The Flu Shot: Powerful Protection...If You Can Get It!

Some dubbed it the "Flu Vaccine Powerball" —thousands of people in cities nationwide signing up for a lottery of sorts. The precious prize: a dose of flu protection for the 2004-2005 get-sick season. The vaccine shortage early in the high flu season led the government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to urge in early December: "If you're healthy and you don't need vaccine, please step aside and give others a shot."

But now that the flu shot has become more widely available again, you may want to consider it, even if it's the beginning of the year. The sickness season often peaks in February and can last into April, says private-practice internist Paula Bergamini, M.D.


But does it work? "The shot definitely works," is the unhesitating answer from Bergamini, who cites these statistics from the CDC: The shot's effectiveness in preventing flu can reach 70 to 90 percent in healthy people under age 65, and in elderly people, its effectiveness can range from 30 to 70 percent in preventing flu-related hospitalization.

As for serious complications from the vaccine, they're very rare. But the flu shot isn't for everyone — people who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous flu shot or who have a history of a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome should discuss the decision with their doctor.

The likewise low-risk nasal spray vaccine works well, too — for its intended recipients, healthy people 5 to 49 years old. In one large study in children, the vaccine reduced the chance of flu by 92 percent. In an adult study, no specific tests for flu were done, but substantial improvements were seen in many health measures, including a 23 to 27 percent drop in days of illness, a 13 to 28 percent decrease in missed workdays, and a 15 to 41 percent decrease in health professional visits. The CDC's Web site offers specific information about the nasal spray flu vaccine, including who should not use this form of virus protection.

Click here to get additional flu shot facts from Discovery Health. For updated information about the flu — including the vaccine shortage and week-by-week updates on how hard the flu season is hitting your area — visit the CDC Web site.