Flu season is right around the corner. The exact dates of flu season change every year, but it typically starts when temperatures start to drop in the fall, and ends when temps start to rise again in the spring. The best prevention is a flu vaccine. Dr. Sandra Kesh, infectious disease specialist and Westmed’s Vice President and Chief of Population Health, answers questions you may have about flu season and why it’s more important than ever to get your flu shot this year.
I heard the flu essentially “disappeared” last year. Do I really need a flu shot this year?
Yes! First, with increased COVID-19 vaccination, we’ve seen the world return to a more normal pattern of socialization- we’re not in same ‘lockdown’ mode we found ourselves in last year. Although this is great progress, it also makes it likely that we’ll see more flu activity this year. Second, nobody wants to test the theory of what co-infection with both flu and COVID-19 at the same time would be like. Both are respiratory infections that can cause life-threatening disease. In this case, the concern is that infection with both viruses at the same time would overwhelm the body’s immune system, leading to respiratory failure, or worse.
Who should and should NOT get a flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) currently recommends the flu shot for all ages 6 months of age and older.
People with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine (other than egg proteins) and people who have had a severe allergic reaction to a dose of influenza vaccine in the past should not get the flu vaccine. Most reactions to the flu vaccine (like low grade fevers, fatigue, headaches) are not “allergies”, but are considered part of the body’s normal reaction to a vaccine. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor!
When is the best time to get the flu shot?
Everyone should aim to be vaccinated by the end of October. However, there is still value in getting vaccinated after that time point seeing that the flu season typically extends into spring.
Will the flu vaccine definitely keep me from getting the flu?
Nothing is 100% in medicine, and that includes flu vaccine. In most years, vaccination provides around 50% protection, meaning about half of vaccine recipients won’t get infected. But in those who have ‘breakthrough’ flu infection (i.e. get flu despite being vaccinated), the infection tends to be much milder. We’ve seen the same thing with COVID-19 vaccine recipients. No vaccine is 100% effective, but if it keeps you out of the hospital, that sounds like a win to me.
Can I get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?
YES, you can get the flu vaccine at the same time as your COVID-19 vaccine, though we tend to give them in different arms. This is good because the flu season is expected to happen alongside the spreading of COVID-19. Getting vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19 is important to help protect yourself and your loved ones.
What about my COVID-19 booster shot — can I get that at the same time as my flu shot?
How do I make sure I get the right flu shot for me and my family?
Individuals ages 65 and older generally produce fewer antibodies after vaccination than younger individuals. For this reason, we recommend the high-dose quadrivalent vaccine in this population. For younger patients, the quadrivalent ‘regular dose’ flu vaccine is adequate.
I’m pregnant. Should I get a flu shot?
YES. Pregnant women with seasonal influenza are at increased risk for serious complications requiring hospitalization (such as respiratory failure), and in the worst cases, death. Also, flu infection during the first trimester has been associated with an increased risk of several congenital abnormalities. All pregnant women should be vaccinated.
Flu vaccines are now available at Westmed’s Flu Vaccine Clinics in White Plains or Yonkers (Ridge Hill). Existing Westmed patients age 8 and older can schedule a flu vaccine visit at www.westmedgroup.com/fluvaccine. Patients with an existing appointment with their Westmed primary care provider will be offered the flu vaccine during their doctor’s visit, and do not need to schedule a separate appointment at the clinic. Walk-ins are not accepted, and appointments are required to get your vaccine at the Westmed Flu Vaccine Clinics. For children ages 6 months to 7 years, parents should contact their pediatrician’s office to schedule a flu vaccine appointment.