01/07/2014 12:31 EST | Updated 03/09/2014 05:59 EDT

The Flu Vaccine: Separating Fact and Fiction

Written by Leslie Kennedy for

Many parents waver on getting the flu shot for their children. Many parents waver on getting it for themselves. The arguments against it are the same for many of the optional vaccines (i.e. vaccines that are not on the provincially mandated schedule).

People fear their children's bodies are already overloaded with vaccines and they don't want to add more if they don't have to. They also say, as with the chicken pox vaccine that was optional in Ontario until just recently, 'it's just the flu.'

Full disclosure, I have said these very things.

But I was wrong.

Related: Teething, Colds and Sleep Regressions

Contrary to fear mongers and naysayers, vaccines work, and vaccines are necessary. And vaccines are not given unless they are tested to be safe and tested to be effective.

The old stand-by anti-vax stance that people have become seriously sick from vaccines neglect to acknowledge everything can be an allergen. There are people who are allergic grass, peanuts, dust, chicken etc. etc. etc., and yes, vaccines. It doesn't mean than grass is bad or peanuts are bad or dust or chickens are bad. None of those things are evil. Neither are vaccines.

In fact, in a recent discussion held by Dr. Arlene King, the rate of success of vaccines is astounding, and undeniable.

Three important things of note:

1. In the last 50 years, immunization has saved more lives than any other health intervention. Consider this: 100 years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they now cause less than 5 per cent of all deaths - all thanks to immunization.

2. Data from the 2011-2012 flu season shows that in Ontario, almost half of all influenza cases reported occurred in those over 65 and in children under the age of 5.

3. The greatest number of reported cases of influenza in children are found among those aged 1-4 years. To paraphrase: Vaccines save a lot of lives, and the most vulnerable are our elderly and our children.

Cold and Flu: What's the difference?

Perhaps it's necessary to decipher between a cold and the flu. I have heard the term 'flu' thrown around as an ailment more times than I can count but in reality, I can probably count on one hand the number of people I know who have ever actually really suffered from Influenza.

According to the Mayo Clinic: "Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system -- your nose, throat and lungs. Influenza, commonly called the flu, is not the same as the stomach "flu" viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting.

Influenza and its complications can be deadly. People at higher risk of developing flu complications include: Young children, older adults, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people who have chronic illnesses. Your best defense against influenza is to receive an annual vaccination."

Flu Shot Myths

The myths about the flu shot are many, and one of the most common I've heard (and admittedly believed in the past) is that the shot itself gives you the flu. Not so and not possible, King explains. "The publicly funded influenza vaccine does not contain any ingredients that would cause the flu and therefore the shot cannot give anybody the flu," she said.

Unlike serious colds, true influenza can and has been deadly. In fact, King explained that in the 2012/13 influenza season, there were seven deaths among children under the age of five with confirmed influenza.

That is seven deaths too many; seven deaths that could have been prevented.

There are facts about vaccines that prove them to be worthwhile and a plethora of myths constantly circulating to suggest otherwise.

Ultimately the decision to get a flu shot is entirely a personal one. This isn't about standing on a soap box preaching why it's necessary to get. But like all things, especially when related to vaccines, the choice to do it or not to do it should always be based on truth, on facts, and on science. And not on myths that scare people away.

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