Should You Get Vaccinated To Prevent Influenza? Local Medical Experts Weigh In

Spoiler alert: probably, yes.

  • Friday, 4 September 2020
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Should You Get Vaccinated To Prevent Influenza? Local Medical Experts Weigh In
mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The virus is airborne

We've all heard about influenza and often throw around the word "flu" when we have a cold, but is there a difference? 

The simple answer is yes. The likelihood of the influenza virus causing death, especially among vulnerable groups, is much higher than catching the common cold despite both the conditions having similar symptoms. 

You don't really hear of people dying of the common cold, but influenza has taken the lives of millions, sometimes at once. 

Think of the Spanish flu in 1918 or the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks in more recent times. 

Yup, they are caused by the influenza virus. But how afraid should you be? 

What is Influenza?

Prevent influenza

According to Mayoclinic, Influenza is basically a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system. If you're a healthy young person, you don't really have to worry about the virus as it usually goes away and will only have a mild effect. 

However, the virus can be deadly in children, the elderly and those with other underlying health issues such as diabetes, chronic lung diseases, heart diseases and others. 

Malaysian Influenza Working Group chairman professor Dr Zamberi Sekawi said about 10 per cent of the population worldwide get infected with influenza annually, so it's a very common disease. 

"What makes it dangerous is that some groups will have it more severe, we call it severe influenza.

These are children, the elderly ages 60 and above, and those who have co-existing diseases.

"When they get influenza, they get a severe form of influenza, they will get pneumonia and they will die. Mortality rate is quite high among these groups," said Dr Zamberi, who is also a professor in Medical Microbiology. 

Professor Dr Zamberi Sekawi
He, however, stated that this does not mean those who are not at risk should take influenza lightly, saying that some healthy people may end up with pneumonia and even infect vulnerable people around them.

"That's why this is something that the public needs to be aware of and take the necessary steps. The easiest is to get vaccinated," he said during a press conference on the 'Making Flu Prevention My New Normal' campaign recently. 

Are you 100 per cent safe if you vaccinate?

The thing about influenza is that there are hundreds of different strains. They are often categorised under two main types - A and B, but there are variations that affects the human body in different ways or to different degrees. 

Dr Zamberi explained that the antibodies of one strain will not be able to protect you from another strain as the antibodies are virus specific.

"There are hundreds of strains of influenza in the world but we know what are the common ones.

"Basically. a few of them will cause about 70 per cent of the cases. We just have to focus on these particular few.

"WHO (World Health Organisation) has a mechanism on how to choose these strains. They gather data from all over the world and they give the data to vaccine manufacturers and they will make the vaccines based on the data," Dr Zamberi said.

The latest available vaccines for influenza protects you from four strains of influenza - two strains of influenza A and two influenza B. 

Previously, the vaccines only helped prevent three strains of influenza virus.

How often do you need to vaccinate?

Once a year should do it
While there are diseases that can be kept at bay without regular re-vaccination such as polio, influenza does not work the same way. 

The virus is constantly mutating in order to survive, so the vaccines also have to be updated often. The antibodies produced to fight influenza also doesn't last very long, so it is important to keep getting vaccinated.

Dr Zamberi said that it is advisable to get vaccinated for influenza annually to get the best protection.

Unlike some countries where the flu season often happens during the cold seasons, influenza is a year-long problem in Malaysia so you can go and get your yearly dose anytime you want.

Dr Zamberi said that he understands that resources are limited, so priority should be given to those with high risk of severe influenza. 

So, if you have children, the elderly or people with critical illnesses at home, you might want to get them vaccinated first.

It would also be a good idea to vaccinate yourself as well so you don't risk passing on the virus to those more susceptible to it.

Pledge your support

If you think getting vaccinated to protect yourself and your loved ones from influenza is important, you can pledge your support here

The “Making Flu Prevention My New Normal” is a national pledge campaign to support the prevention of influenza (flu) in the country.

Spearheaded by Immunise4Life, an expert-driven community education initiative to promote immunisation for all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases, the campaign is also done in collaboration with the Health Ministry, Vaccination is Protection (VIP) and Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG), and supported by Sanofi Pasteur.

The campaign is a national public health initiative to drive flu awareness and advocacy by encouraging Malaysians to pledge to take action towards flu prevention as an act of love for themselves and their loved ones, making a stand for a healthier, safer and better Malaysia – post COVID-19.

Time for some fun

Although influenza is a serious issues, it doesn't mean you can't have some fun while learning more about it and taking the steps to keep everyone safe. 

To thank those who have pledged their support to the campaign, the organisers have arranged for a fun night of digital concert, magic show, comedy and more featuring some of Malaysia's most famous names. 

Let Jaclyn Victor, Jeryl Lee Pei Ling, Talitha Tan and others serenade you, laugh with Douglas Lim and Kavin Jay, and be mindblown by magic tricks by Andrew Lee. 

You can catch the show on Thursday (10 Sept) from 9 p.m. onwards here, here or here.

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