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The Upshot of Flu Shots

[fa icon="calendar"] Sep 4, 2020 11:24:00 AM / by Kim Mcilnay, BCPA

Kim Mcilnay, BCPA

Female doctor hand holding syringe with blue background and shine

Flu season is just around the corner. Influenza or "the flu" is a contagious upper-respiratory illness that can cause severe illness, and at times, lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that during the 2018-2019 flu season, the flu was associated with 490,600 hospitalizations and 34,200 deaths. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, congestion, headaches, fatigue, and muscle aches.

Don’t expect the number of cases in the U.S. to be lower this year because countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like Australia and New Zealand, experienced a very mild flu season . Their flu season happened at the same time their citizens were abiding by very strict stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. Since the U.S. is not enforcing similar regulations, experts in the U.S. do not expect a similar decrease in the number of flu cases.

If anything, because Americans are also at risk of contracting COVID-19, this flu season presents a greater-than-normal risk to your health. That means getting a flu shot is more important than ever. Stacy Schultz-Cherry, a researcher at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital explains it this way , “We really don’t know what a co-infection would look like.” Schultz-Cherry adds, “I wouldn’t want to have the lungs that would find that out.” You don’t want those lungs either.

To help you keep the flu at bay this season, here are the key things you need to know about the flu shot, starting with more reasons why you need it:

Why Get the Shot

  • The combination of a second wave of COVID-19 and a severe flu season could result in what public health officials are calling a twindemic.” 
  • The Centers for Disease Control is so concerned about the possibility of a twindemic, they have purchased an additional 3 million doses  of the flu vaccine for the uninsured.
  • The flu shot typically has an efficacy rate of 40 – 60% . While that isn’t 100%, it’s better than no protection, which is what you will have without a shot. And even if the flu shot doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, it decreases the severity of symptoms, making hospitalization and death less likely.
  • A combination of COVID-19 and flu cases could “overwhelm the health care system” according to Tony Moody, an immunologist at Duke University Medical Center.

Who Should Get the Flu Shot

  • Everyone six months and older 
  • Higher dose shots that provide greater immunity are available for people age 65 and older
  • Children between the ages of six months and eight years getting vaccinated for the first time should receive a second shot.  Some studies indicate organ transplant recipients may also benefit from a high dose vaccine or booster  shot.   
  • Flu shots are highly recommended for those who are immune compromised and those who are in close contact with immune compromised individuals. These individuals should avoid nasal spray vaccinations as it is a live vaccine. All other forms of flu vaccination are inactive (not live) vaccines and can be safely used.
  • If you have any concerns or questions about how the flu shot might affect your medical conditions, talk to your doctor before getting a shot.

When to Get the Shot

Where to Get the Shot

  • Your community may set up pop-up clinics in empty buildings, community centers, or tents in parking lots to allow for rapid vaccination while distancing due to COVID-19. Contact your primary care doctor's office to see if they will be holding a flu shot clinic this year.
  • To find other locations near you, visit the CDC’s vaccine finder at
    • Click the “Find Vaccine” tab.
    • Click the drop down menu, check the vaccination(s) you are interested in, and click “Add Vaccine.”
    • Enter your zip code and search area.
    • You will be given a list of locations in your search area that offer the vaccine. Information includes hours of operation, if insurance is accepted, and if walk-ins are available or you need an appointment.
    • Call the location before going in to make sure none of the information has changed.
    • To help maintain as much social distancing as possible, ask what days and times they are generally least busy.

Common Myths about the flu shot

  • I always get the flu from the flu shot
    • This is impossible as the flu shot is an inactive form of the virus that cannot cause the flu. If after your flu shot you feel like you "have the flu," this is due to several possibilities:
      • Your body mounted a robust immune response to the shot, which is great news as it means you'll be more immune to the flu.  
      • You came in contact with someone who had the flu. Handwashing, wearing a mask ,and distancing will prevent this from happening again.
  • I'm allergic to eggs so I can't get the shot
    • There's a vaccine made specifically for individuals with egg allergies. Search the vaccine finder above for the location of this vaccine by selecting that option.
  • The shot doesn't work
    • The vaccine is 40 – 60% effective. Some reasons you might get flu symptoms  after being vaccinated are:
      • You contracted another type of respiratory virus with flu-like symptoms
      • You may have been exposed to the flu before being vaccinated
      • You may be exposed to a strain of the flu that is different than the one(s) in the vaccination
      • Flu vaccines vary in how well they work; however, studies show that symptoms are less severe for people who have received vaccination, and those who receive the flu shot are less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to die of influenza.
  • I never get the flu so I don't need to be vaccinated.
    • The CDC estimates there are between 9.3 million and 49 million cases of the flu each year. As Gretchen Lasalle, a family physician in Spokane, Washington says, “Saying that you have never had the flu so you don’t need the flu shot is, in my mind, like saying you’ve never been in a car accident so you don’t need a seatbelt.” With the threat this year of possibly contracting COVID-19 and the flu, a flu shot is more important than ever.
  • The flu isn’t that serious
    • The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause severe illness, and at times, lead to death. The virus infects people of all ages and health status. Even if you are lucky enough to only be mildly affected by the flu, you could infect others from one day before you experience symptoms up to five to seven days after you get sick. Someone you infect could have a chronic medical condition, such as congestive heart failure or asthma that becomes more severe with the flu. Even if you don’t think the flu would be a problem for you, think of those around you, who you might protect by getting a flu shot.

Take control of your health. Consider all of the information about the flu vaccine; discuss it with your doctor. Make a decision that will help you protect your health and the health of those you love.  

Topics: vaccination, flu, prevention, influenza

Kim Mcilnay, BCPA

Written by Kim Mcilnay, BCPA

I am the founder of Together Patient Advocates, LLC. I combine my past experiences as a Family Physician with my current experiences as a patient with chronic illness to provide insights into medical care patient advocacy.

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