Giving the vaccine

Director of Nursing Angela Mackedanz stands with Donald Heinrichs, 81, of Litchfield as he receives the flu vaccine from Cathy Mollet, a licensed practical nurse care coordinator, at Meeker Manor Rehabilitation Center.

It’s flu season, a time when health professional encourage most people to receive a vaccination as protection against the illness.

But even though the flu vaccine is recommended for most people ages 6 months to 65 years old, some people have concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines and potential harm.

Amanda Orlowski said that news reports about people dying from the flu prompted her to receive the influenza vaccine a few years ago.

But she says she experienced adverse effects.

Medications can, in rare cases, cause allergic reactions, according to a 2019 possible side effects study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. An estimated 1 in 1 million doses of vaccination can cause an adverse reaction for a few minutes to a few hours, according to the CDC.

“That same day, I ended up with terrible vertigo,” said Orlowski of Atwater, in a Facebook message. “That year I found myself sick monthly.”

Her doctor suggested it may have been a coincidence, and that she should try to receive another flu vaccine the next year.

“So I did,” she said, “and I got vertigo again. He said it was likely something in it that I was reacting to. That year, I was sick constantly. Two weeks minimum out of every month, all winter long.”

She stopped receiving the vaccine, and Orlowski believes her health improved.

Although Orlowski had a bad reaction to the flu shot, vaccines are safe, said Ryan Swafford, southwest district epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

“Because vaccines are given to healthy individuals, they are held to the highest standards for safety before they can become licensed,” Swafford said. “After vaccines are licensed, they are continually monitored for safety. Most side effects from vaccines are mild, such as pain at the injection site or a slight fever. The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the extremely low risk of having a bad reaction.”

Two instances of influenza hospitalization in the south central Minnesota region and one case of pertussis (whooping cough) in Meeker County occurred between Sept. 29 to Oct. 26 this year, according to a 2019 report by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Symptoms of influenza, or flu, include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness and body aches. As for pertussis, symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and cough, which could increase in severity within weeks.

“Typically, with pertussis,” explained Ilene Nelson, staff nurse in immunization for the Meeker County Public Health, “it’s more of a respiratory illness where the child usually comes down with just a bad respiratory cough — to the point they almost throw up.”

“Vaccination is important,” Swafford said. “(Concerning) the influenza vaccine, everyone — six months of age and older — should receive a flu vaccine every year. Flu can be a serious illness even for otherwise healthy people.”

This is the time to be vaccinated to protect ourselves, our families and our community, “especially (protect) people who can’t get vaccinated,” Swafford said.

Sadie Crusoe of Forest City questions the need for vaccinations, especially when one considers the relatively limited number of diseases for which vaccines are offered.

“You need to realize that you only fear the diseases for which vaccines exist,” Crusoe said in a Facebook post.

Swafford said the reason why there’s not a vaccine for every virus is that they’re challenging and expensive to develop. The existing vaccines were developed as they protect against diseases that have had significant impacts on affected populations, he said.

“Influenza viruses are always tough because they change so frequently,” Swafford said. “The virus strains for flu vaccines are selected based on the best available knowledge of what strains will be circulating in the upcoming flu season. We look at data from the southern hemisphere, because their flu season happens before ours.

“Flu is very widespread and can be severe,” he added. “Having a vaccine, even if it doesn’t prevent every case, has a significant impact on reducing the most serious consequences of flu — hospitalization or death.”

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