Influenza (“the flu”) is more than just a bad cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year the flu virus causes millions of illnesses, tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. Most of these can be prevented with one simple step: the flu shot. Memorial Hermann pediatrician Victoria Regan, MD, explains why the flu shot is so important for your whole family.
This year is different from “normal” years because flu season is arriving in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both viruses circulating at the same time may create a double impact on the community and may have significant health consequences, even for people who rarely get sick. This year’s flu vaccine could be the most important one you ever receive. “We had almost no flu season last year because so many people were vigilant with masking and social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Regan says. “But this year more people are out and about, and many are unmasked, so we will have many more exposures.”
“Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot,” says Dr. Regan. Both children and adults should get a flu shot to protect themselves from getting sick and from spreading influenza to others. The flu shot is especially important for people in high-risk medical groups. This includes pregnant women, adults over 65 years of age and people with chronic medical conditions. “Pregnant women should definitely be vaccinated,” advises Dr. Regan. “If a pregnant woman gets the flu, it puts both her and the baby at risk of severe complications. Every year we see cases of pregnant women who die from the flu, and the baby is left behind without a mother.”
Yes. The flu shot cannot cause the flu. However, you may experience side effects after receiving the vaccine. These side effects are usually mild and only last a few days. Some common side effects include:
“It’s about 40 percent to 60 percent effective against contracting the flu virus,” Dr. Regan says. “But the main job of the vaccine is to prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death. That’s the point of being vaccinated — to stay out of the hospital and to stay alive.” Dr. Regan reminds families that if you get the flu after being vaccinated, you will likely only have a light case of the virus. It probably won’t last long, and you won’t be nearly as sick as if you were unvaccinated. The flu shot protects against both flu strains, A and B. It is not uncommon for unvaccinated people to contract both types of flu, at different times, during the same flu season. Even if you have one type of flu early in the season, you can still protect yourself for the rest of the season by being vaccinated.
Yes. The CDC says the COVID-19 vaccine (including booster shots) can be given at the same time as other vaccines, including the flu vaccine. Both vaccines can keep you from getting sick and can keep you out of the hospital and prevent you from dying.
Now is the time for the whole family to get a flu shot. The height of flu season occurs between December and February. It takes about 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine for antibodies to develop and provide protection. It is best for children to be vaccinated as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available. Children younger than 8 years old who are receiving the flu shot for the first time need two doses of the shot given 4 weeks apart. “The best timing is to be vaccinated by the end of October,” Dr. Regan says. Ideally, adults should also receive flu shots during this time frame to have optimal antibodies to best fight off influenza as well. Vaccinations should continue to be offered and administered, however, as long as flu viruses are circulating.
Primary care and pediatric clinics affiliated with Memorial Hermann have flu vaccines available for their patients. To find a physician or clinic near you, visit ScheduleNow to make an appointment.