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Don't Wait To Vaccinate

Image of Heather Saxby, FNP-BC, Mansilla Medical
Heather Saxby, FNP-BC, Mansilla Medical

Among the lessons we are learning from COVID-19’s impact on our world, our communities may be learning just how much we need one another. Though not glamorous, the annual flu shot remains a mainstay of preventive wellness. It is generally accepted as the best way to reduce your risk of contracting influenza, minimize the risk of serious flu-related complications, and reduce the severity of the virus if you become ill.  

Risk associated with the flu vaccine is small, but the reward is meaningful. In the 2018-2019 flu season, influenza was estimated to have caused 490,000 hospitalizations. These numbers matter because this winter, with the threat of COVID-19 looming, keeping hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with potentially preventable illnesses is key to ensuring that all patients receive timely and specialized care. 

Unfortunately less than half of adults in the United States obtain the flu vaccine, and the CDC recently published a grim statistic that pediatric flu deaths reached a new high mark during the 2019-2020 season. Though most of the world is focused on the novel coronavirus (and rightly so), the flu remains a real and potentially serious threat. 

A common complaint from patients is concern about becoming ill after receiving the vaccine.The flu vaccine does not contain live virus, therefore you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.  If you feel ill after the vaccine, there may be other reasons such as:

  • exposure to one of many common cold viruses or rhinovirus. The flu shot only protects against influenza. 
  • you may have already been exposed to flu prior to receiving the vaccine or before your vaccine took effect. It takes about two weeks for your body to develop antibodies for protection after receiving the vaccine.  
  • you may have been exposed to a different strain of flu then what was included in this season’s flu shot. Flu viruses are constantly changing, and each year influenza centers throughout the world send samples of common flu strains to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO uses this data to make a recommendation for development of the flu vaccine, and each country then decides which strains to include in their vaccine. For the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes this decision using the best available evidence at the time. 
  • flu vaccines may still vary, with some individuals getting sick despite receiving the vaccine. An individual’s age and other health conditions may impact how well his or her body works to develop protective antibodies after receiving the vaccine. The CDC indicates that even when this happens, the vaccine may help reduce the flu’s severity.  

We all have a role to play in protecting our family, friends, and community. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2017 in the Journal of Infection found that the flu vaccine reduced hospitalizations in older adults by about 40%. In a time when many are wondering what they can do to help and hasten a return to “normal,” do not delay in getting vaccinated this fall.