Flu Season: Weighing the Benefits, Risks of Vaccinations

As flu season is rapidly approaching and the topic of vaccination becomes an increasingly popular topic of debate in society, Mines students have a decision to make. They have to weigh the potential long-term health risks of a flu shot with the apparent immunity against the flu that the shots may provide. The questions that arise are: Is the vaccination safe? Is the vaccination reliable? Is the vaccination actually needed?

Vaccinations and their safety issues have been controversial for quite some time. The autism scare—now shown to be unjustified—has caused an increase in caution when it comes to vaccinations.

While it is true the science behind immunizations themselves is reliable, it is also argued that people must be aware that there are extra ingredients in vaccinations themselves and know that there is much still unknown about the long term side effects of vaccinations.

“I think anything we do in medicine is not 100%, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. And I think we try to tell people that, like anything, we can’t say it’s 100% safe. But, the statistics of people that die from influenza are high. You have to always look at what’s the benefit and what’s the risk. I truly believe that getting a vaccination is much more helpful and beneficial” states Debra Roberge, Director of the Health Center and a nurse practitioner.

The occurrence of influenza has drastically decreased and pandemics from the flu virus are nearly nonexistent in the U.S. now, because of the vaccination.

“Fifty years ago the number of people who died from influenza was very high. Now, there are still people that die—mostly the very young or the very old—but it is still a lot less than what it was years ago. The CDC doesn’t get it exactly right every year, but they try and look at trends and do have a high percentage of success,” comments Roberge.

“If you’ve ever had the flu, it can put you down for a week. You feel tired, have muscle aches, and feel like you’ve just run 10 miles. You can’t really afford to lose a week of school, so if there’s something you can do to prevent that from happening, I would highly recommend it. The other thing is that students live in very close quarters, but when you live in a resident hall, you are sharing a bathroom with 20 or 30 people and chances of getting something are much greater,” states Roberge. Along with the vaccination, there are other natural ways to prevent getting the flu.

“A lot of this stuff is transmitted through coughing, sneezing, or picking up something from a surface. If you’re coughing and feeling sick, stay home. Cover your cough, wash your hands frequently, and try to keep your immune system up. We are exposed to viruses every day and most of the time our immune system wards them off. On occasion when we’re fatigued, not eating well, or stressed, our immune system is already working on all of those things, so when a virus is exposed to it, it just doesn’t have enough power to thwart it.”

“Ultimately,” Roberge concludes, “If there’s a vaccine that’s going to prevent illness, use it. It’ s safe.”

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