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Vaccinations recommended

Is it essential to receive the flu vaccination?
Is it essential to receive the flu vaccination? A. Petrov, Slonim, Brest Region

Every winter brings a flu epidemic; in the USA alone, 36,000 people die from flu annually, with its concurrent infections and complications. Meanwhile, losses from flu exceed $80 billion, with the number of hospitalisations connected with flu many times exceeding the number of deaths.

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation has recommended that everyone aged 2 to 64 years be invited to receive an annual influenza vaccination. Meanwhile, children between the ages of 6 and 24 months, and their household contacts, should be considered a high priority for the flu vaccine.

Supporters of the vaccine cite its economic feasibility, since the cost of development, implementation and purchase is lower than the losses (direct and indirect) from infection. Opponents say that anti-flu vaccines have too many complications, making mass application inadmissible.

Various public health agencies recommended annual vaccination against flu for those at risk of complications:

 Those aged 65 and older;

 Patients with chronic lung diseases (such as bronchial asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease);

 Patients with chronic cardiac diseases (such as congenital cardiac diseases, cardiac insufficiency, orischemic heart disease);

 Patients with chronic liver diseases (including hepato-cirrhosis);

 Patients with chronic kidney diseases (such as nephrotic syndrome);

 Patients with epistatic immunity (people suffering from HIV, or who are taking medicines to suppress the immune system, such chemotherapy or steroids of long reception) and their household contacts;

 Those spending time in close environments, where flu can spread quickly (such as prison, a nursing home or hostel);

 Medical officers (both for prevention of flu, and the spread of infection);

 Pregnant women.

According to scientific research, people aged 50-64 are ten times more likely to die from flu-related illness than young people, while those aged 65 years and over are ten times more likely to die than those aged 50-64 years. Vaccination of people over 65 halves their likelihood of death.

The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (World Health Organisation) has studied the serious side effects of flu vaccines, finding that mass immunisation is less effective than selective vaccination of at-risk groups (taking into account medical contra-indications) during a pre-epidemic period. 

Recent vaccinations comprising antigenes of the flu virus (detached and cleaned after cultivation of integral viruses) have modest side-effects: moderate pain, reddening (occasionally), swelling at the injection site, and a rise in body temperature. Usually, these problems begin soon after injection and last for 1-2 days.

Annually, the flu virus changes, and alternative strains prevail. Because of the high speed of mutation, vaccines remain effective for only about one year; WHO co-ordinates each anti-flu vaccine,aiming to predict the most probable strains of causative agent.

Vaccines currently in use in Belarus have strain compositions recommended by the World Health Organisation for 2015-2016, for countries in the Northern hemisphere.

Anti-flu vaccination is the most effective method of preventing the occurrence of flu virus infection, and its potentially serious complications.

By Tatiana Zhukova

Doctor of higher category, M.D., Ph.D.
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