Megan Lewis is a student at the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy (formerly St. Louis College of Pharmacy). She is completing her final year of pharmacy school and is currently completing a rotation at Rx Outreach.
Why is getting the influenza (flu) vaccine more important than ever this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Getting the flu vaccine this year is very important for many reasons. Getting routine vaccinations is essential for protecting people and our communities from vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks, such as the flu. The flu vaccine, a routine vaccination, is essential for reducing the overall impact of respiratory illnesses in the community and lessens the burden on the healthcare system during the pandemic.
The flu vaccine provides many individual benefits, such as minimizing your risk of getting sick with the flu, reducing the severity of your illness if you do contract the flu virus, and lessening your risk of complications from the flu that may lead to hospitalization. Hospitalization could increase your chance of contracting other illnesses, such as COVID-19. Both the flu and COVID-19 viruses affect the respiratory system and can result in complications or even death. Therefore, it’s extremely important to receive the flu shot this year to provide yourself the most protection as possible.
Will the influenza (flu) vaccine protect you against COVID-19?
No, the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, however, it is still important to receive the flu vaccine for your protection against the flu.
Who should get an influenza (flu) vaccine?
The CDC recommends yearly flu vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older.
During the pandemic, it is especially important for vulnerable populations who are at risk for severe illness to receive the vaccine, such as:
⦁ Essential workers
⦁ Persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19: Adults aged 65 years and older, nursing home or long-term care facility residents, and persons with underlying medical conditions.
⦁ Persons at increased risk for serious influenza complications: infants and young children, pregnant women, adults aged 65 years and older, children with neurologic conditions, and persons with certain underlying medical conditions.
Where can you safely get an influenza (flu) vaccine?
There are many places you can get a flu shot this year safely. You can make an appointment with your primary care provider or go to your local pharmacy or health department. You can also check online at www.vaccinefinder.org for other locations near you.
Be sure to practice everyday preventive actions such as: wearing a mask, washing your hands, not leaving your home if you aren’t feeling well, and social distancing when possible.
You should call the location of where you want to receive your flu shot ahead of time to make sure they have the vaccine and ask any questions you may have about the safety procedures they are following at their location.
The flu vaccine is typically free under most insurance.
Can the flu vaccine give you the flu?
No, flu vaccines cannot give you the flu. Flu vaccines given by injection contain an inactivated (killed) virus. Nasal spray flu vaccines contain live viruses that are weakened; therefore, neither of these options can give you the flu.
Why do some people get sick after receiving the flu vaccine?
It is normal to not feel well for a few days after receiving the flu vaccine. Your body and immune system are responding to the vaccine and working to build antibodies that protect you from the flu. It is common to experience a low-grade fever, muscle aches, and/or headache for 1-2 days after receiving the vaccine.
If you become sick for longer than a few days and/or experience more severe symptoms after receiving the vaccine, it is likely you were already infected with an illness but were not showing any symptoms yet.
Is it really necessary to receive a flu shot every year?
Absolutely! First, your body’s immune response (protection) against the flu declines over time, so receiving the vaccine each year is needed for the best protection against the flu. Second, flu viruses are constantly changing; therefore, the flu vaccine composition is reviewed and updated each year to protect us against the most current strains of the flu.
Why do some people who get the flu vaccine still get the flu?
There are several reasons why someone who receives the flu vaccine can still get the flu or flu symptoms. First, the flu vaccine only protects against the flu, so if you are exposed to any other respiratory virus with similar symptoms, you may still become sick. Second, it takes around 2 weeks for the body to develop immune protection against the flu after vaccination, so if you are exposed to the flu prior to or during the two-week window after receiving the vaccine, you may still get sick. Finally, you may be exposed to a strain of flu that was not covered by the flu vaccine. As mentioned before, flu viruses are constantly changing so there may be some strains that develop after the vaccine is produced.
Why are you so passionate about this topic?
In short, I have a passion of caring for others and serving my community to make a difference in other’s lives!
Before pharmacy school, I knew little to nothing about vaccines. Throughout school, I have gained so much knowledge about the types of vaccines, their importance, the specific timelines of each vaccine, and so on. I know this is a learning opportunity that many people do not have, and that is why I want to share some of the knowledge that I have learned over the years by discussing the flu vaccine.
The flu shot is a vaccine that has many misconceptions. Many decline the vaccine each year. What many people do not know, is that by receiving a flu vaccine you aren’t just protecting yourself, you are also protecting vulnerable people around you who cannot receive the vaccine for various reasons. The flu vaccine is important to receive every year but is especially important this year during the pandemic.