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With the important flu season upon us, an expert answers your flu shot questions

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Infectious disease experts say this year’s flu season will be particularly nasty, making the annual flu vaccine even more important than usual.

People are already being hospitalized with severe forms of the flu, about a month earlier flu season usually begins, said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

These are tracks from flu activity this year in Australia, which had an early and moderately severe flu season, Schaffner said. As the seasons change between the US and Australia, infectious disease experts here look to the continent to predict the future flu activity.

“We’re expecting a noticeable flu season this year. We’ve had two mild flu seasons in the past — mostly, we think, because we’ve been staying home, wearing masks, being careful when traveling and keeping kids out of school,” Schaffner said.

“Well, the kids are back in school,” he added. “We’ve taken off our masks. We’re traveling. We’re visiting friends and relatives. We’re going to houses of worship, restaurants. We’re getting back to business. We’re doing all these things. And this will create an environment for influenza virus really spread.”

Unfortunately, there are many people left vaccine– hesitating. Only about half of the people who were eligible got a flu shot in the 2020-2021 season. according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here is important information about vaccine which may help justify your decision:

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Every year, vaccine manufacturers are looking for influenza viruses are circulating in Australia to predict which strains will predominate when the flu season arrives in the US.

“We’re trying to predict which strains will be most prevalent in circulation nine months from now. Then you decide which strains to include in the vaccine,” Schaffner said. “We’re pretty good at hitting the target. But there are years when we don’t hit the target, and that makes the vaccine less effective.”

In general, the flu vaccine reduces the number of patients by 40-60%, experts say. Interim figures say last year’s vaccination fell short of the mark, providing about 35% effectiveness against circulating strains of influenza A. According to the Center for Disease Control.

But even a relatively ineffective flu shot provides reliable protection against serious illness and hospitalization.

During the 2019-2020 flu season. vaccination prevented about 7.5 million cases of influenza; 3.7 million flu-related doctor visits; 105,000 hospitalizations due to influenza; and 6,300 flu-related deaths, The CDC reported.

In addition, a 2021 study found that flu-vaccinated patients had a 26% lower risk of admission to intensive care unit and a 31% lower risk of dying from the flu compared to the unvaccinated, the CDC said.

“I’ve had patients come in after flu season and complain, ‘You gave me a flu shot, but I still got the flu,'” Schaffner said. “And I’d say, ‘Charlie, I’m so glad you’re here to complain.’

When is the best time to get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends October as the best month to get a flu shot, Schaffner said.

“It’s the best balance between getting the vaccine early enough to prevent early flu — and in fact, the flu is a little early this year — and at the same time extending that protection to many people after February, which is usually the peak month for flu. in the USA,” he explained.

But if you miss October, don’t let that stop you from getting a chance, Schaffner added. It takes 10 to 14 days for your immune system to build up its defenses.

“If you somehow miss it in October, please by all means go ahead and get the vaccine anyway,” Schaffner said. “Because, as I said, the flu peaks in the United States in February.”

Is it safe to get a COVID booster with the annual flu shot?

The CDC recommends that people get both a novel bivalent enhancer of COVID as well as the annual flu vaccine this fall.

“The flu vaccine cannot protect against COVID. The COVID vaccine cannot protect against the flu. These are different viruses. You should get both vaccines,” Schaffner said. “This year, we’re asking everyone to roll up their sleeves.”

He said that not only is it safe to get both shots, but it’s also safe to get them both in one visit to the doctor, pharmacy or clinic.

“It is safe and normal to administer both vaccines at the same time if you choose to do so,” Schaffner said. “If you decide to spread them out, there won’t be a necessary gap between them. You can get one today and the next one tomorrow if you want. But I always remind people that the delayed vaccine is unfortunately often not received, so you have to be careful and diligent to obtain both.”

How much money will I have to pay for the injection?

Medicare, Medicaid, and others private health insurance The plans cover flu shots as a free preventive health measure, Schaffner said. The cost of vaccination is much less than the cost of an emergency room visit or hospitalization for the flu.

People without insurance can get a free flu shot at their local health department.

Should seniors get a flu shot? What about pregnant women or small children?

People age 65 and older are at higher risk of contracting severe flu, which can lead to potentially fatal complications such as pneumonia. The flu also increases the risk of heart attack and stroke in older adults.

This year, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is for the first time specially recommended three powerful flu vaccines for the elderly. These vaccines are specially designed to provide a more powerful immune response.

“If you look at people age 65 and older who got the flu vaccine last year, the year before, and the year before, already 80% of that population got one of those three vaccines, so medical practice has been moving in that direction. is already stable,” Schaffner said.

“But this year, for the first time, they said there’s enough data that you should get one of these vaccines if you’re 65 or older, and only get the standard vaccine if one of these vaccines isn’t available,” he added. .

Expectant mothers should also get the vaccine, both to protect themselves from pregnancy complications caused by the flu and to protect their newborns early.

“A number of studies have shown conclusively that the flu vaccine during pregnancy is safe for both mother and baby,” Schaffner said.

He noted that pregnant women those who get the flu have a complication rate comparable to that of the elderly.

“In other words, there is an increased risk of complications from the flu simply because of the state of pregnancy,” he said.

“What’s more, the antibodies that are made by the lungs cross the placenta and enter the newborn, and they help protect the newborn during the first 4 to 6 months of the newborn’s life,” Schaffner said. “So when you vaccinate a pregnant woman, you protect not only her, but also the newborn baby. It’s a two-way situation.”

Children are eligible for the flu shot at 6 months of age. These shots can be life-saving for children, the CDC says. A 2022 study found that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of life-threatening flu in children by 75%, and a 2020 study found that the flu vaccine reduced flu-related hospitalizations by 41% among children.

What side effects should I expect? Will the shot give me the flu?

“It’s an unusually persistent urban and rural myth that you can catch the flu from flu vaccine” said Schaffner. “It’s just biologically impossible. This cannot be.”

People often think they got the flu from a vaccination because the side effects of the shot are similar to the side effects of the flu shot. the flu– he noted.

“Some people get a little bit of a headache, maybe even a fever, and feel uncomfortable throughout the day,” Schaffner said. “It’s not the flu. It’s your body reacting to the vaccine.”

Other common side effects of the shot are pain in the arm and redness or swelling at the injection site, Schaffner added.


The CDC is warning of a possible severe flu season


Additional information:
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about 2022-2023 flu season.

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