It’s a question that physicians and primary care providers hear all the time. “Do I really need a flu shot?” Answering this question isn’t as simple as saying “yes” or “no.” Although the flu shot is without a doubt the most effective preventative measure for the flu, there are several benefits and other factors to consider before deciding whether or not to get vaccinated this season.
How Does the Vaccine Work?
Like most vaccines, the flu shot stimulates the immune system in order to promote the production of antibodies, or proteins in the body that fight off germs and viruses that invade our blood stream. If you are exposed to the virus once you’ve had the vaccine, your immune system will be able to recognize and attack the virus immediately.
It can sometimes take up to 14 days for your immunity to build up after receiving the vaccine, making it that much more important for people to get their flu shots before the virus peaks during the colder winter months. The antibodies in the vaccine that help us fight off the virus will decline in numbers over time, and flu strains adapt from season to season. Because of this, it is beneficial to get the flu shot each year.
Pros & Cons
The benefits of the flu shot greatly outweigh the minimal risks and minor side effects that are often associated with getting the vaccine. There is plenty of misinformation about flu shots online, and common misconceptions about vaccines can cause unnecessary anxiety as well. To ensure that the information you’re getting is factual, it is always best to talk to your doctor about any questions you may have.
Many believe that it is impossible to get the flu after you’ve received the flu vaccine. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. While studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control show that the flu shot improves the body’s chances of resisting the virus by 40-60%, there is no guarantee that an individual won’t become ill once they’ve gotten the vaccine. However, in addition to limiting our own chances of contracting the illness, the flu shot also reduces the likelihood of exposing others to the virus. In short, getting the flu shot is not only helpful for you, but for everyone around you.
Another common misconception is that the flu vaccine can actually infect people with the virus. Admittedly, some individuals do experience mild fevers or headaches shortly after receiving the vaccine. These reactions are commonly mistaken for flu symptoms, but in actuality they are nothing more than the body’s natural immune response to the antivirus in the vaccine. Although these temporary side effects may make someone feel a bit unwell, the flu vaccine simply cannot transmit the live virus.
Who Should Get the Flu Shot?
Anyone over the age of six months can safely receive the flu shot. Because the vaccine is an effective prevention method for recipients as well as those they come into close contact with, I encourage everyone to get the flu shot each year regardless of their age or gender. However, there are certain populations that are more vulnerable to the flu virus than others:
- Young Children
- Pregnant Women
- Older Adults
Those who suffer from chronic respiratory problems or autoimmune deficiencies are also at an increased risk of contracting the flu virus and should therefore incorporate preventative measures like the flu shot into their care routines each year.
South Shore Health’s Flu Task Force is a multidisciplinary prevention initiative that prioritizes early identification and isolation for flu patients. South Shore has dedicated reception areas in all emergency and triage centers so that flu patients can get specialized care without putting others at risk. All South Shore staff members receive the flu shot each season, and patients can receive their vaccines by contacting their primary care providers or by visiting one of our urgent care center locations. Flu shots will most likely be offered at a majority of the local pharmacies and walk-in clinics within your community as well.
Visit southshorehealth.org to find a physician or to learn more about flu prevention and treatment options.