Fall is in the air, even as we try to soak up the last bits of summer. As you prepare for the colder and shorter days ahead, you may be winterizing boats, chopping firewood and preserving that delicious summer produce. Your to-do list might feel long (or maybe you don’t want to even think about the coming of winter), but make sure that in your preparations for the changing of seasons, you prioritize getting your annual flu shot.
We remain in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s easy to forget about all of the non-COVID preventative care that we do to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. But in fact, because of the pandemic, it’s super important to do everything we can to stay well and out of the hospital. Flu vaccines are a major tool to help achieve this goal.
Many folks have questions or thoughts around the flu vaccine, and there is a lot of confusing and conflicting discussion out there about vaccines in general, especially now. Our goal is to provide you with accurate, science-based information about the flu vaccine to help you make an educated and informed decision. This article addresses some of the common misconceptions and questions people have about flu shots.
Why would I get a vaccine for the flu? It’s basically just a bad cold. While for some people this is true, influenza can be much more serious than a cold. The flu can cause a high fever, intense body aches, severe cough and nasty headaches. It can also lead to pneumonia, which is the most common reason for someone with the flu to be admitted to the hospital. In the U.S., annual deaths from the flu range from 12,000-60,000, depending on the severity of the common strains of flu for that year. The exception to this was last year, when there were estimated to be about 700 deaths for the flu, likely so low due to COVID-related masking and school and business closures.
The flu shot doesn’t even keep you from getting sick, so why bother? The CDC states that flu vaccine effectiveness ranges from 40% to 60% every year, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Multiple studies have shown that the flu shot is extremely effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization. So while you may be vaccinated and still get the flu, having the shot can mean that you simply feel crummy and stay out of work or school for a couple of days instead of being hospitalized.
The only time I ever got the flu was from the vaccine. This is a common belief and fear among people who are reluctant to get a flu shot. In fact, while you may have relatively minor and short-term side effects from the flu shot like slight fatigue or a sore arm, it is not possible to become sick with the flu from the flu shot. The virus in the injections is dead, and in the live intranasal vaccine it is attenuated, meaning its ability to reproduce and cause illness is removed. Most often, what someone is experiencing in this case is either a common cold rather than the flu, or they were exposed to the influenza virus before their vaccine or shortly after.
Flu shots are full of mercury and lead to dangerous side effects. Thimerosal is a preservative that is used in multi-dose vials of vaccine to prevent bacteria from growing. It breaks down in the body to ethyl mercury, which is easy for the body to excrete and is not the same as methylmercury, which can build up. When we think about the mercury in fish and recommend limiting consumption, we are referring to methylmercury. Thimerosal has been shown to be safe in numerous studies, but for those who are still concerned, there are single-dose vaccines available for adults and children in pre-filled syringes that do not contain thimerosal.
We recommend getting your flu vaccine as soon as it’s available to you, and studies have shown us that any COVID booster you might get does not need to be spaced out from other vaccines. Children can receive the vaccine beginning at 6 months and will get two doses spaced a month apart if it’s their first year getting the shot. Talk with your provider about their specific recommendations, and be sure to discuss any questions or concerns you have about the flu vaccine with them. If you do not currently have a primary healthcare provider, NorthLakes has a variety of providers to help you meet your health and wellness goals. Your health is important to us!
If you’re interested in scheduling a flu shot at NorthLakes Community Clinic, please call 888-834-4551.
Lori Cannon is clinical care management specialist with NorthLakes Community Clinic.