Scared by the flu vaccine? Don’t be

By in Opinions

Flu season is almost upon us, and that means it’s time to get vaccinated. Though some perceived barriers and misinformation remains, it’s easy for students to protect themselves against the viral illness.

You can walk in and get your flu shot without an appointment at most medical clinics and pharmacies in your area, including the University of Saskatchewan’s very own Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Upper Place Riel. It doesn’t cost anything, and all you need is your health card and a few minutes to fill out a medical form.

Now, assuming you or your friends aren’t quite on board with getting a vaccination, I — along with some reputable internet sources and Dr. Andrew Potter, the director of the Vaccines and Infectious Disease Organization — will address some common concerns.

First of all, vaccines do not cause autism. This theory, and the anti-vaccination movement as a whole, stems from a now debunked study done by Andrew Wakefield in 1998. Wakefield claimed there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. Since then, every single one of Wakefield’s findings from the study have been dismissed, his paper has been retracted, and his medical licence has been taken away.

Needless to say, Wakefield is not a reliable source of scientific information. Numerous books have been published on how scientists like Wakefield fudge their findings, such as Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. There is plenty of misinformation like this surrounding the topic of vaccination.

Some people might take issue with the so-called toxic substances that vaccines allegedly contain. While some vaccines do contain things like mercury and aluminum, these chemicals are not as dangerous as you think. These supposedly harmful substances in vaccines are found in small doses that don’t pose health risks, and in some cases, they even differ from the compounds that are viewed as toxic.

For example, many people would be worried to see mercury on the ingredient list for the flu shot, but it is actually a part of a preservative compound called thimerosal, which contains ethylmercury, a substance that does not have the same properties as methylmercury, the compound responsible for toxicity.

The amount of these chemicals present in a single dose is so small that its effects are essentially negligible. It’s best to remember the golden rule of toxicology: the dose makes the poison. Aluminum hydroxide, for example, has been used in vaccines for over 85 years to boost the body’s immune response. Although it can be harmful at high levels, the amount a person receives through vaccination is slight. For example at six months old, babies will already have ingested more aluminum than what they’ve received from their vaccinations.

Lastly, there is the fear that people might have an adverse reaction to a vaccine. The flu vaccine, as Dr. Potter points out, contains eggs, which can affect young children for whom egg allergies are fairly common. However, these unexpected reactions are extremely rare since the nurses administering vaccines always ask beforehand about allergies, medical conditions and medications to avoid a negative reaction.

If you are someone who cannot be vaccinated due to reasons such as allergies or religion, Potter says that herd immunity is your best option.

“[Herd Immunity] is a pretty simple concept… If you vaccinate enough [people] in a group, the ones that aren’t vaccinated are going to be protected because the virus isn’t going to be circulating,” Potter said.

Although this isn’t a surefire way to avoid catching the flu, it greatly decreases your odds.

There are plenty of things you can do to ward off the flu, such as washing your hands often and eating healthily, but getting the flu vaccine is definitely the most effective way to protect yourself and those around you. So, if you have a break between classes this coming week, stop by the pharmacy and get your flu shot.

Wyatt Bernier

Graphic: Wei Soong Lau