This is the final week of the Flu Shot FAQ series I ran via Reels on Instagram. Every day for 3 weeks I debunked a flu shot myth or answered a flu shot question using facts + information from credible and reliable sources. I chose reels to do this because they’re short and lots of people watch them (vs. not everyone will take the time to read a lengthy blog post).
*Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The information on this blog should not be used as a substitute to medical advice or medical treatment. As always, your Primary Care Provider, a doctor, or another health professional is your best resource for specific questions and medical advice. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact 911.*
I tackled an additional 5 questions this week – and that is all the questions I got! It was really fun to cover this information and I hope people found it informative. As always, if you like the way I’m doing something (or if you don’t) – let me know via social media.
Question: Should I get the flu shot this year if I’m not going anywhere/social distancing/etc?
YES. Respiratory illness can spread very easily – even if you are just seeing family; one person in the household is working; or you are just running out to the grocery store once in a while.
Each year at flu season, there is a significant flu burden (which I’ve talked about before) – this means that our healthcare system is often overwhelmed by the flu cases. You can see the burden of the flu from last year here – approximately over 400k people were hospitalized for the flu.
Why does this matter? Well, imagine that amount of hospitalizations on top of the COVID-19 hospitalizations that are occurring now. And things seem to just be getting worse again. Our hospitals (and more importantly, their employees) are already feeling overwhelmed just from the pandemic – we should all do our best to lessen the burden where we can. That is why getting a flu shot is still important!
Are the added precautions we are taking helpful to reduce flu burden? Likely yes! But just as COVID-19 can still spread, so can the flu. Also if you’ve been out you probably know that not everyone has been following precautions, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Question: Are there studies on the long term effects of the flu shot?
There are not really studies specifically for this purpose, and the CDC gives a good explanation as to why – this simply wouldn’t be practical, nor would it safe to withhold vaccines from children whilst we study the long-term impact.
What has been studied is disease – and risk factors for disease. So far, immunizations are not a risk factor, including for any major illnesses like cancer or heart disease.
Oh, I just thought of one long term effect – potentially not getting a vaccine preventable illness! Cool.
Question: Who gets the high dose flu vaccine and what is the difference between it and the ‘regular’ flu vaccine?
In Ontario, the high dose vaccine is only available for seniors (those over 65 years of age). To my understand, this is the same in the US.
Many people wonder – what is the difference between this vaccine and the regular (Quadrivalent) shot?
The high dose contains 4x the antigen (the protein I talk about previously, in week 2) than the ‘regular’ shot does – the purpose of this is to help people over 65 years of age mount a stronger immune defence against the flu. For the population over 65, some studies have shown it can be up to 24% more effective, and reduces hospitalizations.
The CDC says that there can be increased side effects with this formulation, which makes sense since there is a greater amount of antigen and a greater immune response. Most common side effect is still arm pain and redness.
From a personal experience standpoint, I actually find the seniors I have worked with who receive the high dose formulation report less side effects – I’m not sure why this is.
If it is more effective and increases immune response, why can’t everyone get it?
Younger peoples immune response is better – with age unfortunately, our immune response decreases. This vaccine is meant to help those who have a weakened response mount a better one. So generally speaking, with the regular shot, most people should mount an efficient response.
There are some studies being done to suggest people aged 50 and up may benefit from the high dose – specifically if they have chronic health conditions.
Question: I’ve never had the flu shot or the flu – why should I get it?
This is a hard question to answer, because getting the shot comes down to a personal & informed choice made by each individual. If you have questions or concerns you should, first off, talk to your healthcare provider.
A few things I can say:
Just because you haven’t had it doesn’t mean you never will.
Dr. Gretchen LaSalle wrote a book called “Let’s Talk Vaccines”, and she discusses this (and other vaccines) in-depth. I recommend it to HCPs who are looking for ways to have that discussion with their patients, but there is valuable info in there for patients as well.
One thing she said that sticks in my mind is that saying I’ve never had the flu so I don’t need the shot, is like saying – “I’ve never been in a car accident, so I don’t need a seatbelt”. Think on that one for a bit.
You are lessening the chance of others, who may be more high risk than you, getting the flu.
These can be your loved ones – like your parents, grandparents, immune compromised relatives or children; the list goes on. It can just be other people – but I hope through the experiencing of living in a pandemic you may have developed some compassion for others (or hopefully – you already had it). But maybe not.
I talked about flu burden before (apparently a lot actually, but it is important for understanding the importance of the flu shot) – ~9.3 to 45 million people are affected by the flu each year in the US alone.
Flu deaths are more common than one might think as well – it is not required, for adult death, to report flu-related ones – however, in children it is. The CDC estimates that ~80% of death in children in past flu seasons (2018 and prior) occurred in populations who did not receive the flu vaccine.
To read more about the flu burden, click here.
Check out this great Healthline article for more reasons to get the flu shot (Healthline isn’t always the best resource necessarily, but it is edited and managed by a team of healthcare professionals!).
Question: When is the perfect time to get the shot?
You should, ideally, get it as early as possible in the fall. It takes ~2 weeks for antibodies to develop (I talk about the immune response in more detail last week). The CDC recommends vaccination around the end of October.
It is never too late – if you didn’t get it when it first got released and it is still available (the key factor here, availability…) and you want it – get it. Flu season lasts a lot longer than people think, so any coverage can be beneficial.
The CDC does recommend not getting it too early – they say not to get it in the summer, and I wonder where it is available then?! But anyways. If you want it, get it. Earlier in the season (or just in advance of it) is best, but better to get it at some point than not at all.
As always, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this FAQ series!