It may be easy to forget about the flu vaccine this year, but health professionals are hoping we’ll get protected against the flu in addition to COVID-19.
You may think you don’t need the flu vaccine since cases were lower last year than in previous years, but that was largely due to the tight pandemic restrictions. Since we currently have fewer restrictions in place, the number of flu cases could return to previous levels.
“We’re kind of in a special situation compared to last year, where we expect the influenza virus to circulate at the same time as the COVID-19 virus. This is a cause of concern for many, as the symptoms are very similar to one another,” says Dr. Abraam Isaac, communicable diseases consultant for Covenant Health.
Abraam, who is also an infectious diseases physician at the Misericordia Community Hospital, helps us understand the importance of getting the flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic and navigate any misconceptions.
Why do you think flu cases were so low last year?
There were a combination of factors. We believe the flu season was mild because there was such an intense focus on COVID-19 and the safe practices that came with it. Those measures also help to prevent against the flu. There was a reduction in transmission rates as a result of these efforts.
The flu is contagious, not as much as COVID-19, but it still helped to prevent it.
Since the cases were so low last year, should I get a flu shot this year? Why?
Flu cases were very low last year because of public health restrictions. Since many of those have been reduced, we are beginning to see the results of these decisions now. The expectation is that we will have a very similar flu season compared to previous years, before the pandemic. Flu season is already upon us, and there have already been cases of influenza A in our hospitals.
It is also important to note that the viruses are not mutually exclusive. You can be infected with both at the same time, and although Canada had lower flu rates, other countries did not. Some of those countries had patients with both COVID-19 and the flu or one or the other.
Presently, we do not know how they interact with one another. The best defence you can have is to have your flu shot and be vaccinated.
Cold versus flu
A common misconception about the influenza virus is that it is the same as a cold. It is thought of as not a big deal and that you will easily get better from it.
A different virus causes the common cold, and its symptoms are similar to the influenza virus.
Most of us assume that the recovery will be quick like the common cold, but some people can get influenza and end up in the hospital and, in severe cases, can pass away.
There is also a belief that the flu vaccine is not effective. In actuality, it helps to prevent against the flu, and if you do get it, you are more likely to have reduced symptoms and an easier recovery.
Could the flu shot give me the flu?
You cannot get the flu from an injectable flu shot. The flu shot contains an inactive version of the virus. This misconception arises as there can be some mild symptoms after getting the flu shot, which can mimic symptoms of the flu.
I have already gotten my COVID-19 vaccination shots. I thought that meant I do not have to worry about getting a flu shot? Am I wrong?
That is wrong. While the COVID-19 vaccinations are extremely effective at preventing COVID-19, they have no effect for influenza. You do not gain protection for the other virus while being protected for one.
Is there any reason not to get a flu shot?
There are a few reasons not to get the shot. One of them is that you know you are allergic to the shot and you could suffer an anaphylactic shock. It is hard to determine if this will affect you, though, unless there are clear medical records indicating that you have had allergies to shots in the past.
In addition to a history of allergic reaction to the vaccine, or a known allergy to one of its ingredients, a history of other sorts of severe reactions to the influenza vaccine (not necessarily just allergic reactions) would also be a contraindication. An example of this would be a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome following influenza immunization.
It is also not recommended to get a shot if you are under the age of six months, but it is still available and can be given to infants at that age.
Otherwise, everyone has the opportunity to get the shot and protect themselves.
How can I mitigate my risk of getting the flu?
The best thing that you can do is to get your flu shot. It will help you to protect yourself and others. The shot is extremely helpful at reducing the risk of getting the disease.
In addition, follow safe practices from the pandemic that reduced the flu rates this past year:
We are kind of in a special situation compared to last year, where we expect the influenza virus to circulate at the same time as the COVID-19 virus. This is a cause of concern for many, as the symptoms are very similar to one another.
With the health restrictions in place, the best thing you can do to help mitigate your risk of getting the flu is to get your flu shot.
There is no way to determine if you have one or the other before you are tested. More importantly, you cannot return to work until you have gotten better. Getting the shot will help to reduce that uncertainty for you and your loved ones.
Influenza shots will be available beginning Oct. 18, 2021. To book your appointment today, seek out your family doctor or local pharmacy. Additional information about the influenza immunization process can be found at https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza/influenza.aspx.
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