Your Vera care center is ready to administer annual flu shots. With COVID-19 impacting our lives in so many ways, is the yearly flu shot still as important as ever? The short answer: Yes.
You might have some questions about flu vaccinations. That’s why we took some time to talk to Dr. Jackie Riddick, a family medicine specialist and Vera Whole Health provider, about the most common questions her patients ask about flu shots.
Do I really need a flu shot every year?
Dr. Riddick: Yes, you do. The reason why you need an updated flu shot is that this year’s flu virus will not be the same as last year’s.
Why is the flu vaccine needed every year, when some other vaccines are only needed once every 10 years?
Dr. Riddick: Because the influenza virus mutates over time as it gets passed around the globe. The flu virus we see each year will actually be slightly different than what we experienced 12 months ago.
To prepare an updated vaccine each year, companies that manufacture the vaccines use the most current versions of virus proteins from around the world. Since this year’s flu virus will look different than last year’s, the annual flu vaccine needs to keep changing to keep us protected.
If the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective, is it worth it?
Dr. Riddick: Yes. The flu vaccine helps to protect you, but it also serves another important goal that many of us have. It helps protect those around you.
Typically, the vaccine is anywhere from about 40% to 60% effective at preventing influenza — and that may not sound as effective as some other prevention measures that we take in medicine. That’s partly because the flu virus continues to mutate.
But remember that if you’ve gotten a flu shot and you still come down with the flu, you’re more likely to get a milder case than someone who didn’t receive a vaccine. If you’re pregnant, we recommend that you get the vaccine, since pregnancy makes it all the more important to avoid illnesses.
Getting a flu shot also helps to protect your loved ones and your community, like elderly people with fragile immune systems and infants who are too young to be vaccinated.
Can getting a flu shot cause me to get the flu?
Dr. Riddick: No, it can’t. It’s important to remember that there are no live influenza particles in the influenza vaccine. It contains an inactivated protein that trains your immune system to recognize the virus as foreign and attack it so that you don’t get sick.
When some people get a flu vaccination, their immune system response may present as body aches, a slightly elevated temperature, or other mild effects. This can cause confusion, because it can feel like you have the flu.
In short, the flu vaccine won’t give you the flu. If you do experience some of those effects, that just means your body is mounting a response that will protect you later.
What if I experience side effects?
Dr. Riddick: If you experience side effects, we can help. It’s always valuable to hear from a patient about side effects they have experienced or are concerned about. Once we determine the cause of those symptoms, we strategize how to help them through that.
For example, if you experience muscle aches, heating pads can help. If your arm feels sore, we can recommend exercises or stretches. In more rare cases where a person’s side effects might feel prohibitive, we may recommend TYLENOL or ibuprofen. Once we know your concern, we can alleviate potential side effects in the way that’s best for your individual needs.
What does getting a flu shot have to do with COVID-19?
Dr. Riddick: By getting a flu shot now, you can help your health provider to evaluate any COVID-like symptoms you might develop later.
If somebody presents with fever and respiratory symptoms, we’ll need to determine if it’s COVID-19 or if it might be the flu. If you’ve had your flu shot, that information will be helpful in determining the cause of your symptoms.
Do I need to wait until flu season to get the flu shot?
Dr. Riddick: Yes, flu shots usually become available shortly before flu season begins. It’s ideal to get your flu shot early enough that your body has time to build up immunity before flu season hits. That’s why we administer most flu shots in September and October.
If you don’t hit that early window, is it too late? Not at all! Flu season usually extends into late winter, so you’ll still benefit from the protection.
Can I get a flu shot during my Annual Whole Health Evaluation?
Dr. Riddick: Yes! If you have your Annual Whole Health Evaluation during fall or winter, we’ll almost always take care of your flu shot during your visit. During that visit, we’ll review the types of preventive measures that make sense for someone of your age, gender, and health status, and make individualized recommendations. For most people, that will include a flu shot.
What if your Annual Whole Health Evaluation doesn’t happen in the fall?
Dr. Riddick: No matter when your Annual Whole Health Evaluation takes place, we’ll help you stay on track with preventive measures. Whether your flu shot is administered through us, your workplace, or your local pharmacy, we’ll support you to meet your health goals during the flu season. After all, it can be a busy season, and it may not be the easiest time for you to see your doctor.