As we all continue to navigate the pandemic, most health experts agree that getting a flu vaccine is even more important now than it ever was before. According to our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Siegart, “Getting a flu vaccine not only helps prevent the flu, but it can help reduce the burden on our healthcare systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and save medical resources for care of patients with COVID-19.” Especially for those who have upcoming travel plans, Dr. Siegart recommends they get their flu vaccine now since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. Want to learn even more about the flu vaccine? Dr. Siegart is here to address some common questions and concerns:
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Dr. Siegart: Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine annually.
Who should NOT get the flu vaccine?
Dr. Siegart: There are several types of flu vaccines available that allow for safe immunization in just about everyone over 6 months old. However, anyone who has previously had a severe allergic reaction to influenza vaccine or any of its components should, as a general rule, not be vaccinated and should discuss this with their doctors. Other individuals who should not receive a flu vaccine include those with an acute illness (with or without fever) until they are better and approved to be vaccinated by their doctor. Additionally, people with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) should not receive the vaccine without first discussing with their doctors.
Is it necessary to get the flu vaccine every year?
Dr. Siegart: Yes, there are two reasons to do so. First, the immune protection diminishes over time and requires a boost. Second, flu vaccines are adjusted and reformulated every year for the influenza strains predicted to be prevalent in the upcoming flu season
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Dr. Siegart: In general, flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness between 40% and 60%. The effectiveness depends upon the flu strain(s) circulating in the population, age and general health of the individual vaccinated, and also how well-matched the vaccine is to the actual circulating influenza strains. Flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
Are there specific populations who are at higher risk of complications from the flu?
Dr. Siegart: High-risk groups include individuals who are 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, young children, people with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities. High-risk pre-existing conditions include asthma, heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, chronic kidney disease and liver disease.
Q: Does the flu vaccine give you the flu?
Dr. Siegart: The flu vaccine cannot give you flu illness. However, minor side effects can occur from both the flu shot and the nasal spray. The flu shot can cause soreness, redness, and/or swelling at the injection site, low- grade headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea, and fatigue. The nasal spray can cause wheezing, sore throat, runny nose, cough, and vomiting in addition to low grade headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea, and fatigue.
Mild side effects usually begin soon after you receive the vaccine and last 1-2 days. Serious side effects, such as difficulty breathing, swelling, racing heart and a high fever are also possible and could begin within a few minutes to a few hours. If an individual experiences any of these reactions, they should seek medical attention immediately.
Does the flu vaccine increase our risk of getting COVID-19?
Dr. Siegart: There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.
Does the flu vaccine work the same for everyone?
Dr. Siegart: No. The protection provided by a flu vaccine varies from season to season and depends in part on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation.
Can’t someone just take antiviral drugs to prevent the flu instead?
Dr. Siegart: Antiviral drugs are no substitute for the flu vaccine. They may lessen symptoms and shorten the duration of illness by 1 or 2 days. However, there is by no means universal benefit and they can cause significant side effects. Their greatest utility is with people who are at high risk of developing severe complications once infected with influenza.
Some additional stay-healthy tips from Dr. Siegart include:
Practice Common-Sense Healthy Habits: In addition to getting a seasonal flu vaccine, don’t forget everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people, not touching eyes, nose, or mouth (these are areas where contaminants containing the active influenza virus can enter) and frequently washing one’s hands to reduce the spread of germs. If soap and water are not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is a good Plan B. Carrying disinfectant wipes are also a great way to clean germ-prone surfaces.
Be a Good Neighbor: Traveling while infected not only can be detrimental to one’s health, but also puts the health of others in jeopardy. Travelers should stay home and/or delay plans if they are sick with symptoms of influenza-like illness such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, and fatigue.
Research Current Activity: If traveling, it’s important to do some pre-trip research to get acquainted with the health landscape in one’s destination. Our clients are encouraged to consult with us for the most up-to-date information on their destinations and recommendations around risk prevention and travel planning. For everyone else, please feel free to get in touch with us for more information on this topic, as well as how On Call can help protect your travelers with our customized travel risk management programs.
For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.