a healthy cell, and the affected cell, together with its proteins, begins to synthesize viruses in large quantities. Newborn viruses go free and look for a new host, and the cell that has sheltered them is doomed to die. The target of this virus is the cells lining the respiratory tract: mouth, nose, trachea. In those locations, viruses are introduced and intensively multiply after infection by airborne droplets or by contact-household. While a person still feels healthy, the so-called incubation period is underway. It lasts from 6-12 hours to 2 days. Then the poisonous effect of a viral infection begins. The person falls ill and may have a runny nose as well as a sore throat. By this time, many viruses penetrate into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, acting primarily on the nervous system and brain. The patient begins to feel weak, have headaches, and a spike in body temperature.


During the next stage, viruses invade the entire body and infect the heart, brain, and lungs, etc. All complications of influenza arise from such a common infection, as well as from the fact that a weakened body begins to attack various pathogenic bacteria. Depending on the immune system of the patient, the flu can last from one to several weeks. During this time, the body's defenses will destroy all viruses and cope with the consequences of the disease. At first, this process is rather slow, and only when the immune system learns to recognize viral particles and begins to create special protection against them, will the fight against the virus become more effective. This flu immunity lasts for many years.


Each year, millions of kids get immunized to protect against diseases. Diseases like Smallpox and Polio now affect far fewer people because of widespread vaccination. Vaccines contain inactive viruses or bacteria that stimulate your body’s T and B immune cells to produce antibodies, which then fight the disease. When enough people get immunized, vaccines produce “herd immunity”. When someone gets sick, the disease is contained by those who had the vaccine, preventing it from spreading further and infecting the most vulnerable. But if only a few people get vaccinated, the disease spreads easily through the population and outbreaks can occur. Unfortunately, there are a lot of parents today that think that vaccinating their kids can be harmful to them. While opposition to vaccines is as old as the vaccines themselves, there has been a recent surge in the opposition to vaccines in general, specifically against the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. This has caused multiple measles outbreaks in Western countries where the measles virus was previously considered eliminated. A drop in immunizations poses a threat to the herd immunity that the medical world has worked hard to achieve. The only thing that can protect populations against a rapidly spreading disease is the disease's resistance created by herd immunity when the majority are immune after vaccinations. Given the highly contagious nature of diseases like measles, vaccination rates of 96% to 99% are necessary to preserve herd immunity and prevent future outbreaks.


A popular view exists among people that the vaccine will actually make you sick. That is not really the case. It’s impossible to get sick from the injected vaccine because this is a dead vaccine. The flu-like symptoms that some people feel for the first 24 hours or so, especially during the first time they get the vaccine, are due to the body's development of an immune response. It’s not a full-blown influenza infection, but it is something. The reason why this popular opinion appeared in the first place is that in 1998, a paper in a major medical journal proposed a link between autism and vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella. The popular press fueled anxiety about vaccinations based on this report. Some vaccinations can have side effects like soreness and fever. Autism is a complex neurobehavioral disorder that occurs with a spectrum of symptoms. A rise in prevalence may have more to do with changing diagnostic standards than other factors. In fact, over a dozen studies have failed to find any connections between autism and vaccines and that original paper was retracted amid allegations of fraud and conflicts of interest. Yet the actions of celebrities and the media can have an effect: more than half of Americans still suspect there’s a link between vaccines and autism.


Vaccinations protect us from infections, but the infections themselves have not disappeared. They still exist. Today we have got rid of only one disease, smallpox. When smallpox was eradicated, we stopped vaccinating against it. When there are few vaccinated children, epidemics begin. Children in states with low vaccination rates are twice as likely to get pertussis as in states with a higher proportion of vaccinated children. Children whose parents refused to vaccinate have whooping cough 23 times more often. When the measles outbreak hit in 2019, most people were living in areas where vaccination rates were appallingly low.


The consequences of not getting vaccinated can be serious. In Ireland, vaccinations dropped about 30%, resulting in 1500 new cases of measles and mumps, including 3 deaths. And in the U.S., with lowered vaccination rates are currently experiencing outbreaks of measles and epidemic levels of whooping cough. Dr. Jeff Kwong (epidemiologist and researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, a practicing family physician at Toronto Western Hospital in Toronto) estimates that between 5 to 10 % of the population will get infected by influenza each year. The Centers for Disease Control, when labeling death causes, groups together influenza and pneumonia. This pair took down about 1.7% of the total US population in 2010. Doesn’t sound like much but that’s 6 times greater than the total amount of deaths from Ebola in the entire world. Don’t be immune to good advice: better a sore bottom, than a deathly bottom line. Besides, the virus mutates. The reason why you need to get these shots every year is that unlike other viruses’ influenza has different strains.


The world has experienced three pandemics since 1918. Substantial improvements have already been made in the fields of health technology, disease control, patient treatment, medicines and drugs, vaccination, and pandemic planning. Flu vaccinations are now manufactured and modified regularly, and annual vaccination is recommended for all 6 months of age and older. Antiviral medications are now available to treat flu disease and can also be used for prophylaxis (prevention) in the event of exposure to the virus. Importantly, there are several different antibiotics available today that can be used to treat secondary bacterial infections. Why should you get a flu shot? The simple answer is to protect vulnerable individuals from contracting and spreading this virus.


Thank you very much for reading!

Ilana Saidov


This post would not have been possible without Adelina Kaikova, who provided valuable research and knowledge about this topic. She was essential in the writing process and in spreading awareness of this global health issue.


Sources:

Brown, Ari. “Clear Answers & Smart Advice About Your Baby’s Shots.” Https://Gchd.us/Wp- Content/Uploads/2016/06/Clear_Answers_Baby_shots.Pdf, 2016.


Kwong, Jeff. “Linking Laboratory and Administrative Data to Study Influenza and Influenza Vaccine Epidemiology.”


“National Early Season Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, November 2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 June 2016, www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/nifs-estimates-nov2014.htm.


The Deadliest Flu: The Complete Story of the Discovery and Reconstruction of the 1918 Pandemic Virus. 17 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/reconstruction- 1918-virus.html.


“Vaccine Facts and Myths.” Vaccine Facts and Myths | Texas Children's Hospital, www.texaschildrens.org/departments/center-vaccine-awareness-and-research-cvar/vaccine- facts-and-myths.


“Why Are Childhood Vaccines So Important?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 May 2018, www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac- gen/howvpd.htm.



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