Taking a shot at the flu

It’s that time of the year again – when the coughing starts, the noses start running and sneezes pervade the campus.

It’s flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu season starts in October, peaks in December and January and ends in May. However, this year’s cycle has come with a little unexpected twist: since the flu virus has mutated, the CDC has announced that this season’s flu vaccine may not be fully effective. With this revelation, many people have begun to question whether flu vaccines can control the virus even under normal circumstances.

Statistics seem to support the flu vaccine’s effectiveness. The CDC estimates that within the U.S. alone vaccines have prevented 5 million flu cases, 2.1 million flu­-related medical visits and 40,400 hospitalizations during the 2010 to 2011 flu season ­– roughly 8.5 percent of potential flu cases.

Even though a number of negative side effects such as soreness, fever and aches can accompany flu vaccines, these symptoms are insignificant to the current concern with the flu vaccine’s effectiveness. This year’s vaccine was unable to keep up with the virus. NBC News reported that flu vaccines only protect against three or four strains of the virus, so it is still very possible to get the flu even with the vaccine.

Fears of the side effects the vaccine could have on children as well as worries that the vaccine may not work at all have also fueled the vaccine’s criticism. Yet when Connecticut made flu vaccines mandatory, the number of flu related hospitalizations among children fell by 12 percent.

So, is the vaccine worth it? The answer is still up for debate. After all, statistics have shown that the flu vaccine still maintains a large impact and can prevent millions of potential flu cases, but others argue that spending money to provide an inconsistently effective flu shot is ultimately wasteful.

“I do think flu shots are effective because if you get the vaccine, you only feel sick for a couple of days, but if you get the disease, you feel sick for longer,” Sophomore Kush Brahmaroutu said.

However, a number of unwanted side effects seem to undermine the purpose of the vaccine, and as seen this year, the vaccine cannot always keep up with the flu.

“Regardless of how effective it is, you’re better off having the vaccine than not having it,” Junior Gaurav Varma said.

Despite the vaccine’s various flaws, it remains the best option to combat the virus. Smallpox and polio have been successfully combatted with vaccines, and thus the flu cannot be similarly contained.