Don't Forget About Your Flu Shot This Year
Oct 11, 2021 | Flu | Share:
As the fourth wave of Covid begins to recede, flu season is on its way.
It would be easy to forget the flu, especially since the 2020 flu season was more mild than usual. But it’s important not to let your guard down this year.
While you may be a little tired from all of the talk about vaccines, the flu shot is still the best way to protect yourself and your neighbors from the flu.
The flu (also known as influenza) is with us every year. The CDC estimates that there have been 9 million to 41 million cases of the flu each year in the United States since 2010, with as many as 52,000 deaths from the flu in a given year.1 Flu spreads easily and affects both children and adults of all ages.
In 2020, there was very low transmission of flu worldwide. But just because flu season was mild last year, it doesn’t mean that the flu is gone forever. While it’s possible that we will have another year with lower-than-normal flu transmission, some scientists speculate that we may even have a more active flu season than normal. With the flu, as with most things, it’s impossible to predict the future.
Like any other virus, flu strains mutate. This means that the flu that will circulate this year will be genetically different from the strains of flu that have circulated in previous years. Because of this, no one has a natural immunity to the flu. Even if you’ve had a previous bout with the flu or a flu vaccine in the past, you won’t be immune to the strands of flu that are circulating this year.
Flu and Covid-19
Flu and Covid-19 are similar viral illnesses. Both illnesses have several symptoms in common, and it’s impossible to distinguish between the two without a test. Both illnesses can make even healthy people very sick, and it’s possible (although not very common) to be infected with both Covid and flu at the same time.
The only way to tell the difference between Covid and flu is with a laboratory test. If you’re sick with an influenza-like illness, testing is important because treatment and mitigation protocols differ for Covid and flu. Most labs can test for both illnesses at the same time.
Get protected with your flu shot
The best way to protect yourself from the flu each year is to get your flu shot. Flu shots are safe and have undergone extensive testing. While these vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, they do provide excellent protection against serious illness and flu-related hospitalization.
The flu shot is adapted annually. Scientists predict the dominant strains each year and prepare vaccinations to fight these specific strains. In 2021, the flu shots are all quadrivalent, which means they provide protection against four types of flu strains. Because the flu is different each year, you need to get a flu shot every year to be protected.
There are a number of important reasons to get your flu shot in 2021. The flu shot can benefit you personally by priming your immune system to fight off the flu and reduce your risk of getting sick if you’re exposed. And if you do get sick, the flu shot will help you have a milder illness, making it less likely that you’ll have severe complications or require hospitalization. Scientists also believe that the flu shot may strengthen your body’s immune response to other viral illnesses, including Covid-19.2
It’s also important to get your flu shot to protect others. Vaccines have long been a public health measure, protecting not only the person who receives it, but also helping to reduce community transmission. Decreased transmission will help protect your more vulnerable neighbors. The more people who get the flu shot in a community, the better protected that community will be against the flu.
When to get the 2021 flu shot
Flu shots are currently available, and October is a great time to get vaccinated. Because it takes about two weeks to develop immunity to the flu after you get your shot, you need to get vaccinated before flu season really begins. The peak months for flu in Alabama are December and January, but cases usually begin to rise in November and can continue to spread into the spring. Don’t wait for flu activity to increase in your community before you get your shot!
You should not get the flu shot if you’re currently sick. Whether you have Covid-19 or another illness, you should wait to get vaccinated for the flu until you are symptom-free.
Many people may wonder if it’s okay to get the flu shot alongside a Covid vaccine. Because of the changing dynamics of the virus in the context of the Delta variant, you should talk to your primary care doctor about getting a Covid vaccine if you have not yet been vaccinated. If your doctor does recommend that you get the Covid vaccine, you can get both Covid and flu shots at the same time. If you’ve recently gotten a Covid vaccine, it’s fine to get your flu shot at any time.
Side effects from the flu shot are usually minimal. The most commonly reported side effect is some tenderness or redness at the site of the injection. A smaller number of people report other short-term side effects including headache, low-grade fever, nausea, fatigue, or muscle aches.3 You cannot get the flu from the flu shot, and side effects from the flu shot are much less disruptive than a flu infection.
Flu vaccines are available to anyone six months of age or older. They’re also safe and recommended for women who are pregnant. High-dose flu vaccines are available for those who are 65 and older and are designed to create a stronger immune response in these more vulnerable populations.
While there are ways to boost your immune system and habits you can practice to avoid getting sick, the best way to prevent the flu this year is with a flu shot. Flu vaccines are currently available without an appointment at all of our urgent care clinics.
Get your flu shot today at any of our Birmingham urgent care clinics. We're open seven days a week, and walk-ins are always welcome.
1CDC: Disease Burden of Flu. Last updated October 4, 2021. Accessed October 5, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html
2Fink, G. et al. Inactivated trivalent influenza vaccine is associated with lower mortality among Covid-19 patients in Brazil. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 2021; 26: 192-193.
3CDC: Seasonal Flu Vaccines. Last updated August 26, 2021. Accessed October 5, 2021. cdc.gov/flu/prevent/flushot.htm