October 2, 2023

Why You Need a Flu Shot (and When To Get It)

Prevention is best against this serious illness

Masked person receiving vaccine shot in their shoulder

Healthcare providers across the country are bracing for another season of treating respiratory viruses like the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19.

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And while the flu might not seem like something to worry about, it’s a virus we should all be prepared for. So, you may be wondering, Should I get a flu shot?

“Influenza is a very serious disease, and during a normal flu season, around 40,000 or more people die from it,” says infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD. “So, with any preventable disease, we should do everything we can to protect ourselves.”

Getting your flu vaccine is vital to not just keeping you and your family healthy, but also relieving our over-burdened healthcare system.

To learn more about the importance of getting the flu vaccine, we talked to Dr. Englund, along with infectious disease clinical pharmacist Kaitlyn Rivard, PharmD.

Why the vaccine matters

First of all, Dr. Englund notes that it’s just good practice to get a flu shot every year. She adds that the vaccine’s prevention-geared properties are key.

“When people get influenza or get the flu, it’s not only just the symptoms that they have, like a cough, fever and an infection in the lungs,” she says. “It taxes the body and really puts a lot of stress on all of the other systems.”

That can cause some serious complications, she continues. “You can have a heart attack or even a stroke as a side effect from having influenza. So, we want to make sure that we’re keeping everybody healthy from all of these complications.”

Dr. Englund says that a flu shot is especially important this year because other respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and RSV will be circulating.

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“We’re going to have influenza, RSV and COVID-19 coexisting and there’s a lot of overlap between the symptoms,” she states. “We also anticipate that there will be some people who have co-infections, which could be difficult.”

When to get the flu vaccine

We bet you’re now wondering: So, when should I get a flu shot?

Dr. Englund and Dr. Rivard advise getting a flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Many healthcare providers, including the Cleveland Clinic, begin offering the flu vaccine at the beginning of September.

And in case you were wondering, the flu vaccine doesn’t interfere with the COVID-19 vaccine or the RSV vaccine.

“All available COVID-19 and RSV vaccines can be given at the same time as the flu vaccine,” clarifies Dr. Rivard. “If someone is coming in for their flu shot and they’re eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine or RSV vaccine but haven’t received it yet, we can offer that. In fact, both the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend co-administering almost any two vaccines together.”

She adds that there are very few instances in which certain vaccines can’t be administered at the same time, noting that children often receive multiple vaccines during one visit to their pediatrician.

And there’s no concern about overloading our immune systems with multiple vaccines.

“We’re exposed to things that stimulate our immune system all the time,” Dr. Englund says. “Our immune system is constantly responding to various exposures even if you don’t realize it.”

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Why it’s important to get a flu shot every year

One reason it’s so important to get your annual flu shot is this: Protecting yourself is a lot easier than treating the flu.

“There are some treatments available for the flu that are evolving,” Dr. Englund says. “But to avoid the disease altogether or to only have a mild case because you’ve been vaccinated is much better than trying to treat it. Prevention is best.”

And that goes equally for kids — it’s also crucial to get them vaccinated for the flu.

“It’s important for children to get the flu vaccine, too, because the circulation of flu in children, if nothing else, puts adults at risk, too,” emphasizes Dr. Englund.

Influenza is a serious disease and it’s unpredictable, and otherwise healthy children are unfortunately hospitalized and die every year because of it. So, even for normal, healthy children, it’s really important to get vaccinated every year.”

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