It is that time of year again. Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!— Everybody!—Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Banners are flying on every corner pharmacy stores and supermarkets to remind you to get your flu vaccine for the upcoming flu season. In the world we live in today, there are no excuses for not getting your seasonal flu vaccines. There are more opportunities to get vaccinated and avoid the flu now than at any point in the history of mankind. The majority of chain pharmacies and grocery stores now offer convenient, speedy, and affordable flu vaccines. Choosing to get vaccinated is a widely popular practice because it’s endorsed by many health professionals, recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and encouraged by the media. In recent years, however, an increasing number of experts have raised concerns over flu vaccine’s efficacy and safety issues regarding toxic preservatives (thimerosal) found in multi-dose vials. So before you make the decision whether or not to get yourself and/or your loved ones vaccinate, I would like to shed some light on the subject. And of course, the decision will still be yours to make. Furthermore—if you so choose to get vaccinated—I hope to make your decision easier by addressing the various flu vaccine options that are available for the 2015-2016 season and where to get them cheapest!
THE DEBATE How well does the flu vaccine work and does it make economic sense? A number of healthcare providers argue that influenza vaccines are not economically efficient—and that it does not make sense to spend billions of dollars every year to save very few lives. They point out that the cost-effectiveness and cost benefit of influenza vaccination are evident for persons greater than 65 years of age, but the benefit for the general population are not well established. Some suggests the money could be allocated and better spent to prevent other more serious, deadly diseases. In addition, several skeptics and conspiracy theorists accuse pharmaceutical giants of manipulating the media and using scare tactics to mass market influenza vaccines—to further fill their already deep pockets.
THE CDC’S TAKE ON THE ISSUE The CDC does not know the exact numbers of influenza-related death each year in the United States and that it varies year to year due to unpredictability in duration and severity of flu seasons. A recent CDC study published in the journal Vaccine claims that seasonal flu vaccine have prevented more than 40,000 flu-associated deaths in the US during the 2005-2006 to 2013-2014 flu seasons.1 An estimated 22% reduction in the death that would have occurred in the absence of flu vaccination during that time.
The CDC recently released 2014-2015 flu season’s influenza vaccine effectiveness estimates. The vaccine effectiveness against influenza A H3N2 viruses were 23% and 18% in January and February, respectively. The vaccine effectiveness against influenza B viruses was 45%.2
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months or older with rare exceptions. For weekly U.S. influenza surveillance report, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/. To see if you are a candidate for the flu vaccine, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm for more information.
MY TAKE ON THE ISSUE: IS IT WORTH IT? Based on CDC’s numbers alone, the effectiveness of influenza vaccines are evident. But how well were the studies conducted and were there flaws? The truth is, there are numerous statistical limitations in the 9 years study conducted by the CDC, but these are the best data we have to date. Collecting data on influenza related deaths can be an extremely difficult task due to lack of mandatory state reporting of flu-related deaths. In fact—it makes it even harder when influenza-related complications are the chief culprit for causing mortality—rather than the flu itself. Taking into consideration that influenza related illnesses are responsible for sizable portion of medical costs and significant loss of productivity every year in the U.S—the cost of flu vaccines may be worthwhile.
I want to believe that by pushing for widespread flu vaccination, the CDC is acting in the best interests of the public. Surely—the process of selecting the yearly seasonal flu strands can be unusually similar to throwing darts in the dark—a miss and hit kind of thing. Or a group of scientists playing a game of battleship—if you will. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t! But regardless of what is being said about the influenza vaccination, it remains one of the most effective means of preventing the flu and flu-related complications. In fact, studies have shown that vaccinated persons tend to experience less severe symptoms and duration—if they happen catch the flu. Moreover, evidence have linked the vaccine to significant reductions in the developing flu-related complications in higher risk populations—such as younger children, elders, or adults with chronic health conditions.3 Generally, the available studies continue to support the numerous benefits of influenza vaccines and that the benefit still outweighs the limitations.
