A person receives their seasonal flu shot. CC Flickr by WFIU Public Radio.

Needles and vaccines: these are words that tend to strike fear in our hearts when autumn rolls around. While we are nearing the beginning of December, the middle of vaccination season is also upon us. You might be sitting in Convocation Hall reading this article beside someone who can’t stop coughing, which might have you wondering: should I be getting the flu shot?

For some reason, there is a lot of stigma around flu shots, questions abound whether the vaccines are safe and effective. To shed some light on this topic, The Varsity interviewed Dr. David Lowe of the Health and Wellness Centre at UofT.

The Varsity: What are the risks and side effects of getting the flu shot?

David Lowe: Most side effects that will appear are minor, such as feeling slight pain in the arm that was injected. It is important to know that, contrary to popular belief, you can not get the flu from getting the flu shot. There are some rare side effects pertaining to the flu vaccines. First off, the vaccine may trigger an allergic reaction. It may also be a little risky for people who have an egg allergy because of the way the vaccine is made, however it is still safe for most to get. The other two major side effects would be Ocular Respiratory Syndrome and also Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Overall the more severe side effects are very, very unlikely to happen.

TV: How is the flu transmitted? Is it an airborne disease?

DL: Most of the flu is transmitted through coming into contact with little droplets when infected people sneeze or cough. It can also be transmitted from touching a surface that has been infected with droplets. To help prevent the flu, it is important to stay at home if you are sick, and also to wash your hands as much as possible.

TV: Why is it important to get vaccinated against the flu every year?

DL: Every year, there are different strains of the influenza virus that are the most likely to cause the disease. The vaccines are updated every year to reflect these strains, so you are protected from different viruses.

TV: Should university students be getting the flu shot?

DL: There are a lot of opportunities for students to catch the flu, for example in class and in residence. Getting the vaccine reduces your chances of being infected by influenza -— you are about 60 per cent protected — and it also reduces the severity of the disease if you do get infected, which may be helpful in the long run. The flu may hit certain students harder. For example, students who are diabetic, on medication for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, or who have a lung problem. The vaccine may be beneficial for these students. Although in the end it is the student’s choice as to if he or she believes that the pros of the vaccine outweigh the cons.

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