Importance of Flu Shot This Season

Autumn is just around the corner, and that means it is time to get your annual flu shot. For many people this is something of an annual tradition, but for many others, this is the first time. Regardless, an influenza shot in 2020 has never been more important. Although other diseases like COVID-19 have taken up the spotlight, influenza remains a deadly threat that shouldn’t be ignored. Influenza is a serious illness that causes 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-56,000 deaths annually.

There are two principal reasons why getting a flu shot should be a priority. Firstly, a flu shot can help limit the risk of acquiring influenza as well as reduce the severity of it if you do become infected. Secondly, limiting the number of people who get sick from the flu can help free up resources like hospital beds and health staff to fight COVID-19.

What Is a Flu Shot?

Your doctor has probably urged you to get a flu shot prior to flu season—fall and winter—every year, but you may not know what a flu shot actually does. An influenza shot is an injection that helps protect against the 3 or 4 of the most common influenza strains in the upcoming season. The injection may contain inactivated influenza virus, recombinant influenza viral material or live attenuated influenza virus.

Flu shots are available as trivalent or quadrivalent shots. Trivalent flu shots include three components while quadrivalent shots have four components. While the trivalent version has two A viruses and one B virus, the quadrivalent has two A viruses and two B viruses. A-type flu strains may be transmitted between humans and animals, and these are more likely to cause an epidemic; B-type flu strains only spread to humans and produce less severe reactions.

Health experts don’t distinguish between trivalent and quadrivalent flu shots in terms of efficacy. Although a quadrivalent shot covers more bases, the really important protection is against the A-strain flu viruses. Most physicians recommend getting a quadrivalent flu shot if it is available and covered by insurance, but urge you to get either one as soon as possible.

How Effective Is a Flu Shot?

Before you learn about the efficacy of a seasonal flu shot, you should understand that there is nothing that can completely prevent you from getting the flu except total isolation. A flu vaccine isn’t intended to provide total immunity, rather it merely improves your immune defenses so it is easier to avoid infection and serious symptoms. Although the efficacy of a flu vaccine can vary, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports that a flu shot can reduce the risk of getting the flu from 40 to 60 percent.

The effectiveness of a seasonal flu shot is dependent upon the age and health of the patient, as well as the viral strains in the vaccine. If the A and B strains in the vaccine do not correlate with the strains in the population, then a flu shot may offer almost no benefit. In general, however, the flu vaccine saves thousands of lives annually. For example, one study found that the flu shot prevented almost 58,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in 2018-19.

The flu shot is especially important for people with chronic health conditions.  Getting vaccinated against influenza can lower the risk of a cardiac event among patients with heart disease or hospitalization for lung disease among those with COPD.

How Safe Is a Flu Shot?

The flu vaccine is quite safe for almost everyone. Many people worry that it is possible to get influenza from a flu shot, but this is impossible. The vaccine is produced using virus or virus components that are inactivated and can’t cause infection. There are potential side effects including light fever, swelling or tenderness at the injection site, headache and chills, but these usually disappear in a day or two.

Some people, however, should not get a flu shot including

  • Children younger than 6 months
  • People with egg or mercury allergies
  • People with Guillain-Barre syndrome

If you are feeling ill at the time, you should probably discuss your current health with your doctor before getting a flu shot.

Why a Flu Shot Is So Important in 2020

This year has been a devastating one for the health care community. COVID-19 has ravaged communities and the health care professionals that serve them. Currently, almost 600 health care professionals have lost their lives to COVID-19. This pandemic has also cost the health care sector almost $50 billion a month since March, and it is estimated that up to 50 percent of all U.S. hospitals could remain operating in the red until 2025 because of COVID-19 costs.

The health care sector is severely understaffed and under-resourced for this ongoing public health crisis. It should be noted that COVID-19 has primarily been active in the warmer months so far, so hospitals could become overwhelmed with both COVID-19 and influenza cases when flu season arrives.

That is why it is so important that you get a flu shot this year.  Not only will it help you fight off infection, but a flu shot may prevent serious complications that require medical attention or, even, hospitalization.  Every serious case of influenza diverts precious medical resources away from patients battling COVID-19 which is more infectious and more lethal.

You should also consider the health and wellbeing of others in your household. Getting a flu shot doesn’t just protect you—it also protects the people around you. If you have people in your home who are elderly or have chronic health problems, you are also lowering their risk of acquiring the flu if you get vaccinated.

Finally, you should also protect yourself against the possibility of getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. These are two different pathogens with two different modes of infection, so it is possible to infected concurrently. Although there are no cases of double infection reported so far, if it were to occur, it could be a potentially lethal combination.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.