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JENNY HINSON COLUMN: Explaining vaccines

Editor’s Note: Jenny Hinson is a hospitalist physician with Atrium Health Stanly. She has provided the following information about vaccinations.

What are vaccines?

Jenny Hinson

Vaccines get your immune system ready to fight off germs so that when you come into contact with them they don’t make you as sick or kill you.

For example, the polio vaccine is tiny bits of dead polio virus that prompts your body to make antibodies against polio, but without actually giving you polio. This way, if you’re exposed to polio, your body can fight it off.

How do vaccines protect those around you?

When enough people are immune to a germ, it doesn’t have enough people left to infect. It’s kind of like a forest fire — it needs more trees to keep burning. But if you had a super effective flame retardant for nearby trees, the fire around you would fizzle out. If a germ doesn’t have enough people available to infect, it will fizzle out.

Can vaccines cause problems?

Yes, rarely, but as this year’s flu season coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are especially outweighed by the risk of not getting them. It’s common to have redness, soreness or low grade fevers. More serious side effects are extremely rare. Vaccines cannot cause autism.

Can the flu vaccine cause the flu?

No. People who catch a bug when they get their shot can easily think the shot caused it, because many viruses spread at the same time shots are given.

Can I still catch the flu if I get the vaccine?

Yes, though usually a milder version. The influenza virus changes (mutates) frequently. Each year different strands of the virus make us sick, and we try to guess which strands are coming and put them in the vaccine.

Sometimes the strands are different and the vaccine isn’t a good match, and lots of people still get the flu. Other years, the guess is better and the vaccine works really well. Regardless, it’s important to get one every year as your best chance at preventing it.

What about a COVID vaccine?

These are still being researched to see if it’s safe and effective. When we do have one, COVID seems like a germ a vaccine would work really well on, because there aren’t a whole lot of mutations (changes in its genetic material). It’s important to remember that we’ll still need to wear masks until we determine how well the vaccine works and how long it lasts.

From 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 24 all Atrium primary care locations will have flu vaccines for anyone 6 months and older by drive-up. You just sit in your car and they bring it to you. If you’re not a patient there you can call 704-468-8853.