Every year, As the long evenings of summer get shorter and shorter, I get a lot of questions about the flu shot.
This year it's particularly important to talk about flu shots because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In order to avoid the dual impact of the pandemic along with the usual surge of illness that happens in flu season, Health Canada and the Centres for Disease Control in the US are strongly encouraging everybody over the age of six months to get a flu vaccine . As a geriatrician I would echo this recommendation.
My advice is to get a flu shot as soon as possible if you’re over 65. If you can get a high dose flu shot, that’s preferable.
If my strong recommendation isn't enough for you, then read on to learn more about why you should get a flu shot this year.
First let's look at some reasons why it's important to get the shot especially if you're over 65:
· 90% of flu related deaths are in people over the age of 65
· Being 65 or older is considered a risk factor for getting the flu
· If there's a flu outbreak in a long-term care home about 94% of people living in that home are at risk of getting the flu and of those over half are at risk of dying.
What are some myths about the flu shot?
1. The flu shot doesn't work. While it's true that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in an older adult might only be around 50% it can still provide some immunity especially the more people who are immunized in the community. In addition, if a person gets the flu but they've had a flu shot they might get a milder form of the illness and be less likely to get serious complications.
2. You can get the flu from the flu shot. This is completely untrue. The flu shot doesn't contain any active flu virus and so you can't acquire the flu from getting an immunization.
3. We don’t need a flu shot because we have been in quarantine for COVID-19. The enhanced public health precautions that we've all been taking for the past six months have been highly effective at reducing the spread of airborne illnesses like coronavirus and influenza virus, but they won't protect us if we do get exposed to the flu. In fact, because of COVID 19 it's extra important to get a vaccination for flu this year.
There are many misconceptions about the flu shot, and it's important to get the facts. The flu shot can't give you the flu, and although it is not 100% effective at preventing the flu, it can reduce the risk significantly. Getting the flu shot, especially the high dose version offered to older adults can protect you and your family from illness, or even death. Watch the video for more...
If you develop symptoms, how will you know if it’s the flu or COVID-19?
Well, many of the symptoms do overlap, such as fever, cough, runny nose, fatigue and body aches, and both viruses are spread through respiratory droplets.
The differences are that COVID-19 currently doesn’t have a vaccine, or any recommended treatment (whereas we do have some antiviral medications that can be used for influenza) and the COVID infection appears to be more deadly. The average number of deaths from the flu in Canada is 3 500 individuals annually, whereas the death toll in Canada due to COVID-19 is currently around 9100.
So, COVID-19 might be more deadly, but the flu is nothing to be sneezed at (sorry, couldn’t resist!).
Other tips for a healthful flu season:
· Make sure other immunizations like Pneumococcal vaccine and Shingles vaccine are up to date
· Continue to wash hands, wear a mask and social distance when out in public
· Stay home if you’re sick and encourage others to do the same, especially if visiting a relative who’s in a long-term care home or is frail
· Make sure you have a cold weather exercise plan. Find a way to move and stay fit even when the weather changes, to keep your immune system in top shape
· Make healthy choices in your diet, incorporating vegetables, fruit and adequate fluids
Why bother with a flu shot - it doesn't work in older adults and it can give you the flu, right? Wrong!