Updated September 2020
This flu season will present unique challenges for all of us during 2020/2021. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, the physicians of the CAAC advise everyone age 6 months or older get a flu shot this season. We are entering unchartered territory. This will be our first full fall and winter where influenza and COVID-19 will both be a threat to our health. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a tremendous strain on our health care system. Getting a flu shot will decrease the risk of contracting the flu. It will be a challenge now for physicians to determine if a patient has the flu and/or COVID-19. Presenting symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are very similar. It will be even a greater challenge if a patient simultaneously develops the flu and COVID-19. By getting a flu shot you will reduce your risk of developing the flu and you would be less likely to spread the flu to family, friends and strangers. Simply put, the more of us vaccinated to the flu this season will mean fewer people getting the flu. This will put a decrease strain on our already overburdened hospital system. More hospital beds and ICU beds will then be available for individuals fighting a potentially life threatening COVID-19 infection.
Every year as flu season approaches, millions of Americans have to make a decision: should they get the flu vaccine or not?
Information from the CDC shows that there’s still a large amount of indecision. Their preliminary data shows that less than half of adults and children in the United States received a vaccine for the 2018-2019 season. That’s far less than the recommended 70 percent.
If you’re one of the many Americans who are still unsure if they should get a flu vaccine this season, read on to learn what the flu is, how it could negatively affect you and your family, and the truth about flu vaccines.
What is the Flu?
Flu is short for the influenza virus. Influenza is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the different strains of the influenza virus.
The major influenza viruses are Type A and Type B, both of which can affect adults and children. Some believe Type A influenza is more concerning for adults while Type B is more concerning for children, but research into these assumptions is ongoing and some studies challenge that assumption.
The influenza virus can circulate throughout the year. However, in the United States, influenza occurs primarily in the late fall and early winter – roughly from October to May. The peak incidence of flu usually occurs between December and February.
Influenza affects individuals differently and can cause mild to severe illness. Common symptoms include:
- High fever
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Muscle pain and body aches
Gastrointestinal symptoms are rare and are seen more often in children than adults. Complications from influenza may include pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections, and worsening of chronic conditions in individuals who suffer from asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure.
Who is at Risk of Severe Flu Disease?
Children less than 5 years of age and adults over age 65 years are at greater risk for severe disease. Pregnant women and those with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease are also at a greater risk.
Severe disease may require hospitalizations and may cause death. In past seasons, we’ve seen more than 200,000 hospitalizations per flu season and over 36,000 deaths per season.
How Does the Flu Vaccine Work?
Flu vaccines expose individuals to small amounts of influenza virus to trigger the body to develop antibodies. Antibodies take about two weeks to develop after the flu vaccine is administered. After that time, the antibodies protect individuals from the influenza virus they could pick up in daily life.
There are several types of flu vaccines that are licensed for different groups of people depending on their age. For the 2019-2020 season, options include an inactivated vaccine, a recombinant vaccine, and a live attenuated vaccine. Talk to your physician or a specialist at Carolina Asthma & Allergy for more information on which type of vaccine is licensed for your age group.
Is the Flu Vaccine Effective?
The flu vaccine has been very effective at minimizing symptoms and complications from the influenza virus.
Since the influenza virus keeps mutating and changing, we get a new supply of flu vaccines every year. Scientists try and match the vaccines to the circulating strains. However, it takes about six months to manufacture the vaccine. Therefore, the effectiveness of the vaccine will vary from year to year.
Remember, the flu can be deadly and close to 80,000 Americans died in the 2017-2018 flu season.
Should You Get a Flu Shot?
A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals over 6 months of age. You should ideally go for your flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available because it takes about 2 weeks to gain the necessary immunity. Therefore, you could still be at risk of contracting the virus during this window of time.
You should not go for your flu shot on a day you are feeling ill. If in doubt, discuss with your medical provider.
At the Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center, we administer the injected flu vaccines. A special high dose vaccine is given to our patients 65 years of age or older. There is a nasal influenza vaccine that is not administered at our offices. If you want the intranasal vaccine you must talk to your primary medical provider to see if you may safely take that particular intranasal vaccine.
Who Should Not Get A Flu Vaccine?
While the flu vaccine is recommended for the majority of the U.S. population, there are some individuals that should not receive the vaccine due to their higher risk levels.
- Children less than 6 months of age should not be given the flu vaccine.
- Individuals who had a severe or life-threatening reaction to a flu vaccine should not receive flu vaccines.
- You should not get a flu shot if you have a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
- If you had a severe reaction to an ingredient of the vaccine such as gelatin, antibiotic, or another ingredient, then you should not be administered the flu vaccine.
Despite the precautions noted above, the majority of individuals may safely be given a yearly flu shot.
Reducing Your Risk and Treating the Flu
There is no way to eliminate your risk of getting the flu. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. Hand washing is very important during the flu season to keep from contracting the virus yourself or spreading it to new areas. Avoiding close proximity with individuals who are sick can also reduce your chances of contracting the flu.
If you do get the flu, there are oral antiviral medications available to treat acute influenza. If these medications are started early in the course of the illness, they may shorten the duration of the illness and may prevent more serious complications.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Flu Vaccine
Should I Time When I Get My Flu Vaccine?
Some individuals believe that the flu vaccine is refined throughout the year and that timing when you get the flu vaccine can increase its effectiveness. However, it is a myth to try and time when you get your flu shot. There are no benefits to waiting to get your vaccination as the vaccine should remain active throughout the flu season. Waiting will only decrease the amount of time you will be protected.
Can I Get a Flu Vaccine If I Am Allergic to Eggs?
Because production of the flu vaccine involves eggs, there is some concern regarding the vaccine int hose with egg allergies. The CDC’s recommendations are that people with egg allergies whose only symptoms are hives may receive any licensed flu vaccine. People with other egg allergy reactions can receive a flu vaccine in a medical setting. When they receive the flu vaccine, they should be supervised by a health care provider that can identify and respond appropriately to severe allergic conditions. If you have an egg allergy, you should receive your flu vaccine in a hospital, clinic, state or city health department, or certified physician’s office if your egg allergy has resulted in any of the following: Angioedema Respiratory distress Lightheadedness Recurrent emesis Treatment with epinephrine Emergency medical intervention As with other individuals, anyone with an egg allergy should ensure the flu vaccine they receive is approved for their age and health. People with egg allergies do not have to wait 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.
How Does It Feel to Get A Flu Vaccine?
“Since my first year of medical school, I have had a flu shot every year. Sometimes I felt no discomfort from the shot. On occasion, my arm felt sore and/or warm to touch at the injection site. One year I even had influenza but I felt poorly for less than 48 hours. I believe that my influenza course would have been longer without having been immunized. Of course, this is my personal experience with 40 years of taking flu shots- your experience may be different.” – Richard P. Silton, M.D., Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center
Get Your Flu Vaccine at Carolina Asthma & Allergy
Please make sure to get you and your loved ones vaccinated this season. If you have any questions, please talk with your physician or contact our office if you have questions about influenza. Have a great fall and we look forward to seeing you soon!