- Are there any changes to flu vaccine recommendations because of Covid? Is it more dangerous to get the flu vaccine during the Covid pandemic?
- Flu vaccine prevents or decreases the severity of influenza, which is a viral infection that mainly affects the lungs. Influenza, or “flu,” is a dangerous illness. It causes severe fatigue (“feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck”), headache, sore throat, dry cough, stuffy nose, and body aches. The flu can cause pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of medical conditions like heart failure, emphysema, asthma, and diabetes.
The word “flu” is often wrongly used to describe other infections, like colds and nausea or diarrhea (incorrectly called “stomach flu.”) Flu causes fever in many people, but not everyone with flu will have a fever. Flu vaccine does not prevent colds or nausea and diarrhea.
Because of the Covid pandemic, experts are recommending that people get the flu vaccine earlier this year than usually recommended. This year, it’s best to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, that is, now. This is because people who get infected with influenza and Covid at the same time are more likely to become seriously ill and more likely to die. It is difficult for the body to fight off two infections at the same time.
There is a high dose flu vaccine available for people over 65 years old. People over 65 should ask for the high dose vaccine.
It is never dangerous to get a flu vaccine. The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. (More on this below.)
- Since Covid is supposed to be much more deadly than the flu, is it really that important to get the flu shot this year?
- It’s true that Covid is more deadly than the flu. In the past three months, Covid has killed three times more people in the US than the flu killed in all of last year. However, the smaller number of people who died of influenza are just as dead as the larger number of people who died of Covid!
Once there is a vaccine for Covid, it will be important to get both the Covid and the flu vaccines. For now, we need to protect ourselves as well as we can, including getting flu vaccine.
- Since kids don’t get Covid or flu, why do they need flu shots?
- Kids do get both flu and Covid. Some children who have Covid do not seem sick, but others become seriously ill. Also, kids pass on both flu and Covid to adults, including elderly people who are likely to get dangerously ill. Some children have died of Covid or had severe nervous system and complications. Just like adults, flu vaccine protects children from severe illness, hospitalization, and death from flu. Almost all children who die or are hospitalized from flu did not get flu vaccine.
Flu vaccine is recommended for all children over six months old as well as for all adults. The nasal spray flu vaccine, called Flumist, is available this flu season. It is more expensive than flu shots but may be worth the extra expense for children (and adults under age 50) who are afraid of needles. The first time children under 8 years get flu vaccine, they need two shots, a month apart.
- Can you get sick with the flu from taking the vaccine?
- You cannot get sick with the flu from getting the flu vaccine. There are several different types of flu vaccine. All types of flu shots are made from whole dead virus or parts of dead virus. The nasal vaccine includes a very weak strain of live flu virus that can live in the nostrils but can’t live inside the body. Contact with dead or weak flu virus, or parts of the virus, gets the immune system ready to recognize and fight off live flu virus.
- If the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, why do I feel sick every time I get a flu shot?
- Because there is no active virus in any type of flu vaccine, itis not possible to get infected from getting the vaccine. But – flu vaccine makes some people feel sick even though they are not infected. There are three different ways this happens.
First, because getting the flu vaccine activates the immune system, a person can get body aches, low fever, headache, and can generally feel sick from the immune system reaction. This rarely lasts more than two days. Also, the muscle (upper arm) where the shot was given may become sore and tender. If these reactions occur, there is still no live virus in the body and no risk of influenza infection or serious illness.
Second, because it takes two weeks or longer for the flu vaccine to be protective, if a person is exposed to flu before getting the shot or within two weeks after getting it, they still can get the flu infection because they aren’t protected yet.
Third, a person may get a cold or a stomach virus and confuse that with the flu.
- How well does flu vaccine really work?
A.Getting the flu vaccine cuts the chance of getting the flu in half. The flu virus has many different strains, or types. Every year, there are changes in which types are commonest. The flu vaccine we use in the Northern hemisphere is re-designed every year based on which kinds of flu were common in the Southern hemisphere the season before. On average the vaccine is 50% effective. Some years it’s much better and some years worse.
- Eva Hersh is a family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org