More people than ever before are having a flu shot each year at the beginning of winter. Only a few years ago it was only recommended for elderly people and others who might be seriously affected by getting the flu. For the rest of us it was just something we may or may not get and although not pleasant, most of us recovered after a few days.

However, it is now being more widely encouraged by doctors, and more interestingly by businesses who are obviously interested in their workers not taking time off being sick. Is this really worth it?

The flu shot has not been the most effective vaccine as each year a new strain of flu virus would emerge, the vaccine not matching the strain of virus. There have been attempts more recently to create a vaccine more broadly effective, but it still remains a bit hit and miss. Also, as with any vaccine a certain number of people have adverse effects to the vaccine and can actually produce symptoms of influenza.

The elderly population that are encouraged to get the vaccine are also the very group who may have more adverse effects of the vaccine. Furthermore, a report that was produced for the British medical magazine "The Lancet", 18-25 December, 1993, stated that the flu virus may not be the reason for so many of the fatalities due to infectious disease in the winter. Another virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has been found to be more prevalent than influenza A and B strains, and the report stated that doctors were too ready to blame an elderly person's death on the flu. The study explained that RSV is most likely to be spread in cold and damp conditions-typical of British winters. It has to be questioned whether this may be the case in the United States.

As with any vaccine, a foreign antigen is being injected into the body. For generally healthy people it has to be questioned whether this is a good idea, especially when the motive is the economic well-being of companies who do not want their workers taking time off being sick.