Can I get the flu from a flu shot?
There is no live virus in the flu shot, so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine, says Dr Ginni. Basically, when the vaccine is injected, the body is fooled into believing it has been invaded by the virus, and produces an immune response. This kind of inactivated vaccine cannot cause influenza in the recipient.
Are travel vaccinations really necessary? What are the risks of travelling without getting vaccinated?
Yes. While Singaporeans love to travel, we tend to take for granted the high health standards here and do not realise the diseases we may encounter while travelling, says Dr Phoon.
Travel vaccinations are necessary to protect us from contracting harmful diseases in other countries, as well as minimise the chance of bringing serious diseases home to your family, friends and the community, he continues. Falling sick would mean being unable to enjoy the trip as planned. Not only that, some of these illnesses are potentially life-threatening infections, and healthcare costs overseas can be expensive and, in some places, not easily accessible.
What is the best time to get vaccinated before a trip?
Dr Phoon recommends consulting your doctor and getting vaccinated at least four to six weeks before you travel. This ensures your body has adequate time to build up the immunity you need before you travel.
As some vaccinations require multiple doses to become effective, it is important to give yourself ample time to complete your vaccinations, as well as to recover from any side-effects (see next question). Getting your vaccinations in the recommended weeks ahead will give you time to recover from the side effects and you would not have to worry about going on a vacation while being sick.
That being said, if you are going on a last-minute trip, you should still consult your doctor for advice on vaccinations as there are options that offer “accelerated” or “partial protection”.
What are the side effects?
Side effects may include fever and fatigue, but the most common vaccine reaction is a slightly sore arm for a day or so. This tells you that your body is responding to the vaccine and creating an immune response, says Dr Ginni. According to her, soreness in your arm after getting a flu vaccine typically lasts no longer than a day or two. It is your body’s natural response to a foreign invader – a sign that your immune system is making antibodies, which is what offers you the protection from getting the actual virus. The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site.
What are the different types of travel vaccinations available in Singapore?
The vaccines you need will depend on your destination and planned activities, says Dr Phoon. You can search the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Travel Health Advisory here for the list of vaccines required for your trip.
In general, if you are heading to an exotic but rural destination with lower sanitation standards, you will require hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations. If you are going trekking in the mountains, it is advisable to be up-to-date with your tetanus vaccination in case you sustain any cuts or wounds. The influenza vaccination is always recommended, especially when travelling during cold winter season.
Some travel vaccinations are compulsory, an example of which is yellow fever. A valid vaccination certificate is a requirement for travellers who have been to or passed through certain countries in Africa or South America (where yellow fever is endemic) within the preceding six days, before they can enter Singapore. The yellow fever vaccination certificate is now valid for life. Another compulsory vaccination is the meningococcal vaccine which is required for all travelling to Saudi Arabia either for pilgrimage or seasonal work purposes.
What are the travel vaccinations Singaporeans should opt for?
Health risks can vary across different regions due to the climate, season, or tourist activities. This should be discussed with your doctor to help ensure that precautionary measures like vaccinations are tailored to your specific needs, advises Dr Phoon.
The CDC’s Travel Health Advisory website recommends getting vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and japanese encephalitis to most Asian countries. However, in practice, general practitioners usually only recommend the flu vaccination for Singaporeans travelling to Taiwan, Japan, Australia and Korea. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid and japanese encephalitis vaccinations are usually not routinely recommended unless you are heading to the rural parts of these countries, or when there is an epidemic of these diseases.
Is the flu shot safe for pregnant women?
The influenza vaccine can be safely given during any stage of pregnancy, says Dr Ginni. Pregnant women are at the increased risk of severe disease of complications from the influenza. Immunising against influenza during pregnancy not only protects the mother but provides ongoing protection to a newborn baby for the first six months after birth.
I had the flu shot last year. Do I need to get it again this year?
Different vaccines have different validity periods. The typhoid vaccine is valid for two to three years, while the hepatitis A vaccine is valid for more than 20 years. The influenza vaccine is usually effective for a year, whereas the tetanus vaccine protects for 10 years. Dr Phoon recommends checking your vaccination records and ensuring you are up to date for the required vaccinations.