It’s October, Fall and the start of Flu season. Most years as many as 12,000 to 52,000 people die from the flu in the U.S. But the unusually mild flu season last year means that fewer people have immunity to strains likely to be circulating this winter. Getting the flu shot remains the single most powerful action a person can take to fend off the days- or weeks-long, wracking muscle aches, fever and sometimes deadly respiratory infection that is influenza.
Flu is a serious disease, caused by influenza viruses, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Every flu season is different, and the substantial health impacts can vary widely from season to season, with some flu seasons being worse than others. The best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated each year. If the CDC recommendation isn’t enough to convince you to get your flu shot, here are three more reasons.
To ensure that the flu vaccine is safe, effective, and of high quality, the FDA prepares and provides reagents (materials to standardize vaccines) to manufacturers that they need to make their vaccine and to verify its identity and potency. The FDA also inspects manufacturing facilities regularly and evaluates each manufacturer’s vaccine annually before it can be approved.
Additional efforts are in place to monitor vaccine safety. The FDA partners with private organizations that collect health care data (such as health insurance companies) and other federal agencies (such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Veterans Health Administration and CDC) to further evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccines.
“Also, if you are worried that you can get the flu from the vaccine, no worries. The virus is inactivated so it cannot cause the flu after getting the shot. The flu vaccine will trigger your immune system to produce antibodies to protect against influenza disease but it will not make you sick with the flu,” said Amanda Nold, PA-C, with West Tennessee Medical Group Prime Care in Selmer. “It can take about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body, which is an important reason to get your flu vaccine early before flu activity starts.”
While some people who get vaccinated may still get the flu, the flu shot typically prevents about seven in ten people who receive it from developing moderate to severe symptoms. It can also help keep you out of the hospital. While practices that help guard against COVID-19, such as handwashing, social distancing and wearing masks, will probably help decrease the spread of influenza, the flu shot is still the single most effective way to reduce the spread of the flu.
The U.S. flu vaccine is reviewed each year and updated to match circulating flu viruses. The flu vaccine can typically protect against three or four different viruses. Since the virus changes from year to year, immunization from the previous year is not protective. All influenza vaccines available in the U.S. this year will be quadrivalent vaccines containing two strains of influenza A (H3N2 and H1N1) and two strains of influenza B (B Victoria and B Yamagata).
Your antibody response, which helps fight the virus, can decrease over time, so a yearly dose helps boost the antibody response before the start of the flu season. The vaccine protects you through the worst months of the flu season.
“The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine by the end of October. By then, cases will have started to mount, and many people will be just a few weeks away from travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Nold. “That said, getting vaccinated any time during the flu season can be beneficial.”
Immune systems weaken with age, which is why the CDC recommends adults 65 and older get vaccinated with one of two souped-up flu shots: either the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine or the FLUAD Quadrivalent vaccine. Both elicit a more robust immune response.
Flu seasons and their severity are unpredictable. While no vaccine is 100% effective, an annual flu shot is the best way to reduce the risk of getting the flu and spreading it to others. If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, make an appointment at any West Tennessee Medical Group Primary Care location today. To find a location, click here.