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Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen is a collaborative physician who writes a weekly “Medical Monday” column for Women’s Voices for Change. (Search our archives for her posts, calling on the expertise of medical specialists, on topics from angiography to vulvar melanoma.)

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Each of us, as adults, should have an immunization card, created by our primary health care provider. At each well-person exam, it would be appropriate to ask that the vaccine record be reviewed so that timely vaccinations can be performed.  This week, Dr. Pat turns for expertise to a member of Women’s Voices’ Medical Advisory Board, Jason S. Kendler, M.D., a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University to discuss infectious diseases and the vaccines needed to combat them.


Long before vaccines existed, Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This statement has as much validity now as it did then. Despite all of the treatments that have been developed in the modern medical era, there is no question that preventing illness, when possible, is a better strategy than treating illness. This is a discussion of illnesses that can be prevented by timely vaccination that do not include  foreign travel-related illnesses that can be prevented by vaccination. This is a focus on infectious diseases that we are at risk of acquiring right here at home.

Influenza Vaccine

The influenza virus causes an illness characterized by the abrupt onset of malaise, fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, runny nose, and cough. Although most patients with influenza will recover within a week, complications (including death) can occur in some patients, particularly in the elderly, patients with a weakened immune system, patients with heart or lung disease, and pregnant women.

Although the influenza vaccine is most beneficial for these patients at high risk, studies have demonstrated clear advantages of vaccinating young, healthy adults. For this reason, the current recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is that all adults (including pregnant women) receive the influenza vaccine yearly prior to the flu season (i.e. in the fall).

Possible side effects of influenza vaccination include soreness at the injection site and low-grade fever. Despite what you may have heard, it is not possible to get the flu from the flu vaccine. Influenza vaccine should be used cautiously in patients who are allergic to eggs. For patients who do not like to receive injections, a nasal vaccine exists as an alternative, but there are certain restrictions on who can receive the nasal vaccine, because it is a live vaccine.

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  • Andrea August 9, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thanks Dr Kendler for a very informative article. It’s also important to have anyone who works/lives in your home ( nannies housekeepers) given the influenza vaccine as well.