Forget the anecdotes, the vaccine science is clear

IT'S COLD! Despite still having a few days left of summer, the cold weather has already moved in where I live.

As the cold sets in, it also reminds me that it’s soon going to be flu season – which also means it’s flu vaccine time.

Each year, somewhere around 1000 Australians die from the flu, despite the fact that we have a vaccine to prevent it.

Many people are resistant to being vaccinated – possibly because of the myths and misconceptions about the vaccine and how it works.

One myth is that you can catch the flu from the vaccine itself. This is absolutely not true. Vaccines are made using dead virus – virus that is incapable of infecting you and making you sick.

Sometimes people do have some muscle aches or fever after the vaccine.

This isn’t the flu, it’s just a sign that their immune system is kicking in to gear in response.

Another myth about the flu vaccine is that it causes other disorders, things like autism or Alzheimer’s disease.

These rumours are persistent, despite the large numbers of scientific studies that have been carried out over many years, all showing that the flu vaccine is safe and does not cause any other illness.

Some people won’t get the flu vaccine because they’ve had it before and still got the flu.

This is unfortunately true – you can still catch the flu even if you’re vaccinated.

Influenza is a sneaky little virus that constantly changes, with new strains emerging.

Each year, the flu vaccine changes to try and cover us against the worst strains of flu.

So yes, even after vaccination you might catch the flu, but hopefully not the really bad ones.

As we move into flu season it’s important to remember that being vaccinated isn’t just about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting those around you. The more people who are vaccinated, the less easily the flu virus can spread through a community. It’s called herd immunity.

As we’ve seen recently with measles, as vaccination rates drop, the incidence of disease increases.

As usual when I write about vaccines, I’m sure to get at least a few angry emails from people who are against vaccination.

But I’d urge everyone to look at the science - which tells us vaccines are safe, they’re effective, and by getting vaccinated we can help protect the vulnerable people in our communities.

Dr Mary McMillan is a lecturer at the School of Science and Technology, University of New England.