The Influenza Vaccine: Why Getting a Flu Shot Matters in 2020

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Doctor giving flu shot

Each year, the push for flu vaccination begins in the early Fall. Healthcare providers start asking their patients if they’ve gotten their shot or if they want one. Pharmacies launch advertising campaigns to encourage vaccination. Government agencies also swing into action with their public service announcements about avoiding the flu.

Traditionally, the focus is on young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are vulnerable to illness due to preexisting conditions like diabetes or heart disease. This season, with COVID-19 complicating the situation, all people aged six months or older are encouraged to get vaccinated to avoid the possibility of a “twin-demic.”

 

A Flu Season Complicated by COVID-19

Health experts are concerned about the convergence of flu season with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There is a fear that concurrent large surges in illness – a twin-demic – will overwhelm healthcare systems that are already under enormous pressure. This is a very real possibility, particularly as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise to record rates.

The flu has symptoms similar to coronavirus and other respiratory viruses, which can add to confusion to a medical diagnosis. If a patient has received a flu shot, it helps to negate one of the options. A full shot is not a full-proof solution to avoiding the flu. Chances are, however, that the extent and degree of illness will be much less severe.

 

Five Myths About Flu Shots

The World Health Organization dispels five common myths about flu shots in order to encourage higher vaccination rates. These myths include:

  1. The flu is not a serious illness.

This claim is false as up to 650,000 people around the world die from the flu each year. Even healthy people can develop complications that result in pneumonia, heart inflammation, brain inflammation, or sinus and ear infections.

  1. The flu vaccine will give me the flu.

The flu vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot make someone ill with the flu. Mild symptoms after receiving a shot are an immune response to the vaccine.

  1. The flu vaccine can have side effects.

Severe side effects are extremely rare, with perhaps one in a million people negatively impacted.

  1. The flu vaccine doesn’t work.

It’s true that someone can still get the flu after being vaccinated. However, the vaccine will protect against serious illness and help stop the spread to others.

  1. Pregnant women should not get vaccinated.

The opposite is true. Pregnancy makes a woman’s immune system weaker. Getting a flu vaccine is safely advised.

 

Facts About Flu Vaccines

The flu can have serious complications, resulting in hospitalization or even death. Each year brings different strains, and the need to for different vaccines to be created and distributed. Flu shots are only effective for the current season and need to be received annually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several vaccine options available based on age. These include an intranasal mist for people up to age 50 and high-dose shots for those age 65 and over. The ideal time to get a flu vaccine in September or October. However, since flu season lasts until March, shots are still offered and effective for months to come.

There are many benefits to being vaccinated. Aside from guarding oneself against flu, getting vaccinated is also the best way to protect others. CDC data for the United States shows that:

  • Flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million illnesses and 2.3 million flu-related medical visits in 2018-2019. It also kept 58,000 people out of the hospital and eliminated the possibility of 3,500 flu-related deaths.
  • People who have been vaccinated against flu reduce their risk of having to go to the doctor by 40 to 60 percent.
  • Adults who are vaccinated lower their chance of being admitted to the ICU with flu complication by 82 percent.
  • The vaccine lessens the risk of children being admitted to the pediatric ICU with flu complications by up to 74 percent. It also lowers flu hospitalization by 42% and ER flu visits by half.
  • A vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from flu for several months after birth.

 

Rallying Cry for People Age 65+

Among the most vulnerable for contracting the flu, and facing serious complications, are adults age 65 and over. In fact, the CDC estimates that from 70 to 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur in this age group.

To help get the word out this flu season, as the danger is magnified by COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) launched a robust public awareness campaign. While meant to address the value of the flu vaccine for all people, the campaign focuses on seniors age 65+ and the fact that flu shots are covered by Medicare Part B.

The integrated campaign – including social media, video and more – is meant to motivate seniors to protect themselves and the ones they love by getting vaccinated against flu. It’s another important step people can take in addition to mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing. CMS also stresses the wide availability of flu shots from a local pharmacy, the family physician or other healthcare provider.

 

Avoiding a Worsening Health Crisis

Health experts everywhere are doing their best to guard against a possible twin-demic as COVID-19 rates and hospitalizations hit an all-time high. For many organizations, including ours, that means getting out into the community to deliver health services to underserved populations.

Pharmacists, residents and students from the USC School of Pharmacy partnered with the City of Los Angeles to offer free flu shots at mobile clinic sites throughout the metro area. This type of public health outreach is being replicated in cities around the world, as fears of a flu outbreak escalate.

If current events inspire you to make a bigger impact by advancing your public health education, learn more about the USC Master of Public Health Online. It’s a degree for the next generation of thought leaders to solve the challenges ahead.

 

Sources:

WHO – 5 Myths

CDC – Key Facts

CDC – 65 and Older

CMS – Flu Season Campaign

USC School of Pharmacy