Initially, I bought in on the big drug companies conspiracy theory as well because I failed to see the bigger picture. After analyzing the flu vaccine sales statistics of various manufacturers, it’s shocking to discover that profit margins on vaccines are much, much lower than other pharmaceutical products. Additionally, it only makes up an inconsiderable percentage of the company’s total revenue. Ironically, many physicians who adamantly undermines the safety of flu vaccines, were actually promoting products of their own. Time and time again, they endorsed herbal medications as the non-toxic alternative to the flu vaccines. My bet would be with the flu vaccines—at least I am more comfortable with the fact that they are FDA approved.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF GETTING INFLUENZA VACCINES?
- Some evidence links influenza vaccine a boost in your overall immunity, which can aid you in fending off other infectious disease.
- Lowers the rate of cardiac events among heart disease patients6
- 79% reduction in hospitalization among diabetics7
- 52% reduction in hospitalization among chronic respiratory patients
- 61% reduction in hospitalization among patients >50 years of age4
- Effective in protecting mothers during the pregnancy period and the baby for as long as six months after delivery.5
- Protects you, your loved ones, and more importantly, it protects the more vulnerable population
Getting the influenza vaccines does not make you the “Osmosis Jones”; therefore, does not guarantee immunity against the flu. Other non-pharmacological approaches to keep the flu at bay are:
- Avoid spreading your germs and practice courteous behaviors—like covering your mouth when you cough/sneeze, washing your hands often (30 seconds or more), and stock up on hand sanitize
- excuse yourself from crowded public places—so if you’re sick, don’t hesitate to use that sick day
- Take your antivirals drugs as soon as possible to minimize symptoms
- Build your immune support
- Adapt exercise regimen
- Get enough sleep (easier said than done for many of us, I know!)
- Eat healthy (include fruits, vegetables, and avoid fatty foods)
- Vitamin supplements to give your body all the nutrients it needs
- Stay hydrated!
WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE VACCINES OPTIONS FOR THE 2015-2016 SEASON?
WHICH PHARMACY OFFERS THE BEST INFLUENZA VACCINATION PRICES?
Most health insurance and employer offers influenza vaccination at no charge—which can be done at your doctor’s office or more conveniently, at your local pharmacy. In the case that you do not have health insurance, the following comparison table gives you access to the cheapest flu shot sorted from lowest to highest cash prices. For all locations, walk-ins are welcomed, no appointments needed, most insurance are accepted, and no prescriptions needed for patients >7 years of age. Note that you do not need to be warehouse members to get your flu vaccines at Costco or Sams.
Need help locating the closest vaccination facility to you? Use the following free services to aid you!
Will you be getting your flu shot this year? I would love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, concerns, and questions in the comments or email me at email@example.com
- Deaths averted by influenza vaccination in the U.S. during the seasons 2005/06 through 2013/14
Vaccine, Volume 33, Issue 26, Pages 3003-3009
Ivo M. Foppa, Po-Yung Cheng, Sue B. Reynolds, David K. Shay, Cristina Carias, Joseph S. Bresee, Inkyu K. Kim, Manoj Gambhir, Alicia M. Fry
- Thomas, T. (2015). CDC Presents Updated Estimates of Flu Vaccine Effectiveness for the 2014-2015 Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64(35). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/news/updated-vaccine-effectiveness-2014-15.htm
- Belshe RB, Mendelman PM, Treanor, et al. The efficacy of live attenuated, cold-adapted, trivalent, intranasal influenza virus vaccine in children. N Engl J Med. 1998; 338(20):1405-12.
- Talbot HK, Zhu Y, Chen Q, et al. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in adults, 2011-2012 influenza season. Clin Infect Dis. 2013; 56(12): 1774-7.
- Benowitz I, Esposito DB, Gracey KD, et al. Influenza vaccine given to pregnant women reduces hospitalization due to influenza in their infants. Clin Infect Dis. 2010; 51(12):1355-61.
- Ciszewski A, Bilinska ZT, Brydak LB, et al. Influenza vaccination in secondary prevention from coronary ischaemic events in coronary artery disease: FLUCAD study. Eur Heart J. 2008 Jun; 29(11):1350-8.
- Colquhoun AJ, Nicholson KG , Botha JL, Raymond NT. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine in reducing hospital admissions in people with diabetes. Epidemiol Infect. 19