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The Influenza - to vaccinate or to not vaccinate?

Each year at the beginning of the Autumn months, many people consider whether they should get vaccinated against the flu or influenza virus. In general, the seasonal influenza vaccine is not explicitly recommended for all groups of people. It concerns mainly healthy children, adolescents and adults up to the age of 60, as for them an infection with the flu generally has few complications. But the elderly, the chronically ill and pregnant women from the second trimester onwards are often at risk, as an infection can progress into something far more severe and might even prove fatal. For this reason, doctors recommend an annual flu shot for these groups of people. The vaccination is also recommended for those with a high occupational risk, such as medical staff, employees of high-traffic institutions, as well as those in contact with members of the mentioned high-risk groups, as these could be a potential source of infection for them.

However, the flu shot does not provide 100% protection against infection. On the one hand there are people who do not possess a sufficient immune response to the vaccine, while on the other hand, the vaccine's effectiveness fluctuates due to its characteristics. Thus, there are trivalent or quadrivalent vaccines which cover individual virus types and subtypes. Based on statistical data, the World Health Organization (WHO) determines the composition of the flu season vaccines in each region during the Spring time, in order to guarantee sufficient time for the production of the vaccine.

An accurate prediction of what type of viruses are actually circulating during the year, is impossible and an infection, despite being vaccinated, may occur. The vaccine's protective effectiveness may also diminish as the season progresses, as influenza viruses have the ability to change their genetic material very quickly. This happens by random mutations or exchange of gene sequences between different virus strains. For this reason, the vaccine usually only provides protection for about 9 to 12 months and should be refreshed annually. Although the flu vaccine provides limited protection, it can prevent a variety of infections and severe outcomes. It is therefore especially recommended for people at risk. In addition, the shot has only mild local side effects at the injection site or common cold symptoms for a maximum of two days. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered in October or November, in order for the body to build up sufficient vaccine protection and for you to stay healthy throughout the Autumn and Winter months.

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