Every year it’s critical to get your flu shot.
This winter it’s especially important to get a flu shot because COVID-19 and its variants are also circulating.
But wait … COVID-19 was around last year, and the flu wasn’t that bad, you might think.
That’s right. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity was unusually low throughout the 2020-2021 flu season both in the United States and globally, despite high levels of testing.
Last flu season (September 2020 to May 2021) clinical laboratories in the United States tested 818,939 respiratory specimens. Only about 0.2% were positive for flu. For comparison, during the three flu seasons before the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of respiratory specimens testing positive for flu peaked between 26.2% and 30.3%.
So, what was up with last year?
We altered our behavior.
The CDC states, “Wearing face masks, staying home, hand washing, school closures, reduced travel, increased ventilation of indoor spaces, and physical distancing likely contributed to the decline in 2020-2021 flu incidence, hospitalizations and deaths.”
Increased influenza vaccination, according to the CDC, may also have contributed to reduced flu illness during the 2020–2021 season.
What about this upcoming winter?
But we aren’t staying home this year. School is in session. Mask wearing comes and goes. We are traveling more, forgetting to wash our hands and are even crowded into concerts and sporting events.
That’s why last year’s fear of a twindemic may become reality this year.
The CDC says it’s likely that flu viruses, along with COVID-19 and its variants, will be spreading during the fall and winter, while many people have relaxed their vigilance on mask wearing and social distancing.
This summer, when people began traveling and socializing more, the National Respiratory and Enteric Surveillance System (NREVSS) recorded data that showed an unusual uptick in respiratory virus activity.
That could be because the United States has a reduced population immunity due to a lack of flu virus activity. And that could make this flu season start earlier and possibly be more severe.
With viruses already circulating, it’s critical to get both your flu and COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible.
COVID-19 and a flu vaccine at the same time? Yes!
You can receive both flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same visit. If you need a COVID-19 booster, talk to your healthcare provider to see if you can get it when you get your flu vaccine.
Had the flu? Get vaccinated anyway!
If you had the flu in previous years, you may think you’re immune. But the virus changes and your immune protection declines over time. Everyone is at risk, regardless of age. The flu can be severe and deadly, even for healthy young people. The best way to prevent the flu? The flu shot.
In a normal year (when most of us aren’t hunkered down like last year) 5% to 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Getting a flu shot not only protects you and your family, but it can reduce the strain on the healthcare system while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, during the 2018-2019 flu season, vaccinations prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths, according to the CDC.
And while a flu shot won’t always prevent you from getting the flu, it can reduce your illness severity by 40% to 60%.
Do you need a flu shot every year?
Yes, flu shots are needed annually because a person’s immune protection declines over the months and viruses change. Vaccines are updated each year to target the viruses circulating in that particular season.
Will I feel bad after the flu shot?
Some people report having mild side effects after flu vaccination. The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after vaccination and last 1-2 days.
Who should get a flu shot?
Everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot yearly. People at high risk for the flu include: pregnant women, children 6 months to 5 years old, anyone who cares for or lives with infants, healthcare workers and adults 50 years and older.
The flu can be serious, particularly in young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes.
A small percentage of people should not get a flu shot because of underlying health conditions. If you have had allergic reactions to flu vaccinations in the past or have underlying health conditions, ask your doctor about getting a flu shot. You can also learn more on the CDC website.
How does a flu vaccine protect you?
Flu vaccines trigger the body to make antibodies about two weeks after vaccination. The antibodies offer protection against infection with the viruses that are used to create the vaccine.
When should you get a flu shot? Now!
You should get your flu vaccine as soon as possible, but ideally, get it by the end of October for maximum protection. It takes two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop. Many pharmacies administer flu shots, and some clinics are offering drive-thru flu shot clinics. Check with your primary care doctor about flu vaccinations in your area.
Be sure to wear a mask when you go to get your flu shot and remember to social distance.
Flu vaccination myths
- You cannot get the flu from a flu vaccination.
- The flu vaccine does not increase your risk of getting sick from COVID-19.
- It’s not better to get the flu and build natural immunity than to get the flu vaccine.
- You do not need two flu shots. One will do the job.
- Pregnant women should get vaccinated. Vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant people by about 50%.
What isn’t a myth? It is possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. One more reason to get a flu shot! Protect yourself and your loved ones.