Paul Edward Sax, MD, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than half of adults (aged 18 years and older) received a flu vaccine in recent years. Obviously, some of us still need convincing about the need for flu vaccination.
Here are five reasons why you should get your flu shot this year:
1.The flu is more serious than you may realize
According to a study by the CDC, more than 200,000 people in the United States, on average, are hospitalized each year for illnesses associated with seasonal influenza virus infections. The flu can also be deadly. From 1976 to 2006, estimates of annual flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from 3,000 to nearly 49,000 people.
Certain groups of adults are at higher risk for serious illness and complications from the flu, including:
- People with chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes
- People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke
- Adults 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- People who have HIV or AIDS
- People who have cancer
2. The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent illness caused by seasonal influenza viruses
The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine reduces a person’s risk of developing flu-related illness—serious enough to require a doctor’s visit—by 61 percent. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine may vary from year to year based on several factors, including how closely the flu vaccine matches circulating flu strains.
3. You should receive a flu vaccine that is appropriate for your age and other risk factors
The CDC recommends use of injectable influenza vaccines (including inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines) during 2016-2017. The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) should not be used during 2016-2017. Both trivalent (three-component) and quadrivalent (four-component) flu vaccines will be available.
Trivalent flu vaccines include:
- Standard-dose trivalent shots (IIV3) that are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. Different flu shots are approved for different age groups. Most flu shots are given in the arm (muscle) with a needle. One trivalent vaccine formulation can be given with a jet injector, for persons aged 18 through 64 years.
- A high-dose trivalent shot, approved for people 65 and older, or a recombinant trivalent shot that is egg-free, approved for people 18 years and older
- A trivalent flu shot made with adjuvant (an ingredient of a vaccine that helps create a stronger immune response in the patient’s body), approved for people 65 years of age and older (new this season)
Quadrivalent flu vaccines include:
- Quadrivalent flu shots approved for use in different age groups
- An intradermal quadrivalent flu shot, which is injected into the skin instead of the muscle and uses a much smaller needle than the regular flu shot. It is approved for people 18 through 64 years of age
- A quadrivalent flu shot containing virus grown in cell culture, which is approved for people 4 years of age and older (new this season)
“I recommend getting the vaccine that is the most convenient. If you have a choice, I suggest the quadrivalent vaccine, which is widely available. The most important thing is to get vaccinated. Either vaccine can provide the flu protection you need,” said Dr. Sax.
4. Last year’s flu shot won’t provide adequate protection from the flu this year
There are several reasons why you need to get a flu shot every year. First, your body’s immune response to the vaccine gradually declines, so an annual vaccine is needed to provide continuous protection. Second, flu viruses are constantly changing. Each year, the strains covered in the flu vaccine are reviewed and adjusted.
5. The flu vaccine is covered by many health plans
The Affordable Care Act requires most health plans to cover preventive care, including influenza vaccinations. Check with your health plan. Some plans may require that your vaccine be administered by a healthcare provider who is a member of the plan’s network in order to qualify for coverage.
Flu vaccination is the best way to prevent getting the flu, says Dr. Sax; he adds that every infectious disease specialist he knows gets vaccinated, as a way to protect themselves and to prevent spreading the disease. And remember, contrary to popular belief, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. Flu season overlaps with the cough and cold season. If you get a cold shortly after you get a flu vaccine, it’s completely unrelated to the vaccine. (Unfortunately, the viruses that cause colds are completely different from the flu virus, so the flu vaccine offers no protection against colds.)
In summary, while there are more choices out there for flu vaccines than ever, it’s more important to get any of the available vaccines than to worry too much about getting the right one, as all will do a good job at protecting you from the flu. The only option not worth considering? Failing to get your flu vaccine.