Will you get a flu shot?

During the flu season of 2008-2009, Canadians lined up to receive their flu shot in hopes of protecting themselves from a pandemic virus.

As it turned out, according to five studies across different provinces, people who got the seasonal flu shot were more likely to become infected. At the time, the research didn’t show the same effect in other countries and was written off as a problem with the vaccine used in Canada.

Now a new study says this result likely wasn’t just a Canadian issue. By duplicating the effects in ferrets, researchers led by Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the BC Centre for Disease Control found the problem may have broader implications.

For the study, Skowronski’s team worked with 32 ferrets, giving half of the group the 2008 seasonal flu shot and the rest an injection that was a placebo. The ferrets were then all infected with the pandemic H1N1 virus.

The results? While all animals recovered, the ferrets in the vaccine group became significantly more ill than the ones who received the placebo.

“The findings are consistent with the increased risk that we saw in the human studies,” Skowronski told The Canadian Press.

One possible explanation, experts say, is that the virus used in the vaccine was similar to the H1N1 virus, but not close enough for the body to produce the antibodies needed to fight off infection.

Another theory, known as the infection block hypothesis, holds that people who get the seasonal flu shot are only protected against the kind of flu the shot contains.

Despite the unsettling findings, Skowronski said that people should not be deterred from getting flu shots, noting the research in this case was limited to the pandemic virus.

“Pandemics are infrequent occurrences, but seasonal influenza recurs on an annual basis. It’s a substantial cause of morbidity and mortality, and the seasonal vaccine substantially protects against that severe outcome due to seasonal influenza,” she said.

Flu vaccine hesitancy varies by ethnicity

In yet another influenza-related study, this one published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), researchers say that a person’s ethnic background plays a significant role in the decision to get a flu shot.

For the study, researchers looked at data from the Canadian Community Health Survey by Statistics Canada, to determine vaccine rates among Canadians over the age of 12.

After adjusting for other demographic factors, including age, gender, household income, and education, researchers identified ethnic groups that were the most and least likely to get a seasonal flu shot.

Yea or nay for the flu shot?

The most likely groups to say yes to the flu shot? Those who identified themselves as Filipino or Southeast Asian had the highest vaccination rates, the study found.

The lowest rates went to black Canadians, followed closely by whites.

And people who indicated they were West Asian or Arab, Latin American or multiracial, had slightly higher rates than whites.

Researchers say the findings could help health officials better target their messages to the public by helping them understand which groups are more vaccine-hesitant and the role of the larger cultural community in making health-related decisions. For instance, some ethnic groups may have stronger trust in the health care system, while others are more likely to turn to the Internet and other sources to help inform their health decisions.

Additional sources: Canadian Medical Association; CBC; The Globe and Mail

What do you think? Do you plan to get a flu shot this year?

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Pamela Moore

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