(Notably, while some people do experience side effects after the flu shot, it is generally accepted that the vaccine cannot give you the flu, and these side effects are considerably less severe than the actual virus. And while the vaccine only decreases your risk by about 40-60%, it has been shown in several studies to reduce the severity of illness in people who do become ill.)
Motives aside, though, it is easy to see how socially-distant practices may be raising further questions as to whether or not people should get the flu shot this year.
Research, however, suggests that doctors are saying yes. The CDC states on their website that they highly encourage those can get the flu vaccine this year to do so to help “reduce illnesses and preserve scarce health care resources.”
The flu is, like COVID-19, a respiratory illness. Though all reliable evidence suggests that it is in fact less deadly than COVID-19, it can and has hospitalized and killed people in the past, and it is very much possible to acquire COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. Taking what actions we can to minimize the severity of this year’s flu season is vital to helping prevent shortages in critical hospital supplies that have occurred on multiple occasions during the Coronavirus epidemic.
The New York Times reports that experts still aren’t sure whether or not a “twindemic” (in which both the flu and the coronavirus are running rampant) is likely in the United States because though current precautions may protect against the flu as well as COVID, individual adoption of these precautions has not been uniform across the country.
And, of course, not everyone who cares to can always practice perfect social distancing. No matter how many precautions companies take to protect employees and patrons alike, many essential workers take on an implicit risk as they perform jobs vital to the continued functioning of society.
For people 65 and older, there is another potential factor to consider when getting the flu shot. If you are 65 or up, there is a stronger version of the vaccine available, and as of the 2020-2021 flu season this stronger shot has been updated to protect against four strains of the flu rather than three. There is also another version of this same shot that protects against the four strains and contains an adjuvant, which induces a stronger immune response.
The CDC did report that there was an increase in some side effects with this stronger vaccine, but most were “mild and temporary, and included pain, redness at the injection site, headache, muscle aches, and malaise.”
However, further data from the CDC indicates that those vaccinated with previous iterations of this high-dosage vaccine have “a stronger immune response” and fewer hospital admissions.
That said, the CDC also advises against getting the vaccine if you currently have or are expected to have COVID-19. If you have confirmed COVID-19 or suspect that you have it, hold off on getting your flu vaccine until you’ve met the recommended criteria for discontinuing your isolation. Notably, this does not include a test-based strategy for the time being. For those who showed symptoms and have been advised to treat themselves from home, the CDC’s guidelines include remaining in isolation until “at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset and at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and other symptoms have improved.”
So, with all this in mind: when and how do you get the flu vaccine this year?
In terms of when, doctors are, by and large, recommending that you get the flu vaccine as early as possible. Though, according to the CDC, manufacturers predict a supply of up to 194-198 million doses, there have been vaccine shortages in the past, and it is better to be safe than sorry.
Actually getting the vaccine can feel more intimidating during the age of shelter-in-place orders. However, any place that you would normally get the vaccine at—local doctors offices, CVS, Walgreens, and other stores—likely have stocks.
If you still aren’t sure, you can use the CDC’s Vaccine Finder to help you locate the nearest available location here: https://vaccinefinder.org/
If the shot is not yet available at a location near you, try calling your local doctor or provider to get an estimate on when they’ll be getting the vaccines in, and see if you can make an appointment ahead of time.
To those with concerns about safety, be sure to also ask your doctor or provider what precautions they are taking and ask if they are complying with the CDC’s vaccination guidance for the pandemic.
And, as always, take care to practice the same precautions that are suggested for everyday life. Wear a mask, wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and maintain six or more feet apart from people whenever possible.