‘Tis the season to roll up your sleeve for the flu vaccine  - Primary Health

‘Tis the season to roll up your sleeve for the flu vaccine 

  • December 6, 2023

  • Adi Chandrasekhar, MD, MPH, FACP

  • 3 minutes

It’s not too late to get your annual flu shot and help prevent flu-related illness, medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths.

For several weeks now, my clinic sessions seem to have been a rapid succession of visits revolving around various upper respiratory complaints. And post-2020, we are all so sensitized to the possibility of COVID-19 infections that we often forget about the numerous other infections that present in the same way. And no culprit seems more familiar than the flu. Influenza has a long history of causing significant morbidity and mortality in its seasonal peaks.

In the most recent season spanning 2022-2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 31 million symptomatic flu cases in the country. This represented a steep incline following declines during the COVID pandemic due to increased use of facial masks and distancing measures. Of these 31 million cases, 14 million sought a medical visit and 360,000 were hospitalized. And unfortunately, 21,000 were estimated to have died from the flu. The death toll has been even higher in the past decade, with as many as 52,000 deaths in 2017-18.

Fortunately, we have long had an effective vaccine against the flu. In this article, we’ll look at some common concerns that surface around the flu vaccine. 

Is a yearly flu shot necessary?

People often wonder why we need to get a new flu shot each year; surely our bodies have developed enough immunity from prior years’ vaccinations? The fascinating reason behind this is that the influenza virus is a master of continuously finding ways to evade our immune systems. Its surface is lined with various proteins that constantly rearrange themselves and thereby cause our immune system to fail to recognize them in future years. We refer to these variations as ‘strains’ of the virus.

Also, because flu season correlates to colder weather, the virus moves between the northern and southern hemispheres over the course of the year. Scientists closely study which strains dominate the season in each hemisphere to know which strains to target using the vaccine for the upcoming flu season in the other hemisphere.

Can people with egg allergy get the flu vaccine?

It is a common misconception that people with egg allergy cannot get the flu vaccine. This is not true and in general, people with egg allergies are unlikely to have a serious allergic reaction from the flu shot despite its use of eggs in production. Starting this year, the CDC recommends that people with egg allergy do not need to take additional safety measures when receiving the flu vaccine. 

When’s the best time to get a flu shot?

Another common question concerns when to get the flu vaccine each year. Flu season kicks off in the fall and lasts through early spring. The flu virus does indeed circulate for the rest of the year too, albeit in lower levels. In general, it is best to get the shot early in the season. However it’s never too late in the season to get the flu shot.

So as we head into holiday gatherings, it’s a perfect time to roll up your sleeve and get that flu shot to keep you and your loved ones safe! Primary.Health partners with community-based organizations, public health agencies, and other large groups to power affordable, accessible testing and vaccination clinics for flu and other respiratory illnesses. Set up your Primary flu vaccination clinic today.

Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.

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