Flu vaccine offers a simple, reliable yearly safeguard

Flu vaccine offers a simple, reliable yearly safeguard

Every year in the United States, the flu virus – also referred to as influenza – infects millions, sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital, and even results in tens of thousands of deaths.

The good news, however, is that – thanks to the flu vaccination – you can keep yourself and family safe from the most harmful aspects of the flu.

“The flu vaccine is very important because it helps to decrease the severity and length of the flu infection,” said Lester Johnston, M.D., an internal medicine and pediatrics specialist with Wills Memorial Hospital in Washington, GA. “One thing I have noticed since I’ve been in practice for almost 25 years is that individuals who do get the flu vaccine, even if they get the flu, it’s still not as bad as if they hadn’t gotten the flu vaccine.”

That is because this readily available and safe immunization provides your body’s immune system with a blueprint of how to respond to the virus thus mitigating the effects of it should you contract the flu.

If you’ve ever had the flu, you know just how miserable it can be. And even those of us who are generally healthy know that flu symptoms can debilitate you for days and include aspects such as:

  • Fever (quite often running between 102-104 degrees)
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea and vomiting may also occur

Symptoms typically begin between 1-4 days after exposure to the virus and may last for 2–8 days.

Most concerning is that influenza can lead to pneumonia and other complications, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, meningitis, encephalitis, and worsening of pre-existing conditions such as asthma and cardiovascular disease.

The flu vaccine is key in helping to deter all those outcomes, which is why doctors everywhere – including here in east Georgia – highly recommend the flu vaccine for patients of all ages, especially for those considered most vulnerable to the flu, including children and the elderly.

“Generally, if you hadn’t had the flu vaccine and get the flu, (you get) fevers of 102.5 to 104.5 and you’re sick for 7-10 days and you feel miserable. But (the flu vaccine) definitely does help, and we encourage it for all patient populations,” said Dr. Johnston – who lives what he preaches. “I get one every year; my family gets one every year. I definitely recommend you get one every year.”

Despite what you may have heard or read; the flu vaccine does not give anyone the flu. In fact, it is impossible to get the flu from an influenza immunization – even though it does stimulate the body’s immune system, which could produce some symptoms similar to the flu itself.

“The flu vaccine is pieces of dead flu virus, so the flu vaccine can stimulate an immune response, which is flu-like,” Dr. Johnston said. “So, you can get fevers and chills and some aches. But you cannot contract the flu from it because it is a dead vaccine; it is not a live virus.”

You should also consider that, just because you did not get the flu recently does not mean that you are immune to the flu. In fact, due to the nature of the flu virus – which is constantly mutating – different strains can develop which are either more contagious or produce stronger symptoms. That is why doctors and scientists throughout the world stay in communication to produce the most protective flu vaccines each year – immunizations that are targeted to prove the most effective at handling strains currently in circulation.

“The flu vaccine is developed about 6-9 months before flu season occurs, and it’s an educated guess as to which way the virus is going to mutate and change,” Dr. Johnston said. “Some years the virus is more effective than other years. Some years the flu virus itself is more virulent than other years.”

That constant mutation is why you should receive an annual flu shot to protect against as many strains as possible. The flu vaccine is quadrivalent, meaning that it helps protect against four circulating flu strains at any one time.

You should also know that the flu is not just a winter phenomenon. And while flu season is generally considered to last between October and February, some seasons drag on longer. For instance, this latest season – 2021-22 – sees the flu still circulating in parts of the United States.

If you have not had your flu vaccination, you can receive it any time. And flu vaccinations are readily available at a multitude of facilities.

“Flu vaccines are available at all pharmacies, the health department and our office,” Dr. Johnston said.

The vaccine is also safe for children and pregnant mothers – although some children aged 6 months through 8 years may need two doses of flu vaccine (spread at least 4 weeks apart).

And you can safely receive the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine (booster if you have already had the first course of COVID-19 immunizations) at the same time.

“You can get both (the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine) at the same time. We give many vaccines together at the same time,” Dr. Johnston said.

It is a safe, effective, and easy way to make sure that the flu does not derail your health this year.