Flu season is upon us again. At COLFS Medical Clinic, we offer the influenza vaccine to all people age six months and older.  There are some exceptions to the recommendations, mainly related to previous adverse reactions to influenza vaccine.

Ultimately, as the patient or parent, it is your decision whether or not you or your children receive the vaccine. We will always respect your decisions. It is our responsibility to ensure you are fully informed so that you can make that decision well. Below, we address questions you may have in making your decision on whether or not to get the flu vaccine this season.

What is ‘the flu’?

The commonly known term, ‘the flu,’ describes a number of viruses existing under the influenza A and influenza B families. Influenza viruses are active from fall to spring every year [1]. The illness from the virus includes symptoms of fever, body aches, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, cough, and sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea [2]. The severity of illness ranges from mild, which can be managed at home, to severe requiring hospitalization, and sometimes resulting in death. Those most vulnerable to severe illness include the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses.

How is the flu vaccine developed?

The vaccine is developed yearly with the goal to provide protection against the most prevalent influenza viruses anticipated [1]. In the 2019-2020 flu season, influenza B was the predominant virus. As of February 2020, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified 177 different types of Influenza B virus that were active during that flu season [3]. Using a bit of detective work, scientist try to predict which virus strains will be circulating the following year. Sometimes they predict accurately; sometimes they are off the mark.

Can I get the flu from the vaccine and how does it work?

Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine will not give you the influenza virus. It will, however, trigger the immune system to get to work building antibodies to the virus. The vaccine available at COLFS Medical Clinic is an inactivated (not live) vaccine. Two of the more common side effects include redness or tenderness at the injection site. Some may experience swelling or pain at the injection site. Infants, children, and adolescents may experience drowsiness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, uncontrolled crying, and fever. Adults and older adults less commonly experience these side effects, but may experience fatigue, body aches, or headache [3]. Sometimes, the symptoms caused by the stimulated immune system can resemble a viral illness, for a few days.

If the vaccine does not guarantee I will not get influenza virus, why would I get it?

In the 2019-2020 influenza season, the vaccine had an overall effectiveness rate of 45%. The vaccine was 50% effective against influenza B viruses, and 37% against influenza A viruses. The vaccine had a 55% overall effectiveness rate for children and adolescents >6 months-17 years old. Though these percentages may seem low, it is helpful to look at the burden that the flu causes to us as individuals, and to our healthcare system. In the past 10 years, influenza has “caused an estimated (range of) 4.3–21 million doctor visits, 140,000–810,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000–61,000 deaths each year” [4]. There is also a significant spike in illness related work absence during the flu season [5]. So, as you can see, influenza wreaks quite a bit of havoc when it comes around every year. The vaccination helps reduce just how much hardship it will cause.

If I get the flu vaccine will it help to protect me from getting COVID-19?

No, the influenza vaccine will not provide you with specific protection from COVID-19. However, the COVID-19 pandemic increases the importance of receiving the flu vaccine. Reducing flu prevalence reduces the number of people requiring treatment for the illness. Now more than ever, it is important to reduce the burden on the healthcare system while we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Presenting symptoms of seasonal influenza are very similar to COVID-19. Widespread administration of the vaccination will hopefully help to reduce confusion between the two illnesses [1].

The Flu Vaccine is an Effective and Safe Public Health Measure

In summary, getting sick with the flu is miserable and can lead to time out of work or school. The vaccine will significantly reduce your chances of contracting influenza. The vaccine itself presents little risk. Whether you’re a regular flu vaccine recipient, or you have never received the vaccine before, this is certainly the year to seriously consider getting your flu vaccine. At COLFS Medical Clinic, we can answer any remaining questions you may have regarding the vaccine and ensure you are eligible to receive it.  Contact us for a consultation or to schedule your flu vaccine: request an appointment today!

References

[1]. Grohskopf, L. A., Alyanak, E., Broder, K. R., Blanton, L. H., Fry, A. M., Jernigan, D. B., & Atmar, R. L. (2020). Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices - United States, 2020-21 Influenza Season.

[2]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Flu Symptoms & Diagnosis. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[3]. UpToDate. (2020). Influenza virus vaccines (inactivated) (IIV3 and IIV4): Drug information.

[4]. Dawood, F. S., Chung, J. R., Kim, S. S., Zimmerman, R. K., Nowalk, M. P., Jackson, M. L., Jackson, L. A., Monto, A. S., Martin, E. T., Belongia, E. A., McLean, H. Q., Gaglani, M., Dunnigan, K., Foust, A., Sessions, W., DaSilva, J., Le, S., Stark, T., Kondor, R. J., … Flannery, B. (2020). Interim Estimates of 2019-20 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness - United States, February 2020. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report69(7), 177–182.

[5]. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). 4.2 million workers have illness-related work absences in January 2018. TED: The Economics Daily.