It’s important to do what you can to prevent illness during this pandemic – that includes getting the flu shot. Dr. Stephen Rinderknecht, chair of the UnityPoint Health immunization committee, answers eight frequently asked questions like – “should I get a flu shot?” explaining why getting the flu shot is even more important this year, than in years past.
Why Should I Get a Flu Shot, Especially This Year?
We recommend the flu shot every year. But, with the unpredictability of COVID-19 circulating at the same time as the flu, Dr. Rinderknecht says the best measure is to decrease the possible impacts on our respiratory system, including preventing the flu. The flu vaccine not only reduces your risk of illness but can prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
Getting a flu shot also helps conserve potentially scarce health care resources during this pandemic. For example, if you aren’t in the hospital fighting the flu, there are more resources for those who have the burden of fighting COVID-19.
Will the Flu Shot Protect Me From COVID-19?
The flu vaccine will not help you avoid infection with COVID-19, because they are different viruses – one that we know a lot about (the flu) and one that is very new (coronavirus).
“The flu shot will help you avoid being co-infected with both, which could be miserable and/or very devastating. This year’s flu vaccine is updated to better protect against flu strains we expect to circulate this flu season. It will guard you against two different influenza A strains and two different influenza B strains. The nasal spray form of the flu vaccine will also be available in some clinics that choose to use it,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
When is the Best Time to Get a Flu Shot?
This season’s schedule should be the same as past seasons.
“The flu vaccine takes several months to manufacture and usually becomes available in clinics in mid-August or early September. We encourage the flu vaccine to be used as soon as it’s available. It’s ideal for everyone to be vaccinated by the end of October. However, if you don’t make that deadline you can still be vaccinated later in the season,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
The CDC says the vaccine is estimated to protect you for about six months. You wouldn’t want to get your vaccine too early, because then it wouldn’t last for the entire flu season. Flu activity usually peaks between December and February, though it can be active as late as May.
How Effective is the Flu Shot This Year?
“How well the flu vaccine works each season is determined by several factors, including a person’s age, underlying disease and circulating strains in the community. Efficacy can vary from about 25 to 75 percent, but 60 percent is about typical. Even when the flu shot doesn’t totally prevent the flu, you usually get a milder form of the virus if you contract the flu after having the flu shot,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
If you’ve had the flu before, you are not immune to it. That’s why it’s best to get the flu shot every year.
How Does the Flu Shot Compare to the COVID-19 Vaccine?
“We get many questions about our thoughts on a COVID-19 vaccine. I wish we had all the answers, but we don’t yet. Many people worry since it’s being developed over a short time period that it may not be safe. It is true that most vaccines take years of research to show they are both safe and effective. If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available in 2021, it would be in record time and unprecedented. At the same time, we have never had this much of a concentrated effort by so many scientists on a single vaccine. You should feel safe getting the COVID-19 vaccine if it’s approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
For more on the coronavirus, visit our COVID-19 resource page.
Who Should Get the Flu Shot?
Dr. Rinderknecht says generally anyone, six months and older, should get the immunization. It is especially important for vulnerable populations, like older adults and those with pre-existing medical conditions like cancer or diabetes, to get the vaccine in hopes of helping protect their bodies against the burden of respiratory illness. What about pregnant women? It is both safe and recommended for pregnant women to get a flu shot to help prevent the flu and complications.
There are few rare exceptions identified by the CDC. They include people who are allergic to the flu vaccine or anything used to make it. If you have concerns, talk to your care team.
Should I Get the Flu Vaccine if I’m Sick?
Research shows very mild illness shouldn’t impact the flu vaccine. But, if you have any sort of symptoms associated with COVID-19, you should wait to get your vaccine to avoid exposing others in the clinic to the virus.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste/smell
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
How Do I Get My Flu Shot with UnityPoint Health?
Contact your primary care provider or your clinic to see how the flu shot is being offered this year. You can also submit your flu shot questions via secure messaging with the MyUnityPoint patient portal.