Dr. Allison McGeer
Director of Infection Control, Mount Sinai Hospital
Mediaplanet spoke with public health expert and Director of Infection Control at Mount Sinai Hospital Dr. Allison McGeer about the importance of getting the flu shot. Dr. McGeer helped us debunk flu shot misconceptions and understand why the vaccine is such a crucial part of prevention.
Mediaplanet: What do you think is the main reason Canadians don’t get the flu shot?
Dr. Allison McGeer: We know that most people who don’t get the flu shot don’t get it because they don’t see influenza as an important risk to themselves, and therefore don’t see that the vaccine is a benefit to them. Some of this is because influenza gets mixed up with other illnesses that we call the “flu” which are less severe. But it’s true that for young healthy adults, the influenza vaccine provides a fairly small individual benefit – definitely a benefit, but not a large one. Another reason to get the vaccine, though, is that your being protected reduces the risk to vulnerable young children and older adults that you come into contact with.
How is the flu shot different from other vaccines?
There are two differences. The first is that the vaccine has to be taken every year. The second is that the vaccine isn’t as effective as many other vaccines are. Researchers are working hard on developing new vaccines that work better and last longer. But in the meantime, the vaccines we have are a lot better than no vaccine at all.
Why do you need to get the flu shot every year?
For many infections – like measles – there’s only one type of virus, and it doesn’t change over time. If you have the infection once, or if you get two doses of the vaccine, you’re protected for life. Influenza viruses are different – they change quickly and continuously. If you get infected or get vaccinated, you’re protected only until the virus has had time to change – about a year. Since there are three types of influenza in the vaccine, there’s always a “new” virus type in the vaccine each year.
Who should consider getting the flu shot this year?
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that anyone six months and older who doesn’t have contraindications to the vaccine should be vaccinated against influenza every year.
What’s the one thing you wish all Canadians knew about flu prevention?
Public health experts – whose job and avocation it is to keep Canadians healthy – think very carefully about what vaccines to recommend to Canadians and why. While public health recommendations may seem faceless, they come from dedicated and very knowledgeable health professionals. There’s no one I would trust more with my health decisions.