To Flu Shot, or Not...
It’s Fall! And we’re in the heart of all its pumpkin spice latte, cozy sweaters, cute boots, and Halloween glory! It’s also the perfect time to get a flu shot. Especially this year. Let’s chat about the flu vaccine, who should get it, why we need one every year, and how to get it. 💉
PSA: There will be no discussion about the validity of vaccines. Why? Because they work.
PSA2: Sorry if this blog sounds like a love letter to public health. Because it is. 🥰
Why get a flu shot?
Influenza (aka the flu) is very contagious, and its symptoms can be severe to the point of death. I’m not saying this to freak you out, but to inform you. Many things you have learned about COVID-19 this year are easily translatable to the flu. The flu is a respiratory (lungs) virus that is spread by respiratory droplets and hand to nose-mouth-eyes. But unlike COVID-19, folks typically spread the flu once they’re symptomatic. If you’ve had the flu before, you understand the symptoms…I like to equate it to being hit by an exploded flour truck---everything hurts, your exhausted, and you cough a lot.
Reasonably healthy people typically don’t have catastrophic symptoms that put them into the hospital. However, those who are immunocompromised, such as the elderly, the very young, those with diseases such as asthma, diabetes, pregnant women, folks undergoing chemotherapy or radiation for cancer, or even obese people can suffer greatly.
In 2018, according to the CDC, in the US there were over 35 million cases of the flu, with approximately 51,000 dying from it. Just like COVID-19, many people eventually succumb to pneumonia. But unlike COVID-19, we have several tools to fight the flu from the shot, a nasal spray vaccine for kiddos, and antivirals like Tamiflu, which can reduce symptoms significantly if taken early enough after symptoms start.
What is the flu shot?
The flu shot is a yearly vaccine to fight seasonal Influenza A & B viral strains. We’re not going to go neck-deep into the subjects of virology and infectious disease because that might distract my goal of getting you to get a flu shot. Please note, I could go on for pages about these subjects, and I’d be as happy as an E. coli colony on a MacConkey-Sorbitol agar petri dish at 37℃. But we do need to tackle a couple of housekeeping items, so we’re talking the same talk. 😉
Influenza, aka the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory virus that can kill those who are immunocompromised and some unlucky healthy folks, too. Sound familiar, right? (stupid COVID-19 ☹) And like any smart virus, it mutates to stay alive. So, the different mutants, types, variants of Influenza are called strains. Global groups of public health officials work with various countries, organizations, and companies to decide which strains go into the vaccine each year. That’s right; it can be different every year.
Once the strains are selected based on the flu season from the opposite hemisphere (remember it’s Spring in Australia right now) and other epidemiological factors, pharma companies go into action! Several companies make the vaccine and a couple of different types of vaccines. Most flu shots out there are made with dead or inactivated bits of the selected flu strains. These dead bits of virus do not give you the flu, but some folks feel icky after getting the shot. Why? You just injected a foreign substance into your body, and your body has to get used to it. Therefore, sometimes we feel sick or fatigued for a day or two as our body’s immune system learns the flu strains and creates antibodies to fight them.
In a nutshell, the flu shot is dead pieces of seasonal expert-selected Influenza strains. Sounds like an item on the menu of a farm to table restaurant. 😂 These dead pieces of virus are enough for our bodies to make antibodies against the flu.
Who should get the flu shot?
Almost everyone. Easy, right. 😉
According to the CDC, people who SHOULD NOT get the flu shot:
Children younger than six months of age are too young to get a flu shot.
People with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other components. See Special Considerations Regarding Egg Allergy for more information about egg allergies and flu vaccine.
Here’s the big disclaimer: always speak with your medical provider if you have any questions or concerns about the flu shot and your specific personal health.
Why do I need a shot every year?
If you’ve been reading, you probably figured this one out already. The flu shot is dead pieces of seasonal expert-selected Influenza strains. Public health officials are like a Michelin rated chef hand-picking the seasonal menu. I miss eating at restaurants, so just indulge me, please. 🙏🏻
And suppose you’ve been spending your 2020 learning about immunology (there is always something to learn during a tragedy). In that case, you’ll know that over time, the antibodies produced in your body to fight the flu dimmish, so in addition to getting the seasonal selection of strains, it also acts as a booster for your body’s current set of Influenza antibodies.
How do I get a flu shot?
Okay, this might be the coolest thing about the flu shot…you can get it almost everywhere! No, not at the car dealer silly, but yes at the pharmacy, your doctor’s office, a local urgent care…anywhere folks are wearing white lab coats, your odds are good! 😄
And this is the coolest website: Vaccine Finder. Simply type in your location and boom places to get a flu shot! 😊
But wait, there’s more…it’s free. Yup! Free!
All of this is coordinated by the local and global public health folks who are fighting COVID-19. From strain selection to securing the actual viruses to make the vaccine from manufacturing to distribution---the outstanding and underpaid public health servants do it all! It’s a fantastic public-private dance that gets played out every year without much fanfare or mistakes. It’s cool. And it’s why I love public health folks, and I hope this inspired you to love them a little, too.
Get your flu shot! 💉 MDBox Mamma