Over the past couple of weeks, The Minister of Health has been emphasizing to citizens the importance of taking the flu shot, especially with the Coronavirus present. Many have asked what is the point of taking it if it does not protect me against Covid-19? What exactly is the flu shot and why is it so important that you get it?
What is the Flu?
According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) a flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. These viruses spread when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks, sending droplets with the virus into the air and potentially into the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. They can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Symptoms usually appear from one to four days after exposure to the virus, and they last five to seven days. For most people, the flu will resolve on its own.
What is the difference between an Influenza (Flu) and the Cold?
While the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. Where a cold develops slower, an influenza develops rapidly. You also feel significantly worse with a flu since the symptoms are more intense. Colds are usually milder and do not result in serious hospitalizations, whereas the flu can lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections and possibly hospitalization. With Covid-19 around, it is safer to check with your doctor to ensure that it is just a common cold or flu.
What is the Flu Shot?
The Flu shot is offered every year to help protect persons at risk of the flu and its complications. It is generally given with a needle, usually in the arm and protects against the three or four influenza viruses that research suggests may be most common during the upcoming season. It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, but you can benefit from the vaccine even if you don't get it until after the flu season starts.
Who should get the Flu Shot?
The flu vaccine is given to person who:
are 65 and over (including those who'll be 65 by 31 March 2021)
have certain health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes.
have weakened immune systems e.g. Lupus and Cancer
have chronic respiratory illnesses e.g. Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
are pregnant and women up to two weeks after giving birth.
are in a long-stay residential care.
are the main care-taker for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick.
live with someone who's at high risk from coronavirus.
are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher.
frontline health or social care workers.
Who SHOULD NOT get the Flu Shot?
Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu shot.
Persons who have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
Persons with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include eggs, mercury, gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
Persons with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get a flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.
If you are not feeling well, especially if you have a high fever, talk to your doctor about your symptoms first.
NOTE: If you had Covid-19 please speak to your doctor before getting the flu shot.
How effective is the Flu Shot?
The flu shot gives the best protection against flu. That being said, its effectiveness can vary from season to season and depends on both the status of the person getting the vaccine re: their age and their health and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation. If the match is good and the person is in good health then the vaccine will yield substantial benefit. If the match is not adequate then it is possible for the person to still get the flu even if they are in good health. You need both factors to line up for the vaccine to be effective. If you do get flu after vaccination, however, it is more likely to be milder and not last as long. Having the flu vaccine will also stop you spreading flu to other people around you who may be more at risk of serious problems from flu.
Why do I need to get vaccinated every year?
There are two reasons to get the flu shot every year. The first is that the body's immune response decreases over time. Getting vaccinated every year ensures continued protection, especially if you fall within one of the high risk categories outlined earlier. The second reason is that the influenza viruses that result in the flu are constantly changing. What this means is that the viruses that were present in the community last year may not necessarily be in circulation this year. This leads us back to the reason the vaccine itself is updated every year.
What are some of the side effects?
According to the CDC while some persons may have some mild soreness or redness at the injection site, a few others may experience fatigue or headaches. These symptoms are as a result of your immune system reacting to the proteins injected into your muscle and are a sign of your immune system responding to the vaccine. While these symptoms will resolve on their own, you should seek emergency care if you begin to experience any of the following: a high fever, difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, paleness, weakness, dizziness and/or a rapid heartbeat.
Every year millions of people get the flu. Receiving the flu vaccine is a very effective way to protect yourself and your family. It is especially important to get it this year in order to not put undue burden on the healthcare system. Also it is possible to get both the flu and Covid-19 at the same time, which is the last thing anyone wants to happen.
Contact your health care provider, local health centres to find out where you can get vaccinated.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.