As the weather turns colder it’s a sign that flu season is just around the corner. Flu season is always a challenge for our health care system, however, this year we have the added challenge of facing it during a global pandemic. As is the case every year, getting your flu shot is your best defence against the flu and the importance of getting it this year cannot be understated.
Public health experts are focused on the arrival of the second wave of COVID-19. For many of us health professionals, it’s a question of when, not if, it will arrive. Already we’re starting to see an increase of new cases across the country. What’s most concerning is that this rise is happening when we aren’t in the colder months when we spend most of our time indoors. Combine this with the annual flu season and we’re facing a possible “twindemic” where our health system will be fighting two very infectious viruses at the same time.
I get the flu shot every year and I have always recommended my patients to get theirs. The flu vaccine has been around since the late 1940s. Every year, experts analyze the epidemiological trends to vaccinate against the most prevalent strain of the flu virus that’s spreading between people. Despite the flu shot’s long history, I’m inevitably asked about the same misconceptions every year:
- Will it give me the flu?
You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The vaccine contains killed influenza viruses that cannot cause an infection. They’re there so your body can recognize the virus should you come into contact with it so your immune system knows how to fight it off and protect you from getting sick. Once you get the flu shot, it takes about two weeks for your body to develop antibodies.
- Will getting the flu shot weaken my immune system’s ability to fight off viruses on its own?
No. Because the influenza virus strains change most years, you need to get immunized each year to be protected against new strains. There are potentially up to 144 strains of the influenza virus and our immune system does not naturally have the antibodies to fight them all by itself. People who get the vaccine each year are better protected than those who remain unimmunized.
- I never get sick, so I don’t need the flu shot.
If you never get sick, great! However, the best way to protect yourself and keep your perfect track record going is to get the vaccine that will help your body fight off future illnesses. For COVID-19, which is a novel virus meaning it’s new, your body has no history of combatting it and therefore it’s unequipped to know how to respond. The flu shot also protects others in your community and household who perhaps aren’t as lucky and are more susceptible to falling ill.
These are all myths perpetuated by misinformation largely spread online by non-health professionals. The flu shot is safe, full stop. Most people who get the flu shot only experience some redness, or mild soreness where the vaccine was given. It is extremely rare for the vaccine to cause a severe reaction or side effects. Some people do have allergic reactions. For those who suffer from allergies they should consult with their physician and possibly have an allergy test before being immunized.
With COVID-19 still being a major threat we need to make sure we keep people as healthy as possible this flu season. The flu shot will reduce your risk of severe illness and help prevent hospitalizations and overtaxing our health care system. So this year more than ever, I’m asking you to not wait until the flu starts spreading and do your part to keep yourself and others healthy by getting your flu shot.