Health Column: Best plan to fight flu this year is getting a flu vaccine
For Craig Press
The fall 2022 flu season may hit early and hard this year, so it’s best to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.
To prepare for the upcoming fall and winter flu season, U.S. medical experts, like Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control, keep a close eye on how the flu season played out in the southern hemisphere during their recent fall and winter (from about April through August of this year).
Her advice: “Don’t wait. Get your flu shot as soon as it’s available.”
Barron reminds people that it takes about two weeks after you get your flu shot for the vaccine to fully go into effect.
“The flu vaccine will protect you for four to six months. If you’re a little off on your timing, that’s fine. It’s best to be early this year. If you get your shot too late, it just means you’re more at risk of getting the flu,” said Barron.
When will we know if we’re going to have a bad flu season?
“We won’t really know until it hits us,” Barron said. “I would love for us to change the course of the flu this year. If we get enough people vaccinated and we’re smart, maybe we can do that. But we won’t know exactly what happens with the flu until it starts to spread.”
Why are you concerned about this year’s flu season?
The best indication of what could happen here is to look at what happened with flu cases in the southern hemisphere. There, the flu hit early and hard this year.
It’s more typical for flu cases to peak between July and September in Australia. This year, they began climbing in April and peaked at very high levels in May and June.
“Their peak was early. That’s comparable to November and December here (when cases typically peak in the U.S. in January and February). That’s what I’m worried about,” Barron said.
How has COVID-19 affected flu seasons in recent years?
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reduced cases of the flu around the world. Stay-at-home measures and interventions like masking and social distancing, reduced cases of COVID-19 and also prevented the spread of the flu. Now, as people are resuming their normal activities and few are taking precautions like wearing masks regularly, the flu can spread more easily.
In addition, our bodies’ immune systems aren’t used to fighting the flu, so we may be more vulnerable this fall and winter, Barron said.
“We haven’t had exposure for two years, so when it comes to flu, our immune systems aren’t revved up and ready to go,” Barron said.
Can I get both a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes. It’s perfectly safe to get both shots at the same time, Barron said. If everyone who is eligible gets both a new flu and COVID-19 shot this fall, we could dramatically reduce severe cases of both flu and COVID-19 this fall and winter, Barron said.
Are flu shots available? What about the new COVID-19 booster shots?
Flu shots and the new COVID-19 booster shots that specifically fight the newest omicron variants are both available. Check with your primary care provider or local pharmacy for specific availability.
Does the flu vaccine prevent me from getting sick or rather, from severe illness, hospitalization and death?
No vaccine is perfect. And flu vaccines are especially complex, Barron said. That’s because vaccine makers have to guess in advance which flu strains will be circulating later that year. Then they create a vaccine that they hope will fight the prevailing flu strains.
Even if it’s not a perfect match, getting the flu vaccine can dramatically reduce hospitalizations and deaths from the flu.
There’s a myth that the flu shot can give you the flu. What’s the truth about the flu shot and getting the flu?
“The flu shot does not give you the flu. The shot does not contain live virus. As with any vaccine, there can be side effects, but those are normal,” Barron said.
Is there a special type of flu shot for older people or those who need an extra boost to their immune system?
“Yes. There’s a high dose flu shot for people over age 65. It’s meant to give you an extra boost to your immune system,” Barron said.
When you schedule your flu shot with your medical provider, if you are older, you should automatically get the specially-formulated shot for older adults. But, of course, it’s wise to ask about which type of flu shot you are getting.
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