It is More Important than Ever to Get a Flu Vaccine
By Dr. Mohit Negi
There has been a lot of talk recently about a vaccine for the coronavirus. It will be many more months or longer before there is something safe ready for consumers. However, there is something even more important that everyone needs this year – a flu vaccine!
Influenza, or the flu, can be a very serious virus for many people. Like the coronavirus, if you are very old or have a chronic condition, you are at higher risk of having worse outcomes if you get the flu. Some of the chronic diseases most at risk for complications from the flu include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease or heart failure, diabetes, obesity and autoimmune disorders. These people should make getting a flu vaccine a priority.
It is equally important for otherwise healthy individuals to get a flu vaccine to prevent them from getting sick and spreading the illness to more vulnerable people. Many groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics and young adults, who on average are less likely to receive the flu vaccine than other groups, are especially urged to do so. Everyone from 6 months of age and up should receive a flu vaccine, with September or October being the best time for proper protection.
Some people worry that they might get the flu from the flu vaccine. This is not true. Some people have minor side effects, such as a stuffy nose, low-grade fever, aches, or fatigue, but those symptoms don’t last very long and are very minor compared to getting the full-blown flu. These symptoms are generally caused by your body beginning to build antibodies to protect you from the flu.
If you have already had the flu this season, you will not be automatically protected from getting it again. You may develop immunity to that particular strain of flu, but there are several different strains that affect the community every year. Researchers watch flu viruses all around the world all year long to determine what the most effective combination of flu vaccines will be each year. Some vaccines protect against three or even four flu virus strains!
We know that flu vaccines are very safe. More than 50 years of research and hundreds of millions of protected Americans have shown us that. And this year especially, extra precautions are being taken to ensure you will be safe going out to get a flu vaccine. Social distancing and masking will be in place and surfaces will be disinfected more vigorously to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as well.
Please keep in mind that the flu vaccine will not protect you from the coronavirus. You must continue to keep up with your safety precautions. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Social distance as much as possible – that means being at least 6-feet apart. Wear a mask any time you are out in a public place, especially if you cannot stay 6-feet away from others. If you are sick with any illness, please stay home to prevent spreading your germs. And cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then wash your hands afterward.
With the coronavirus continuing to infect our country, it is more important than ever to prevent the flu spread. I urge you to get a flu vaccine. Protect yourself and protect others, too.
Dr. Mohit Negi is an internist and geriatrician affiliated with the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. He can be reached at 410-553-8092.