If you live in a country that really pushes flu vaccines, you've heard it all before. Seasonal influenza strains represent no more than a (let's face it, fairly major) nuisance to most people, but the flu isn't without risk. World Health Organization estimates tell us that between three and five million people develop severe fly symptoms across the world most years. Many will need to be hospitalized, and annually, somewhere from 290,000 to 650,000 lives are lost to respiratory complications of influenza.
You have a higher risk of developing severe flu complications if you belong to an at-risk group — which would include people with respiratory conditions like asthma but also those with other chronic conditions such ad diabetes and HIV, along with anyone over 65, under two, or pregnant.
Campaigns that seek to raise awareness of the importance and safety of flu vaccination certainly appear to have an effect. In the US, where the CDC recommends that very nearly everyone over the age of six months receive a flu shot, 45.3 percent of adults did end up getting the shot in the 2017/2018 season. That was significantly more than the season before.
In the UK, with its socialized National Health Service, flu shots (or "flu jabs" in the local lingo, of course!) aren't recommended to quite everyone. The vaccine is only covered for people belonging to risk groups, but those who were eligible nearly all took their General Practitioners up on the offer — 99.8 percent for adults, and 99.6 percent for children.
There are still, however, plenty of people who don't get their flu shots — despite the fact that it could at best help them avoid some really unpleasantly-spent sick days, and a nasty trip to hospital or worse in cases where complications appear.
If you don't get a flu shot, it may be because you think it's too expensive (if you live in a place where you have to pay for it), because you think you don't have time, because you're worried it could cause complications, or because you simply don't think that the flu poses that much of a risk.
Why COVID-19 should make you want to get a flu shot
True — the flu shot in no way stops you from being infected by COVID-19. That doesn't mean, however, that the ongoing global pandemic doesn't give you extra reasons to get that shot this season.
- As always, getting a flu shot doesn't protect you against influenza 100 percent, but it does greatly lower your risk of getting the flu. Should you contract influenza despite having a vaccine, your symptoms are also likely to be significantly milder. As always, the flu shot is safe for most people to receive.
- Unlike your typical season, this winter will be one in which both seasonal influenza strains and COVID-19 (currently seeing spikes in many regions all over the world) circulate. The more people need to be hospitalized because of either — or, of course, both simultaneously — the higher the risk that health care systems will become overwhelmed. We don't need to point out that this means doctors have to decide which patients to prioritize in worst-case scenarios, but we will anyway. By getting a flu shot, you lower the odds you'll need medical care because of influenza.
- Influenza and COVID-19 can both cause severe complications, including death, quite on their own. Should you have both at once, research indicates, you'll have a higher risk of falling very seriously ill. By getting a flu shot, you don't take COVID out of the equation, but you'll at least greatly reduce your odds of getting a flu.
- Yes, it's safe to have a flu shot even if you've recently had COVID-19. Do consult your doctor about delaying your shot if you currently have a fever from any cause or feel quite ill, however. For the almost countless people who've only just recovered from (or started to recover from) a coronavirus infection, it would really not be nice to then catch a flu.
- If you think you don't need a flu shot because everyone's social distancing and wearing masks anyway, thus reducing the risk of flu transmission, look around you. How many people are truly sticking to all the suggestions?
- If you're not concerned about contracting influenza yourself, know that many people in your community are vulnerable to flu complications. Consider getting a flu shot to protect vulnerable groups.
When and how to get a flu shot
You're best off getting your flu shot before the flu season really gets into full swing — and that is why the CDC recommends that you get your vaccine before the end of October. Small children who need two doses should ideally get their first shot even earlier. However, you're not too late if you still haven't had your flu shot in November, December, or even later. Late is better than never.
As for how, in many countries (including the US), you'll be able to get your shot from your local pharmacy as well as your family doctor — and both should have some kind of COVID-19 prevention plan in place, requiring social distancing and face masks and routinely disinfecting their respective spaces.
- Nasal spray flu vaccines are suitable for most people aged two to 49.
- Everyone else should get a shot.
- Special vaccines are available for certain groups, including egg-free flu vaccines for people with severe egg allergies. Consult your health care provider about the kind of vaccine that is most suitable for you.