Each year, when influenza (flu) season rolls around, clinicians and providers are frequently asked about flu vaccines – their efficacy, side-effects, etc. This season, with the COVID pandemic still upon us, the questions often revolve around whether the regular seasonal flu shot is still recommended.
The answer is a resounding “YES!”
Getting a flu vaccine for 2021-22 is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time. Flu vaccines are especially important for people who are at high risk from complications of the flu.
Unfortunately, there are many myths and rumors – and reams of misinformation – surrounding seasonal flu vaccines. Today, I’ll touch on a few of the bigger misconceptions and provide some information on how the influenza virus works and how infections spreads.
What is the flu?
Influenza is an easily spread respiratory tract infection. It’s caused by a virus. Viruses are generally passed from person to person through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
The virus can also live for a short time on objects like doorknobs, pens, pencils, keyboards, phones, and cups or eating utensils. So you can also get the flu by touching something that has been recently handled by someone infected with the virus and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes.
The most common complication of the flu is pneumonia. It can also cause ear and sinus infections. In rare cases, it may cause serious muscle, heart, and central nervous system problems. Of those who get the flu, CDC estimates that 140,000 to 810,000 end up in the hospital each year. From 12,000 to 61,000 people have died from the flu each year since 2010.
Myths and facts
The CDC has compiled a highly comprehensive list of many questions and answers regarding flu vaccines, and I encourage you to review the list in its entirety. Here, we will touch on a few of the more common misconceptions the CDC addresses in its full article.
A flu vaccination increases your risk of getting COVID-19
False. There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.
The flu vaccine will give you the flu.
False. Flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines administered by needle are made with either inactivated (killed) viruses, or with only a single protein from the flu virus. The nasal spray vaccine contains live viruses that are weakened so that they will not cause illness.
It’s better to get sick with the flu than get a vaccine.
False. Getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization, or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults.
You should get a flu vaccine every year.
True. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine composition is reviewed each year and updated as needed based on which influenza viruses are making people sick. A person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu.
If you get sick, flu vaccination can reduce the severity of illness.
True. A 2021 study showed that among adults, flu vaccination was associated with a 26 percent lower risk of ICU admission and a 31 percent lower risk of death from flu compared to those who were unvaccinated.
For most people, the flu can be treated at home without treatment from your healthcare provider. But if you have other health problems that make you more susceptible to complications from the flu, tell your healthcare provider when you suspect you have the flu. If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your provider know.
Have happy and health holiday – get your flu vaccine today.