Why You Should Get Your Flu Shot Every Year
With COVID-19 still maintaining its hold on the world’s health systems, it is important to not disregard the seasonal influenza virus. With flu season rapidly approaching there are many reasons why it is more vital than ever to get vaccinated. Not only will your vaccination contribute to herd immunity protecting those that are unable to get vaccinated, but it also helps reduce flu-related hospitalizations, allowing health care workers to continue to focus on treating patients with COVID-19 and conserving medical resources.
Influenza is very commonly overlooked, and many are unaware of the potential seriousness that it holds as it can be deadly. Approximately, 35.5 million Americans contracted the flu during the 2018-2019 flu season and from those 34,200 individuals died from the illness.1 During the 2019-2020, the flu vaccine prevented an estimated 7.5 million influenza cases, 105,000 associated hospitalizations and 6,300 flu-related deaths. A study conducted in 2014, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases reported that the flu vaccine prevented pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% from 2010-2012.2
How do flu vaccines work? The influenza virus infects our body by attacking our own cells and modifying the DNA within our cells to create more virus. The flu vaccine is formulated every year in time for flu season. They are made up from inactivated strains of the influenza virus.2 Once vaccinated, the immune system recognizes the foreign invader and quickly starts up the immune response to create antibodies which are cells within our body that can target the virus and extinguish it without affecting our own cells. Since the pathogen has been modified or is already dead, the immune system is able to create antibodies that the body will then use if exposed to a live virus. Therefore, you cannot get the flu from receiving the flu vaccine since it does not have the ability to infect the cells. One important thing to note is that the antibodies generally take a week or more to develop to achieve the full protection offered from the vaccine.3
Why do I need a new vaccine every year? The influenza virus is a master of disguise. Every year it changes its appearance to one that our bodies are not familiar with. With this change in appearance, if you had not gotten vaccinated and you were exposed to the virus, the body would then have to fight harder to prevent the spread of the virus as well as make the antibodies to fight off the infection. During this time, the body has other methods to prevent the spread of infection such as increasing internal body temperature (fever) pulling protein from the body’s muscles (muscle aches), along with washing the germs from the nasal and respiratory system (runny nose, coughing).4
Getting vaccinated can do more than protect yourself from the flu. Herd immunity is what occurs when a vast majority of the population is vaccinated thus making it difficult for the virus to spread. This type of immunity is beneficial to young infants and immunocompromised individuals to have some form of protection.5 People with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and asthma are at high risk for serious complications leading to possible life-threatening pneumonia.
Getting the flu vaccine is a small act that can have a big impact on protecting those around you and the community.
- What are the benefits of flu vaccination? [Internet]. Center for Disease Control, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. 2021 8 June. [cited 2021 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-benefits.htm
- How the Immune System Protects You From Infection [Internet]. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. [cited 2021 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.pfizer.com/news/hot-topics/how_the_immune_system_protects_you_from_infection
- Haelle, Tara. Why You Need the Flu Shot Every Year. [Internet]. The New York Times. 2017 Dec 1. [cited 2021 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/smarter-living/why-you-need-the-flu-shot-every-year.html
- How Your Body Fights Off Cold and Flu [Internet]. Vicks. Proctor & Gamble. [cited 2021 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.vicks.com.au/en-au/science-of-healing/understanding-types-of-illness/how-your-body-fights-off-cold-and-flu
- Franco, Cheryl. Getting the Flu (Influenza) Vaccine: Why It’s Important [Internet]. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. [cited 2021 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.chla.org/blog/rn-remedies/getting-the-flu-influenza-vaccine-why-it-s-important