Flu shot: The best bet for protection from influenza

Challenges and solutions facing the safety of our community in this new era

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Car parked outside of Encino Hospital, where flu shots are readily available for the public. Photo courtesy of Sheila Merilles, physical therapist at Encino Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Merilles, physical therapist at Encino Hospital)

Flu season is approaching, and with the increase in COVID-19 cases, a flu shot may be yet another form of defense against maxing out hospital resources.

The flu shot has been around since the 1940s, and many people are familiar with taking annual shots. However, with COVID-19, experts say getting the shot is more important than ever. 

“Not only is taking the flu shot safe this year, it’s incredibly important to have it because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Alikian of After Hours Pediatrics said. 

According to Very Well Health, late October is when flu season tends to begin. According to the Newnan Times Herald, fall is also when allergy season begins, and viruses spread through droplets of a person’s sneeze or cough which plays a major role in infecting people each day.

“Flu season is a very serious matter [during] which this sickness can spread and kill people,” Kayla Huynh, University Hawaii of Manoa kinesiology major and “college” junior said.

In terms of safety, the flu vaccine has not changed since previous years. A common myth is that taking a flu shot will give you the flu, increasing your chances of getting sick, but this is not true, according to Dr. Alikian. 

“There is no live vaccine in the flu vaccine, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” Dr. Alikian said.

Because the body’s immune system response to influenza decreases over time, receiving the flu vaccine every year helps ensure continued protection. The proximity of the flu shot will last in the system for approximately six months, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. As stated by Dr. Alikian, protection declines over time because of the decrease in antibody levels and because of changes in circulating influenza viruses from year to year.

Some people believe that a flu shot will make a specific organ in your body stronger, or even make your body stronger as a whole. However, this is a myth that has been debunked by medical professionals.

“The flu vaccine doesn’t necessarily make an organ in your body stronger. And it doesn’t weaken or strengthen your immune system as a whole. It is specifically protecting you against the influenza virus,” Dr. Alikian said.

Flu season during a global pandemic may be difficult for people, especially health workers, since they work with large numbers of people. Because of COVID-19, hospitals and clinics will need a way to administer the shots while taking extra precautions. 

“We definitely will be wearing proper gear, face masks and shields, and double checking everything we do to sanitizing everything. Staying safe is more important now more than ever because one person can infect three people, and those three can infect others, and so on,” National Renal Care registered nurse Raymond Merilles said.

According to the Washington Post, healthcare workers and scientists have now developed a COVID-19 vaccine that is 95% effective. According to BBC News, experts say that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be ready until early 2021 but that our lives may start to shift back to normal by 2022. 

“The medical community is saddened and frustrated with how this topic has become a political argument. This needs to be apolitical to protect our vulnerable, get back to school and get back to work,” Dr. Alikian said.

While access to medical care has been limited this year, flu shots are readily available. 

“Flu shots are recommended to be done annually,” Kaiser Permanente registered nurse Joy Lozada said.

Even though some people may not take flu shots annually, it is very critical this year to take them because like COVID-19, the flu is a very serious sickness that can also kill people or spread to others. The CDC estimates around 45 million flu illnesses, between 140,000-810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000-16,000 deaths annually.  

When a person has a weaker immune system, they have a higher chance of contracting the flu and being sent to the hospital, where many COVID-19 patients are admitted which may increase the chance of that person obtaining COVID-19.

“Vaccines do more good than harm to your body and with modern technology, doctors, and scientists working together, vaccines should be safe,” Merilles said.