Carefully engineered flu shots are both safe and effective

Jacob Waring – Reporter

I get the flu shot annually. That is right, I roll my sleeves up, and I just let them stab a needle into my shoulder to prevent myself from becoming ill. I do it because I am an asthmatic, and I like breathing. The other reason is because I currently have young nieces and nephews, ranging from babies to toddlers, and I do not want to risk them getting ill due to me not vaccinating against the flu.

I have arrived at the personal decision to receive my flu shot on a yearly basis because of research. I spoke to doctors, I researched online about the mechanics behind the vaccine itself. I was bombarded with old wives’ tales. My mother always vaccinated me, and I never questioned it. Once I started making my own medical decisions, I began questioning the shot.

The anatomy of the flu vaccine was what I investigated first. The technology has been around for 70 years, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The process starts with the CDC or another laboratory partner in the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, provides private sector manufactures viruses that could be the potential strains for that given season.

According to the CDC, the manufacturer injects the virus inside a fertilized hen egg, allows it to multiply and then the fluid from the egg is harvested. They then kill the virus and purify the antigen.

The manufacturer then proceeds to do more testing and produces a pure and perfect vaccine. There are other newer methods, like the cell-based flu vaccines, which was only approved since 2012, and the recombinant flu vaccines were approved in 2013.

Knowing the process of flu vaccine creation did make me feel more comfortable in the last few years when I have received my shots. Recently, people I know would ask me, “Are you worried about getting the flu? You can get the flu from the flu shot because it uses the virus.”

Those thoughts did make me pause, but I decided to take a trip to the university’s wellness center, and spoke with the Student Health Services Associate Director, Brigitte Stiles, to see if that was the case.

“It’s a dead virus,” said Stiles, “it does not cause the flu. You might get an immune response. Where you might feel a little achy for a day or two. But certainly nothing like what would happen if you contacted the flu.”

Unless, you are one of those unlucky fellows who was stricken with the flu due to not getting the shot in time, then you will probably not get the flu. According to the CDC, the rhinovirus which is one cause of the “common cold” and respiratory syncytial virus have flu-like symptoms. Keep in mind that when the flu season rolls around, that does not mean all the other illnesses take a vacation.

How do scientists decide which strain of flu is chosen for a vaccine, when vaccines can have 3 or 4 strains? It would be unnerving that decision was a “pick from a hat,” process. Turns out, the entire process is extremely thorough, and it is down to a science.

According to the CDC, there are over 100 national influenza centers in over 100 countries that conduct surveillance for influenza all year. These facilities collect thousands of samples from flu-stricken patients, and study the samples. They collect data in regards to the surveillance of the viruses, laboratory and clinicals studies and their availability of vaccine viruses. All this data is sent to various places on the globe where scientists buckle down, and try to sort through the data to create the best influenza virus. They do this twice a year since the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have different seasons.

The Food and Drug Administration makes the final decision about which strain is used, and gets sent to manufacturers to create. According to the CDC, it takes about six months to create these vaccines, and they are made in large quantities by the manufacturers.

With all this knowledge, I have confidence getting a flu shot every year Besides, there is one perk that makes it worthwhile: my physician still gives me a lollipop after I receive my shot.


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