Why You Should Get a Flu Vaccine

Ahh, fall—that lovely time of year when the leaves change, the temperatures drop, people begin to prepare for the holiday season… and the flu returns to ravage immune systems all over the world. 

In the United States, the flu has become so routine and commonplace as to hardly merit remark. But just because we’re accustomed to living with the flu doesn’t mean that the annual flu season doesn’t bear some thought and preparation. Now more than ever, getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting your health and the health of the people around you. 

While, for many people, the flu might not merit more than a few days off from work, for others, it represents a potentially life-threatening illness. Over the 2018-2019 flu season (the most recent one prior to the arrival of COVID-19), approximately 34,200 people died from the flu, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In particular, those who are at a high risk of severe illness or complications from the flu include older individuals, people who have chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and people of Native American descent.

Understanding the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine has been around longer than most people think. Development of the vaccine began in 1940 by Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Salk (the same virologist who helped to create the first successful polio vaccine), and the vaccine was eventually licensed for use on civilians in 1945. However, the flu vaccine that is available at your local pharmacy or clinic today is very different from the one developed in the 1940s—because of the rapid rate at which the flu virus mutates, new vaccines are developed every year to keep up with the current flu strain. 

Like all vaccines, flu shots work by training your body’s immune system. The vaccine contains pieces of the flu virus, and when your immune system’s cells come across these pieces, they learn to recognize them and to produce defenses (called antibodies) against them. Modern flu vaccines are quadrivalent, meaning that they protect against four different forms of the flu. 

Contrary to what some people believe, it’s impossible to contract the flu from the flu shot. The flu vaccine uses an inactivated virus that is not capable of infecting your cells. That being said, it’s not uncommon for people to experience side effects after getting the shot. Most of these side effects are extremely minor, such as low fevers or body aches. If you’re concerned about side effects, consider scheduling your flu shot for a Friday so that you have the weekend to rest if need be. 

Because of the flu’s rapid mutation rate, scientists are often required to make educated guesses about what the virus will look like before the flu season has actually arrived—after all, it takes time to develop and produce vaccines on a large scale. As a result, the accuracy of the vaccine and its effectiveness fluctuate from year to year. Still, even with that margin for uncertainty, studies have shown that the flu vaccine is effective in reducing flu infections by 40-60% among the general population. 

Benefits of the Flu Shot
Aside from not wanting to get sick, there are multiple good reasons to roll up your sleeves for the flu shot this year (and next year, and the year after that).

  • Even when it fails, it works. No vaccine is 100% effective. However, multiple studies have shown that even if you do happen to catch the flu in spite of getting a flu shot, you’re less likely to wind up with a severe case or end up in the hospital. The bottom line: even if you get sick, the flu shot makes it more likely that you’ll be able to ride out the virus while watching Netflix on your couch.  
  • It helps protect others. Even if you don’t fall into the high-risk category for the flu, chances are you know someone who does, such as a grandparent, a pregnant friend or relative, or someone with a chronic illness or compromised immune system. By getting vaccinated, you’re reducing the chances that you’ll accidentally pass the virus to someone who might be in danger of contracting a life-threatening case.  
  • It reduces the healthcare burden. With COVID-19 still at large and demanding the vast majority of our healthcare system’s resources, it’s important that we all do our part to minimize strain on healthcare providers and hospitals. Getting the flu shot is an easy way to prevent hospitalization, which could free up a hospital bed for someone else. In addition, by keeping yourself out of the hospital, you’re reducing your chances of being exposed to a more serious illness like COVID.

Flu shots are widely available at clinics, drugstores, and even some grocery stores. If you have questions or concerns about the flu shot, contact your healthcare provider. And remember that while flu shots help tremendously in preventing illness, both for individuals and communities, it’s still a good idea to take basic precautions to reduce the spread of the virus. Washing your hands regularly, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds in areas where the flu is circulating can all help keep yourself and others safe. 

MyAlly Health offers confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes preventive care, like getting tested for STIs, annual examinations like Pap Smears, breast examinations, and pelvic examinations, and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians. In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today to get your flu vaccine!

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