The flu shot is your best defense against getting the flu, period.
Yet, according to a survey released on Oct. 3 that was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CityMD from Sept. 13-15, 2016, more than half of millennials are not planning to get a flu shot this year. In fact, 49 percent say they don’t trust that it will keep them from getting the flu, while another 29 percent believe it could make them sick.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that last year’s vaccine effectiveness was 59%. I would definitely recommend the flu vaccine if you want to stay healthy this winter,” said Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief, Infectious Diseases, Baystate Medical Center.
“While some may experience soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, or even a mild fever or headache, the flu vaccine does not make you sick and you cannot get the flu from the vaccine,” he added.
Up to 6 months protection
If you think that you are protected from the flu this year because you were vaccinated last year or in the past, think again. Not only does each year’s vaccine differ in the flu strains targeted, but the immunity provided by the vaccine wanes over time, with one study last year reporting that the shot offers only up to six months of protection.
The CityMD survey also found that only 7 percent of Americans, as of Sept. 15, had already received a flu shot.
While as of mid-October flu activity was low around the country, localized outbreaks have already been reported in various states and usually begins to increase during October.
“That is why it’s so important for people to receive the flu vaccine as soon as possible, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for protection to set in,” said Dr. Skiest.
Who should get a flu shot?
Similar to past years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone six months of age and older be vaccinated unless their doctor recommends against it because of certain pre-existing conditions.
Vaccination is particularly important for those at high risk for serious flu complications, including young children, the elderly, those with heart disease, and pregnant women. The most important complication that can affect both high-risk adults and children is pneumonia. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease and asthma.
According to Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital, getting a flu shot for your children is the single most important thing you can do to protect them and others in your family, who may be exposed to the influenza virus if your child becomes infected at school or elsewhere.
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age who have never received more than two doses of flu vaccine in the past need two doses of flu vaccine – given at least four weeks apart – to be fully protected from flu.
“Because these doses should be given at least four weeks apart, it’s a good idea to begin the vaccination process right now, because we never really know if, or when, the flu season might peak early,” said Dr. Klatte.
FluMist is out
There is one major new development this year, especially for children, when it comes to getting the flu vaccine.
“Many parents in the past have opted for the use of the nasal spray (FluMist) for their children who feared needles. The same holds true for some adults. However, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending against the use of FluMist after recent study findings showed the nasal vaccine’s effectiveness among children 2-17 years last year was only three percent,” said Dr. Klatte.
As a result, doctor’s offices have not ordered FluMist this year and companies that distribute the vaccine are not offering it to pharmacies for use.
Of special note for people 65 years and older, a special high dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot, and is associated with a stronger immune response and may translate into greater protection against the flu.
For those with allergies
It has been widely publicized over the years that those who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu vaccine. There are now flu vaccines that do not contain egg proteins, such as Flublok. There are also other flu vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that do not contain egg proteins, and are approved for those 18 years of age and older. Check with your doctor about which vaccine is best for you.
For those adults who are afraid of needles, and those who have previously experienced arm pain after intramuscular injection of flu vaccine, there is a jet injector with a very short needle that injects vaccine just under the skin. It can be used for individuals who are 18-64 years old.
“People also need to know that in addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are other measures to take to protect yourself and others from the flu. These include such things as staying away from those with the virus, washing your hands, and covering your mouth when coughing or your nose when sneezing,” said Dr. Skiest.
3 Tips to Reduce Arm Pain
Dr. Philip Adamo, medical director, Employee Health Services, Baystate Health, offers these tips to reduce arm pain after the flu vaccine:
- Relax your arm when you’re getting the flu shot.
- After the shot, don’t baby your arm. Do your regular activities and keep your arm moving so the circulation in the injection area returns to normal faster.
- If you still have pain, reduce the inflammation by taking Tylenol, ibuprofen, or using a cold compress on the area.
He adds that if, after 48 hours, redness persists and you have a fever, seek medical attention.