To get a flu shot or not to get a flu shot...that is the question.
It's a medical debate that has been going on for years, and while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that nearly everyone gets vaccinated, some doctors in Connecticut don't necessarily agree.
Pat Garzon hasn't received a flu shot in years.
As a professional pilot, the FAA requires him to get a routine physical every six months, but getting the influenza vaccine is not mandatory.
"The few times that I have gotten the flu shot I actually got the flu, so it's one of the reasons I don't do it,” Garzon said.
His physician, Dr. Michael Teiger who runs a private practice in West Hartford, said he’s not sure the flu vaccine is necessary for the average person.
"Going against the standard medical wisdom, I do think it would be okay if some people do not get the flu shot. These would be young healthy people who could tolerate the flu,” Teiger said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over 6 months old get vaccinated, citing the seriousness of the disease.
Those sentiments are echoed by Dr. Ulysses Wu, the chief of Infectious Disease at St. Francis Hospital.
"Before the time of the influenza vaccine and other vaccines also it was huge amounts of morbidity and mortality associated with the diseases that the vaccines are actually preventing you from getting,” Wu said.
In fact, the CDC estimates that flu-related hospitalizations since 2010 ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, while flu-related deaths are estimated to have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000.
Dr. Teiger not only has concerns about some of the vaccine’s side effects, he also questions its effectiveness.
"People who get flu shots get some immunity but it's not guaranteed and in fact, over the last several years, immunity has been in the 20 to 30 percent range. Sometimes the CDC gets it wrong,” Teiger said.
Another worry by Teiger is how early the vaccine is being offered.
He says drug stores have been advertising free flu shots for months now, something he believes is based on the business of medicine as opposed to the science of medicine.
He suggests waiting until mid to late October to get vaccinated, which is also recommended by the CDC.
"There is some data to suggest if you get the flu shot early the immunity will fade away by the time the flu season peaks,” Teiger said.
While Dr. Wu agrees the best time to get the vaccine is around flu season, he says some folks might not have that option.
“The reason they start vaccinations early is that some people do not have access to vaccination so it is better to be vaccinated early as opposed to being vaccinated at all,” Wu said.
While Teiger said he doesn’t think the flu shot is necessary for someone like Garzon, he does recommend it for a number of vulnerable populations, including the elderly, infants, and pregnant women.
"My recommendation to most people is consider getting the flu shot but have some wisdom to it also,” Teiger said.
Whether you decide to get a flu shot or not, most doctors do agree about one thing, and that’s practicing good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
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