Health and prevention

Flu vaccine – should I or shouldn't I?

| summarizes the pros and cons of the flu vaccine. Source: iStock / scyther5

Your head aches, your limbs ache and your temperature is rising... and you wonder whether you should have got the vaccine after all. Indeed, many have mixed feelings about the flu vaccine, and some categorically refuse it. But there are good reasons to protect yourself from catching a flu virus. explains the pros and cons of getting the flu vaccine.

It's the same story every autumn – should you get the flu jab or not? On the one hand, you might end up in bed for up to two weeks. On the other, you are keenly aware of the debate surrounding unnecessary vaccinations, low levels of effectiveness and possible side effects. This uncertainty is what leads many to put the decision on hold or wait until the ideal time to get vaccinated (October/November) has passed. Those who survive the winter unscathed believe they made the right decision. Those who don’t have plenty of time in bed to consider taking preventive measures next year.

Only around one in five get the vaccine

Vaccination apathy is widespread in Switzerland. A survey carried out by in the summer of 2017 revealed that one in two Swiss do not follow their doctor’s vaccine recommendations unequivocally. A quarter even stated that they deliberately ignore vaccine advice. While immunizations against tetanus, hepatitis and measles are accepted to some extent (by around 60-70 per cent), only one in three can ever imagine having a flu vaccination. Even fewer actually go ahead and get vaccinated. Last year, it was 18 per cent of the Swiss population. And yet, in some years, suspected flu accounted for up to 270,000 visits to the doctor, with up to 5,000 hospitalized and several hundred dying because of the flu.

Unknowingly contagious

The problem is that vaccine sceptics endanger not only themselves, but others too. Many of those infected don't notice that they are ill or think they just have a slight cold. By continuing to use public transport, going to work or to the cinema, they unknowingly spread the virus – including to at-risk groups such as pregnant women or the elderly.

Who should definitely get vaccinated?

1. People with a high risk of complications, such as:

  • People aged 65 and over
  • People with chronic illnesses (such as heart and lung conditions or metabolic disorders)
  • Women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth and children over 6 months of age who were born prematurely

2. People in contact with those with increased risk of complications or with babies under 6 months old

3. Employees working in healthcare and childcare establishments (nurseries, etc.)

Vaccination protects – even if not 100%

But why are so many reluctant to get the flu vaccine? The fact that the vaccine only provides limited protection is one discouraging factor. While the measles vaccine, for example, is almost 100 per cent effective at preventing outbreaks, the flu vaccine reduces the risk of illness by only 60 per cent. This is because the flu virus has time to mutate after the vaccine is manufactured in February. If it does, this will affect rates of effectiveness. What's more, not all flu vaccines protect against the latest viruses. In the current season, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) expects the vaccine to be 50 per cent effective on average. This figure drops to around 30 per cent for older people, but rises to 70-90 per cent in the young.

But turning a blind eye to vaccination recommendations on this account is taking things a step too far. Even though the vaccine offers limited protection, it is not completely without effect. According to experts, the illness is less severe in vaccinated people and complications are more seldom. And there’s a big difference between being bedridden for only three days instead of two weeks.

Benefits greater than risks

Another argument used by vaccine critics revolves around the possible side effects. Indeed, the vaccine can lead to redness and swelling at the point of injection, which may last for one to two days. Temporary symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and feeling off colour occur infrequently. Severe side effects are extremely rare and many times rarer than the risk of serious complications from the flu.

Why get vaccinated?

  1. To protect yourself and others: The vaccine protects the majority of vaccinated people from the flu and its consequences. It also prevents you from spreading the illness (unknowingly) to other people (including at-risk groups such as pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses).

  2. To lower the risk of serious complications: There is less chance of secondary infections developing in the flu-weakened body. These infections are bacterial and can be more dangerous than the original illness. The vaccine prevents serious outcomes from developing in at-risk groups in particular.

  3. No days spent in bed or hospital: Genuine flu can last up to two weeks, and in some cases even longer. Complications like a lung infection may lead to a stay in hospital.

  4. Less expensive and time-consuming than catching the flu: The flu vaccine prevents expensive hospital stays and absences due to illness. On national flu vaccination day at the beginning of November, GP surgeries and many chemists offer flu vaccines with no need to register beforehand. It costs 30 to 40 francs. Health insurance covers the cost for people who are particularly at risk, if they have reached their deductible. In the workplace, these costs are often paid by the employer.

  5. Less fear of catching flu: If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to be so afraid of taking public transport, going to shopping centres or concerts, or attending family celebrations – you can just relax, even in crowded spaces.

Major flu epidemic anticipated

According to the FOPH, some 226,000 people went to see their doctor with flu-like symptoms during the winter of 2016/2017. Experts expect a more severe outbreak this season. This is because Australian authorities registered two and a half times more cases in 2017 than in 2016. The situation down under often provides an indication of what is to come in Europe. Anyone who is concerned can still get the vaccination, but it will take around two weeks for the immune system to provide full protection.


Flu or the common cold? How the symptoms differ

  Cold (upper respiratory tract infection) Flu (influenza)
Onset of illness  Gradual worsening of symptoms
Abrupt onset of severe symptoms
Fever Mild
High (38 to 41 degrees)
Headache Dull, mild
Moderate to severe
Cough Mild irritation to throat, often productive
Dry cough to begin with, often painful
 Appetite Usually unaffected Very little
 Fatigue  Weariness Severe exhaustion, weakness
 Aching limbs Mild Severe muscle and joint pain
 Nasal symptoms Frequent sneezing at onset, then blocked and/or runny nose Blocked and/or runny nose in some cases
 Duration  Three to seven days
Seven to 14 days
 Timing  All year round December to April

If you still do not wish to get vaccinated, you should at least take basic hygiene precautions such as washing your hands and sneezing into a handkerchief – and stay at home at the first sign of illness out of consideration to others.

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