Written by Lori Cannon, MSN, RN
The shorter days of fall bring a lot of things to love, like cool crisp days, ripe apples, and everything pumpkin. They also lead us into the beginning of flu season, which means it’s time to get your annual flu shot. Many people struggle with the decision of whether or not to get a flu shot every year for a variety of reasons. There are myths around the flu shot and immunizations, unknowns about potential complications, and misunderstandings about the flu itself.
People are often confused about what exactly “the flu” is. Influenza, also referred to as the flu, is not the same as a cold, nor is it a gastrointestinal virus (though occasionally children will experience vomiting and diarrhea with influenza). Influenza often causes a fever and chills, a cough, sore throat, intense body aches, fatigue and headache, and symptoms come on quickly, not gradually. People with the flu often say that they feel like they were “hit by a truck,” and even without any complications, it lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Complications of the flu can be moderate, like sinus or ear infections, or serious, like pneumonia or sepsis. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 960,000 people were hospitalized and 80,000 deaths occurred in the United States as a result of influenza during the 2018-2019 flu season. Those at highest risk of complications from the flu include adults over 65, children under 5, pregnant people, and people with certain chronic diseases like asthma, COPD, diabetes, and heart disease.
What about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines? Some people even state that they have gotten the flu from the flu shot itself, but because the virus used in the vaccine is not live, it cannot cause illness. Often, people who receive the vaccine may feel slightly achy and tired, and possibly even have chills or a slight fever for up to 24 hours. This is the immune system doing its job and responding to the vaccine by making antibodies. People experiencing this are not contagious and do not have the flu. Alternately, because full immunity takes up to 2 weeks, someone could be exposed to influenza just before receiving the vaccine and become ill before their immune system was able to make antibodies to protect them from the flu.
It is true that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, but if you do get the flu after being vaccinated, your illness is almost certain to be shorter and less severe. It also helps to slow the spread of the influenza virus in your community and helps to protect vulnerable populations, like infants under 6 months or other people who may not be able to get the vaccine.
People may also be worried about thimerosal, a preservative that is sometimes used in vaccines. Thimerosal has been shown to be safe, but if you are still concerned, you can request a preservative-free vaccine. It’s also important to note that the CDC no longer recommends that people with egg allergies refrain from getting a flu shot. If your allergy is severe you may need to stay in the clinic for 10-15 minutes after receiving the vaccine, but scientific evidence shows that it is safe to receive the flu shot if you are allergic to eggs.
October is the best time to get your flu shot to protect yourself and your loved ones as we head into the busy holiday season. Contact NorthLakes Community Clinic at 888-834-4551 to schedule your flu shot today.