The Flu Shot

Sep 29, 2015

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Death and taxes. No one likes either one. When it comes to taxes, I know Id like to pay less, but if we paid none, then road repairs, hospitals and schools wouldnt happen. Most people pay their taxes, but in every country a few dont. So what do you to convince someone to do something they dont want to do, like pay their taxes? They tried something interesting in Britain. The British Tax department has learned to "nudge" people into doing things they don't want to do. If you don`t pay your taxes in Britain, you will likely get a short letter. The Tax Department did experiments and this really does convince people to pay. Even more impressive is the British Tax department found it was more effective if the letters said, "Most Britains pay their taxes on time. You are in the tiny minority that hasn't paid." than if the letter said "Taxes are essential to fund schools and hospitals."So it works better to appeal to peer pressure than it did to ask people to do the right thing.

The flu is another common occurrence that no one likes. The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious viral illness. It can spread easily from one person to another through coughing, sneezing or sharing food and drinks. You can also get the flu by touching objects contaminated with flu virus and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. That is why hand washing is so important to prevent the spread of the flu. It is also recommended that you cough or sneeze into your elbow, sleeve or into a tissue. Influenza symptoms include fever, headache, cough, muscle aches, runny nose, sore throat and exhaustion. The symptoms of the flu are usually more severe than that of a cold. The onset of the flu is usually quite sudden. Flu symptoms usually last from 7 to 10 days, but the cough and weakness can continue for 6 weeks. Influenza arrives in Manitoba every year in late fall or early winter.

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu shot. As safe and effective as the flu shot is, people do still have questions. Questions such as Can I get the flu from the flu shot? No. The flu vaccine is made from dead virus parts. It cannot give you the flu. Unfortunately, some people can get sick, or can even get the flu immediately after the flu shot. That is because the flu shot doesnt start working until 2 weeks after the shot. So you can catch the flu and get symptoms during that two week period. Also, people who seem to have gotten the flu within a day or two of the shot probably had the flu virus in them already at the time of the shot, and would have gotten sick anyway. Finally, the flu shot only protects against some very specific influenza viruses. It doesnt protect against the common cold virus or bacterial illnesses.

Can the flu shot give me a bad reaction? Rarely. But it is almost always safer to get the flu shot than to get the flu. The flu shot is made in chicken eggs. So people with serious egg allergies should not get the flu shot. You can get a local reaction at the injection site that turns red and sore for up to two days. You may also get fever, headache, or muscle pain. Your pharmacist can get you acetaminophen products to help with these mild symptoms. If these symptoms get very bad or last for a long time, seek medical attention. If you get hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips after you leave the flu clinic, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department for immediate treatment.

How well does the flu shot work? That is difficult to say. The influenza virus mutates every year or so. Scientists look at what the flu virus was like last year and try to predict what it will be like this year when they make up a new batch of vaccine. If the virus only changed a little, the flu shot works well. If the virus changed a lot, the flu shot doesnt work as well. The on average, the flu vaccine is effective in about 50-70% of healthy adults and children. In nursing homes, the flu vaccine stops 50%-60% of flu related hospitalizations, and 85% of flu related deaths. As said before immunity to the flu usually starts about 2 weeks after the shot and lasts less than 1 year. The elderly, unfortunately, can have their immunity fall off in as little as 4 months.

Who should get the flu shot?

-Seniors aged 65 years or older

-Residents of personal care homes or long-term care facilities

-Children six months to five years of age

Those with chronic illness such as:

-an immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment

-a condition that makes it difficult to breathe

-children 6 months to 18 years of age on long term acetylsalicylic acid (i.e. aspirin) therapy.

-people with other chronic medical conditions (ex. diabetes, mental disabilities)

-Pregnant women

-Health care workers and first responders

-Individuals of Aboriginal ancestry

-People who are severely overweight or obese


Who should not get the flu shot?

  • Infants younger than six months of age

  • Anyone who has a severe allergy to egg protein, formaldehyde or thiomerosal

  • Anyone who has a serious acute illness, with or without fever, on the day they are to be immunized. A mild illness, with or without a low fever, is not a reason to avoid getting the flu shot

  • Persons known to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of a previous influenza vaccination.

Lets try the British tax nudge and apply it to flu shots. If you dont get the flu shot, you will be the only one of your friends, family and neighbors that doesnt get it. You will be a social pariah and an outcast. What are you waiting for? Go get a flu shot. That might be too harsh. Maybe I need an advertising copy writer to help me. But you get the idea. Now go get your shot!


As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

Manitoba Health Flu info site:

Health Canada Flu site:

Nudging British to pay taxes:


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