Why a Flu Shot Is So Important This Season

Healthy Living

October 1, 2020

Who should get a flu shot? Everyone! Well, just about, anyway.

The annual flu vaccine protects your health and the wellbeing of those around you. This year, flu shots may be even more critical than usual, so it’s important for everybody to get on board.

Common Myths About the Flu Vaccine

Flu shots are an easy way that nearly everyone can contribute to public health. Unfortunately, misunderstandings and myths keep too many people from participating. Learning the facts may provide the confidence you need to schedule your next flu shot. Here are some common myths about the flu vaccine.

Myth #1: The flu shot doesn’t even work.

While it’s true that flu immunization is never 100% effective, your annual vaccine can greatly reduce your chance of catching each season’s most likely strains. 

On average, flu shots are 40% to 60% effective. Instead of writing off the flu shot because it’s not a magic pill that prevents all disease, think of it as a way to slash your flu risk in half.

Plus, a flu shot offers other benefits even if you get sick. If you do happen to pick up a flu bug despite the shot, you may have an easier battle with your symptoms. Studies show that people who have been vaccinated are less likely to end up in the hospital with the flu, be admitted to the ICU or die from flu complications.

Myth #2: The flu shot can make you sick.

Perhaps you’ve been here before: you get a flu shot, and just two days later, your nose is stuffed up and your head is pounding.

Although the timing suggests a correlation between your vaccination and your illness, the shot isn’t to blame.

Most flu vaccinations are made from inactivated viruses. That means there’s no way for the viral particles to infect you. And nasal sprays use weakened, or attenuated, versions of viruses, so they won’t make you sick, either.

But it takes a couple weeks for a flu shot to kick in. 

You could pick up an infection shortly before your appointment or during the days that follow. While it may be tempting to pin your sickness on the shot itself, a good old-fashioned germ is probably the cause.

That said, post-vaccination side effects could leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable. Common reactions include headache, low fever, muscle soreness, nausea and redness at the injection site. These usually clear up on their own within a couple of days. They’re also typically much less unpleasant than a full-blown flu infection.

Myth #3: There’s really no reason to get a shot every year.

Unlike some shots that you need only once every 10 years or so, flu vaccination should be an annual routine. The effectiveness of a flu shot wears off over time, so you’ll be due for a followup by the time the next year’s flu season rolls around.

Flu vaccinations are also reformulated every year. Scientists include the strains that are likely to be the most prevalent during the upcoming season. Getting an annual shot ensures that you’ll have the most up-to-date protection.

Who Needs a Flu Shot?

Nearly everyone should get a flu shot. 

Whether or not you believe that you’re at serious risk of flu complications, getting vaccinated is a smart way to protect yourself and others around you.

Flu vaccinations are approved for people six months and older. But the contents of the shot may vary slightly depending on who will be receiving it. For example, seniors are often given a high-dose vaccine that offers an extra boost of protection for aging immune systems.

Although the flu is riskiest for small children and the elderly, don’t think that you’re exempt just because you’re a healthy young adult. 

For one thing, serious flu complications and even death sometimes occur in generally healthy adults. Furthermore, a flu shot may reduce the likelihood that you’ll spread this illness to others, including those who are too young to receive shots of their own.

Besides, preventive vaccines are included with most major medical plans, typically leaving you with no out-of-pocket responsibility. That gives you one more reason to say yes to an annual flu jab. And to sweeten the deal, some retail chains with pharmacies even offer gift cards for getting a flu shot at their store. (Just another bonus incentive, if you needed one.)

A word of caution, though: if you’re allergic to eggs or another vaccine component, talk to your doctor about how to safely receive this shot. Also, if you have any history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, your doctor may caution against flu vaccination unless you’re at high risk for serious flu complications.

As with all medical care, always ask your doctor about your specific risks.

Extra Benefits for Special Populations

Flu vaccines are important for everyone, but they’re especially critical for kids and senior citizens. The same goes for people with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma. 

Studies show that vaccination reduces flu-related hospitalizations for people with lung disease and diabetes.

Pregnant women are strongly advised to get vaccinated as well. During pregnancy, the shot may lower your risk of flu hospitalization by 40%. Plus, the protection from your vaccine may transfer to your newborn. Considering that infants can’t receive a flu shot until six months, that’s an important benefit.

Not every flu shot advantage directly relates to the flu, though. If you have a history of heart disease, for example, studies suggest that getting a flu vaccine may reduce your chance of experiencing a cardiovascular event.

Timing Your Flu Vaccination

Most health experts suggest getting immunized against flu in early autumn. Healthcare providers usually have stock on hand by late September or early October.

Remember that it takes a couple weeks for your body to fully respond to the vaccine, so it’s good to have a buffer between the time you receive your shot and the time flu season ramps up in October.

If, by the time you read this, you’ve missed the early autumn window, schedule your appointment as soon as possible. At any time during flu season, a late shot is better than none at all. And flu season runs until at least February.

Protection should last for about six months. An early fall shot will carry you through the winter and into early spring, which is about the time that flu season usually winds down.

Flu in the Time of COVID-19

Let’s talk about the viral elephant in the room this year: COVID-19.

In 2020, flu vaccinations may be more important than ever. Public health experts are expecting a fall and winter surge of COVID-19 cases. That disease alone could put a strain on hospital resources. 

An influx of flu cases would further overwhelm hospital facilities. Getting a flu shot is an easy way to contribute to public health during this challenging time.

You’ll be protecting yourself, too. 

Fighting just one of these infections can be rough. If you’re unlucky enough to catch both at the same time, recovery might be even more difficult. Since there isn’t yet an approved COVID-19 vaccine, getting a flu shot may be your best hope for preventing a double infection.

Of course, you should continue to wash your hands, maintain social distance and wear a mask. These steps may reduce the transmission of both COVID-19 and influenza this winter.

Along those lines, please protect healthcare workers by wearing a mask during your flu shot appointment. If you’re unwell, reschedule for a different day. Even if you’ve recently had a negative COVID-19 test, it’s still smart to err on the side of caution until your symptoms have resolved. 

And if you have any questions — about the flu shot, COVID-19 or anything else as we head into the colder months — don’t hesitate to check in with your doctor for the best advice.