Yes, You Absolutely Need to Get a Flu Vaccine This Year—Here’s Why
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, it’s almost easy to forget that another virus is already circulating among us: influenza, or “the flu.” And while you can’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine just yet, everyone can and should get a flu vaccine this season—ideally right now in order to protect yourself, your family and your community.
“Your old grandmother, the new baby in your family, your cousin with asthma or diabetes: These are all people that are high risk,” says Jonathan Miller, MD, a pediatrician at Nemours Children’s Health System. “If they get the flu, it could be devastating for them. Fewer people would die each year if every person in our country got the flu vaccine. It’s just so important for people to think of it as something they can do for everybody else.”
If you’re still hesitant about receiving the flu vaccine, get the facts about some common concerns and COVID-related questions below.
If we’re social distancing and wearing masks, is the flu vaccine still necessary?
“Although wearing a mask and keeping socially distant can help prevent infections, neither one provides 100 percent protection,” says Karen Ravin, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Nemours. “Getting the flu vaccine addresses that small chance that you might get some kind of infection.” Plus, as more gatherings shift indoors this winter, the opportunities for transmission will increase, she adds.
The flu vaccine will also help prevent equipment and space shortages that could affect all kinds of patients.
“COVID is already causing stress on our healthcare system, so if the flu causes a similar epidemic as it does in other years, it could really be devastating,” Miller says. “It could cause us to not have enough ventilators or not have enough ICU beds in order to manage everybody.”
Won’t we have a mild flu season this year?
It is true that the Southern Hemisphere—where winter just ended—experienced a milder flu season. An effective vaccine, COVID-related shutdowns, physical distancing and masks could have contributed to the smaller numbers. However, Miller isn’t confident that the same will happen here.
“The truth is, we have not done a great job managing the COVID-19 pandemic, so that doesn’t give me a lot of optimism that our current public health measures are going to prevent a flu epidemic like other countries,” he says.
How effective is this year’s vaccine?
Experts can’t officially determine the efficacy of this vaccine until after the flu season has ended, but here’s what you need to know now: “The flu vaccine works by exposing the immune system to some component of the flu virus, and that then stimulates the immune system to make antibodies so that it can fight off a flu infection,” Miller says. “One important thing that I think that a lot of people don’t know about the flu vaccine is that it protects against four different strains.”
Even if the vaccine doesn’t exactly match what’s circulating, it still offers a big immune boost in the event you do get the flu.
“Not only does the vaccine prevent people from getting the flu, but it also decreases the severity of the flu,” Miller says. “It can make your symptoms so much less severe, and you’re less likely to get pneumonia, less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to die from the flu.”
Is it safe to go get a flu vaccine at the doctor’s office right now?
Yes, precautions like masking and social distancing make getting the flu vaccine a very low-risk activity, so don’t let concerns about contracting COVID-19 hold you back.
“People can be confident that they can go to their doctor’s office or their pharmacy and get a flu vaccine safely,” Ravin says.
Does the flu vaccine give you the flu?
“You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine,” Miller says. “It is true that the flu vaccine can cause side effects in some people, like a low-grade fever and feeling crummy. We also give flu vaccines during respiratory virus season: September, October, November and December. A lot of people end up catching colds during the weeks after getting the flu vaccine purely by coincidence.”
Are there any reasons not to get the flu vaccine?
“There are actually very few true contraindications to the flu vaccine,” Ravin says. Those exceptions may include if you’ve experienced anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction) to the flu vaccine in the past or if you’re actively infected with COVID-19 or exhibiting its symptoms.
Will the flu vaccine offer any protection against COVID-19?
“There is some research out there that suggests that if you get any kind of vaccine, you get a little immune boost that temporarily protects you against infections, including SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19],” Ravin says. That said, everyone should continue to mask up and social distance, regardless of whether they’ve received the flu vaccine.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
“We’ve all gotten used to doing a lot of medical care through telehealth, but we have not figured out a way to give vaccines through the computer yet,” Ravin jokes. Head to your primary care doctor or a local pharmacy to get vaccinated.
“It’s going to be widely available this year,” Ravin says. “There’s no excuse not to get it.”
Visit nemours.org/fluhq to learn more. Nemours patients can visit any Nemours primary care location to get a flu vaccine. If you are not a Nemours patient, call your child’s pediatrician to get your child vaccinated against this year’s flu.This is a paid partnership between Nemours Children's Health System and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio