As the holidays approach, you may be thinking about Santa, eggnog, presents - and how to avoid getting the flu. According to the CDC, the flu shot is the best way to avoid getting the flu, and to avoid spreading it to other people. But once isn’t enough - you need to get the flu shot once every year because the influenza viruses that cause the flu are constantly changing, and so the flu vaccine is also updated on a yearly basis.
Who should get vaccinated with the flu shot?
Everyone six months of age and older, with rare exceptions, should get a flu shot - and if you are at risk of developing serious flu complications, the vaccine is particularly important. Everyone should get the vaccine that is appropriate for their age group, as different flu shots are approved for people of different ages. While there are vaccines approved for those as young as six months of age, some vaccines are only approved for adults. For example, the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) is approved for people aged 18 years and older, and the adjuvanted and high-dose inactivated vaccines are approved for people aged 65 years and older. Pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions, and most people with egg allergies can also safely get the flu shot. However, those younger than six months of age, as well as those with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (including gelatin and antibiotics) should not get the flu vaccine.
If you have any questions about whether or not you or a member of your family should receive the vaccine, talk to your provider. It’s particularly important that those with egg allergies or allergies to ingredients in the vaccine, as well as those with Guillain-Barré Syndrome and those currently experiencing flu-like symptoms discuss their options with their provider before getting vaccinated.
How effective is the flu shot?
Vaccine effectiveness will vary from season to season, but according to the CDC, recent studies show that the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.
The effectiveness of a flu vaccine depends on two main factors: who is being vaccinated, and the “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. However, even if there is a good match between the flu vaccine and circulating viruses, the benefits of flu vaccination will vary, due to the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, what influenza viruses are circulating that season and even, potentially, which type of flu vaccine was used.
Why is the flu shot so important this year?
This year, in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to get your flu shot to protect from respiratory illnesses like the flu. This is, in part, because the flu shot can reduce the number of trips people will make to health care facilities, which can increase your risk of getting the coronavirus. But more importantly, getting the flu vaccine is important this season because of the overlap between treatments for the flu and COVID-19. Both patients depend on the same resources for treatment, such as ventilators and oxygen, and getting the flu shot reduces the chances that flu patients and COVID patients are competing for these resources. Additionally, too many cases of the flu may result in a shortage of PPE for our care providers. Lastly, it may be possible that someone who catches and survives one virus may be more susceptible to another.
When is the best time to get the flu shot?
The early fall is the best time to get the vaccine, with the CDC recommending shots in September and October. Many doctors recommend getting the flu shot as soon as it’s available in your area, with one caveat. If you have an upcoming doctor’s appointment, simply ask for your flu shot then to avoid going to a care facility twice in a short period of time.
Call your provider if you’re wondering where exactly you can get yours, or visit your local pharmacy, drug store, or clinic . Make a plan to get vaccinated today to protect you, your family, and your community, too.