Does the pandemic have you worried about the flu shot this year? Rest assured, it’s more important to get one than ever.
The influenza vaccine, a.k.a. the flu shot, is a critical step for protecting your health every year. According to the CDC, every flu season is different, and different influenza viruses strains pose new risks. Plus, the flu is potentially dangerous and even deadly for certain people, which makes getting your annual flu shot even more important.
Flu shots in the time of a pandemic
The added strain and stress of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the notion of the flu vaccine for many people. Some are concerned that getting a flu vaccine may actually leave them more susceptible to illness or possibly put them at a greater risk of the complications related to a COVID-19 infection.
“‘Will the flu shot give me the flu?’ is the main question we receive from patients,” says Bhavarth Shukla, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of infection control at the University of Miami Health System. “In the winter months, particularly, people can be exposed to other viruses during that time and develop cold symptoms. This leads to the misconception that the flu vaccine gave them symptoms.”
However, this concern is not valid when it comes to the overall importance of getting your annual flu shot, says Dr. Shukla.
“The simple answer is, no, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
The flu vaccines contain dead viruses or proteins from the virus, so they cannot start an infection.”
- Bhavarth Shukla, M.D.
This year, the flu shot is more important than ever. Why?
This fall and winter, the CDC says it’s likely that both the flu and COVID-19 will be spreading simultaneously. And, though the symptoms associated with the illnesses are similar, they are caused by different viruses, and they each pose unique risks. As a result, protecting yourself as much as possible is critical. This is why the CDC recommends that everyone older than six months get an annual flu shot.
“We know from experience over the past several months that a person can become infected by both COVID-19 and influenza,” says Dr. Shukla. “It is important to get vaccinated to keep from developing such worrisome co-infections.”
Independent of COVID-19, the flu can pose major risks of its own. “Influenza is thought to be responsible for several pandemics in history, the most remarkable of which was the Spanish flu of 1918-1919, which is estimated to have led to the death of 21 million people worldwide,” he says. “The ability of influenza to lead to such extensive outbreaks is the motive behind vaccination efforts.”
When you consider the risks of the flu combined with the ongoing risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see why experts are concerned. Luckily, there’s an easy way to protect yourself and your family: Get a flu shot at your earliest convenience. It’s an easy and fundamental step to protect the health of you, your family, and your community in the months to come.
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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