Why is it important to get your flu shot?

December 03, 2020
A cup of tea on a desk.

Dr. Adam Hudepohl is a family medicine physician at Ben Sawyer Primary Care in Mount Pleasant. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated. Dr. Hudepohl answered top questions about influenza and the flu vaccine.

Why is it important to get your flu shot?

The flu shot is the best protection we have against the flu. The vaccine helps keep us healthy, stay on track with work and school, and reduce the number of hospitalizations and even deaths related to the flu. During a year when the flu vaccine is a good match against circulating strains, it reduces the overall rate of flu illness by 40 to 60%.

The flu makes you feel awful. It can weaken your body so that secondary infections like pneumonia and sinus infections may occur. Influenza can also make chronic illnesses worse such as asthma or COPD. Unfortunately, we are most contagious at the beginning of a flu illness, sometimes before we have any symptoms. Getting the flu vaccine is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the possibility that you may unknowingly spread the flu to another person.

Is the flu shot more important this year with COVID?

We have a lot to learn still about COVID-19 and this includes how it may interact with the flu. We know that both viruses affect your respiratory system and can cause damage to your lungs which makes it harder to breath. It is likely that having both viruses at the same time or one after the other may cause a more dangerous and severe illness. In addition, hospitals are already under heavy strain from COVID-19. Getting the flu shot makes it less likely that you will develop a severe illness which may require hospitalization - sparing health care resources which can be used to treat patient with the novel coronavirus.

Who will the flu shot protect?

EVERYONE. The flu shot is important not just to protect yourself but also your friends, family, and coworkers. Certain people are more vulnerable to the complications of the flu such as children younger than five, adults over 65, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic health conditions (diabetes, asthma, COPD, heart failure) regardless of their age. Nearly everyone has regular contact with people who fall into one or more of these categories. We must do everything possible to help them stay healthy!

Can children get a flu shot?

Yes, children can and should get the flu shot. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for children over 6 months of age. An important study which looked at the flu across four seasons concluded that getting the flu shot reduces the rate of flu associated death in both healthy kids and those with underlying high-risk conditions.

The flu shot is also recommended for pregnant women and it decreases the rates of flu complications for both the mom and her baby. The antibodies that the mother makes in response to the flu shot are transferred to the baby and continue to protect him or her even after birth!

Why do I need a flu shot every year, unlike other vaccines?

The influenza virus is a tricky devil and it is highly adapted to infecting humans. It mutates regularly and as such we must make our best educated guess about which flu strains will be important based on which flu strains are highly active in other parts of the world prior to our peak season. Admittedly, some years that prediction is more accurate than others and as such the flu vaccine may vary in its effectiveness from year to year. However, even when that prediction is less than perfect the flu vaccine offers you and your loved ones the best protection from the virus.

Can the flu shot give me the flu?

The flu shot cannot give you the flu. It is an inactivated vaccine and simply not able to infect you. However, you can still get the flu even if you have had the shot. It takes about 2 weeks before your body is fully primed to fight the flu after getting the shot.

It is possible that getting the flu shot may produce some mild symptoms such as muscle pain, headache, nausea, or low-grade fever. This is your body responding to the vaccine by priming your immune system. These symptoms should resolve in 24-48 hours and can usually be treated with Tylenol or ibuprofen.

The Bottom Line About the Flu Shot

Getting the vaccine makes it less likely that you will get the flu. Even if you are unlucky enough to get the flu, having the vaccine means that your symptoms are likely to be less severe and go away sooner. You are less likely to spread it to another person. Finally, it is less likely that the flu will cause a serious illness and lead to hospitalization or death.

Learn more about our drive-in flu shot clinics and schedule an appointment with MUSC Health Primary Care by calling 843-792-7000 or online via MyChart.