It’s October....almost November, which means it’s that time of the year again: flu vaccination time!
Hospitals, clinics, schools, pharmacies everyone makes a big push to offer the seasonal flu shot to you. There's a lot of information out there, and some of it conflicting, so here's my take on it.
Many older adults are skeptical of the need to get a yearly vaccination against influenza. They aren’t sure it will help. Or they think that the vaccination will actually give them a mild case of the flu. Or they just don’t like needles. Or maybe they aren’t sure which type of seasonal flu shot to get: the regular one or one of the newer “stronger” versions, designed for older adults?
As a physician, I’m never surprised when people bring up these questions. Vaccination for seasonal influenza can indeed be a confusing topic. But it’s certainly an important one to consider.
Most people get the flu and get better without needing hospitalization, but some people get very sick. Older adults and babies are more likely to get dangerously ill from catching the flu. So I agree with the CDC’s recommendation: everyone over the age of 6 months should get their seasonal flu shot.
Also, you CANNOT get the flu from a flu shot. The currently recommended vaccines are made with either “inactivated” virus (which means the virus has been killed and can’t become alive again) or “recombinant” technology (which means they have cobbled together virus proteins). It is not possible for these vaccines to give you influenza.
To reduce your risk of getting sick from the flu, it’s best to combine two approaches:
1. Minimize your exposure to people spreading influenza virus in the winter.
The best ways to minimize exposure to influenza are to:
Avoid exposure to people who may be infected with influenza. Wear a mask if you can.
Clean household surfaces, especially hard surfaces such as counters, and especially if someone living with you has been sick.
Wash your hands often, especially before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Your risk of influenza exposure is reduced if people around you — family members, co-workers, fellow residents of your living facility — are vaccinated for influenza.
2. Take steps to bolster your immune system, so if you do get exposed to the influenza virus, you’ll be less likely to get very sick.
Ways to bolster your immune system are:
Get yourself vaccinated against seasonal influenza. If the vaccine is a good match with circulating viruses and you have a good antibody response, this is probably the best way to prepare your immune system to beat influenza.
Take good care of your health and body. This includes addressing healthy lifestyle basics such as not smoking, getting adequate sleep, avoiding chronic stress, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C.
I hope you decide to get yourself vaccinated against the flu. As a healthy adult, I’m not too concerned about getting dangerously ill from influenza. Instead, I get my annual flu shot because I want to minimize my chance of getting sick and perhaps exposing others to influenza. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments box below.
Fight the FLU! It starts with YOU!
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.