Flu Shots and COVID vaccines are powerful health tools that keep us safe. Our resident expert, Public Health Nurse and Infection Prevention Specialist, Laura Hegarty-Moore explains why both are important to good health, and dispels some common myths about flu shots and COVID.
Why is it more important than ever to get your flu vaccine this year?
This fall and winter, influenza viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 (coronavirus) will both be spreading at the same time. In addition to protecting yourself and your family from severe illness and death from flu, it’s more important than ever to get your flu vaccine this year for two key reasons:
- It is possible to get sick with both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. This would be a potentially devastating hit to your immune system. The flu vaccine reduces your chances of getting the flu, which reduces your chances of coming down with this potentially very serious double illness.
- It will decrease the burden on the healthcare system at this very crucial time, helping to “flatten the curve,” as you’ve heard before. We want to make every effort to prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed by high amounts of people sick with COVID-19 and people sick with influenza.
Can the flu shot give me the flu?
No. This is a myth. The flu vaccine is not capable of giving you the flu.
Flu vaccines are made with either inactivated (killed) virus, attenuated (weakened) virus, or recombinant (only a single protein from the virus is used) virus. These viruses and particles are no longer infectious.
Some people do get mild symptoms after the flu vaccine such as low grade, fever, headache, and muscle aches. This can happen for several reasons:
- Your immune system is building a response (a good thing!).
- Influenza viruses are circulating at this time, so you may have been exposed to flu shortly before or after becoming vaccinated. It takes your body two weeks after vaccination to build up protection against the flu.
- You may have also been exposed to one of the many other seasonal respiratory viruses out there, such as rhinovirus, commonly known as the cold virus.
While these symptoms are annoying, they’re considerably less severe than the actual flu illness.
When is the best time to get the flu shot?
- If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, the best time to get it is now! The ideal time to get the flu shot is about two weeks before flu season begins which is mid to late Fall. So, early-mid September is a good time to get vaccinated but you can get one anytime.
Remember that some babies and children need two doses of the flu vaccine to keep them safe from flu. These doses occur 4 weeks apart. And while newborns cannot receive the vaccine, it’s recommended for babies 6 months and older.
What about pregnant women? Is it safe for them to get the flu shot?
Absolutely! The flu vaccine has been proven safe in pregnant women. In fact, studies show that in addition to protecting the pregnant mom, receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy can protect the newborn from flu for several months after birth, when baby is too young to get a flu shot. Pregnant women, children, and babies are at increased risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and even death from flu. You could be saving your baby’s life by getting the flu vaccine while pregnant! I am currently pregnant and I was one of the first in line for my flu shot at the clinic this year!
Can I be contagious with flu before symptoms develop? What about after symptoms are gone?
Yes, you can be contagious with flu 1 day before symptoms start. You’re still considered contagious for 7 days after symptoms start and up until symptoms resolve. For example, even if your symptoms went away after 5 days, you can still be contagious for at least 2 more days! Young children and people who have weak immune systems can be contagious for even longer. This is why it’s also important to be sure anyone caring for your little one is vaccinated.