At a time dominated by the worst pandemic in over 100 years, it’s not hard to compare the current COVID-19 crisis to the 1918 influenza (flu) pandemic. From 1918-1920, a mystery virus swept the world and killed 50,000,000 people before an immunization was created to help fight it.
Fast forwarding 100 years to present day, the SARS-CoV-2 virus creates a new pandemic. As the world eagerly awaits development of a COVID-19 immunization, many still choose not to get the annual flu shot. Now, more than ever, annual influenza immunizations are so important to keep you and your loved ones safe.
Flu Shot Facts
- The flu shot is recommended for anyone 6 months and older without contraindications to it.
- The flu shot is safe and effective for individuals without a history of anaphylaxis to it.
- It is most effective when dosed in early fall, as flu season is generally October to March.1
- It is given at primary care offices and pharmacies.
- It is inactivated, so can be given to (and is encouraged for) immunocompromised individuals.
Why Should You Get Immunized?
Flu shots are developed annually to match the most likely strains that year.
Effectiveness may vary, but they always reduce one’s likelihood of contracting flu. When someone does get the flu despite immunization, symptoms are often milder.2 If enough people get the flu shot, ‘herd immunity’ can develop. This means even those who are not immunized may be protected against the flu. This does require the majority of people in a community to be immunized, however. Those with history of a severe life-threatening allergy to the flu shot or any ingredient (including gelatin or antibiotics)4 should refrain from getting their flu shot.
While always recommended by public health experts, the push is especially strong this year, as COVID-19 is projected to also surge this fall/winter. The flu shot can prevent coinfection with flu and COVID-19 and reduce added strain on health care systems.3
Reasons to Discuss the Flu Shot with Your Health Care Provider First
- Egg allergy: The flu shot may still be safe for you, with some special considerations such as close monitoring in the clinic after the shot.
- History of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- Those feeling unwell at time of planned flu shot
Common Patient-Reported Scenarios When A Shot Is Still Recommended
“The flu shot always makes me sick.”
- Recommended immunizations go through an extensive vetting process prior to distribution to the public, first requiring proof of efficacy and safety.5
- Injectable flu shots are inactivated and therefore unable to cause the flu. It is common to feel an immune reaction after receiving the shot (feeling slightly under the weather or having a low-grade fever). This occurs because of the immune system building immunity to the shot. This along with mild possible soreness at the site of injection are the main side effects after any immunization.
- It is also possible to get other respiratory viruses during flu season as they are active during the same season.2
“I don’t get the flu.”
- It is true that most people will not contract the flu during a season, but it is still very common and frequently causes bad outcomes from missing days of work to pneumonia and even death. Those with weakened immune systems (very young children, the elderly, those with illnesses or medications that reduce immunity) are at even higher risks of these complications.2
“I don’t get the flu shot.”
- More and more individuals forego the flu shot for personal, ideological or financial reasons, despite the multiple reasons to get the shot.
Scientists and health care providers agree that the flu shot has many benefits. Get your flu shot this year, and help protect yourself and your loved ones!
- The Flu Season (CDC)
- Seasonal Flu Shot (CDC)
- Flu and COVID-19 (CDC)
- Who Should and Who Should NOT get a Flu Vaccine (CDC)
- How Influenza (Flu) Vaccines Are Made (CDC)
About Maria Thekkekandam, MD, MPH
Dr. Maria Thekkekandam is a board certified family medicine physician with clinical interests in primary and urgent care. She enjoys working with patients to help them be the healthiest they can be through education and goal-setting. Dr. Thekkekandam earned her undergraduate degree, medical degree and master’s degree in public health all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed her residency training in family medicine at Cone Health in Greensboro, NC. She is fluent in English and Spanish and is conversational in Malayalam.