I’ve written about the importance of getting flu shots before. I continue to be grateful for people who are being pro-active about their health, even if the phone calls to my office asking when the flu shot is coming get to be bit much.
This year there seem to be two main themes in all the phone calls we are getting.
1) What is the ideal interval between getting the flu shot and a Covid booster?
This one is relatively straightforward. The human immune system is designed to handle multiple threats at a time. We can handle multiple vaccines at a time. When infants get immunized at 2,4 and 6 months, they get Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis and Polio (and in many jurisdictions Rotavirus and Haemophilus) vaccines all at the same time. We’ve been doing this for decades and it’s served us well.
So getting the flu shot and Covid vaccine on the same day is not an issue. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States has clearly indicated this. What is important however, is that the flu shot really needs to be timed properly for peak effectiveness. Again, I’ve written about this before, but the short version is you should get a flu shot in November, so that the vaccine will have peak efficiency during flu season.
If you happen to be due for your Covid booster in November, that’s ok, get both shots at the same time. On the other hand, if you are not due for your Covid booster for a couple of months, please do not put off getting your flu shot.
2) Do I really need a flu shot?
I am hearing this question more often and it saddens me. It is true that the past two flu seasons were relatively mild. The measures we implemented to prevent us from getting Covid (masks, social distancing, etc) also prevented us from getting ALL respiratory illnesses, including the flu. Perhaps people have forgotten how bad the flu can be.
If you have a cough, or the sniffles or a low grade fever, that’s just a cold. It’s not “a touch of the flu”. If you have the flu, in addition to those three symptoms, you will feel like you got run over by a truck twice. The second time because the flu virus will have wanted to to ensure you really really felt it’s presence. Muscles you never knew existed will hurt for days, and it will be an experience you won’t soon forget.
If you are a senior, or someone who for whatever reason has a weakened immune system, the flu will make you more prone to getting a serious complication like pneumonia. You will wind up in hospital, or worse.
With many of the Covid restrictions easing it is reasonable to anticipate that this coming flu season will be worse than the last two years. Australia, which also lifted many Covid restrictions, just came off their worst flu season in five years and their pattern is often repeated in North America. So yeah, anticipate a much worse flu season this year.
Additionally, the number of boosters we need to protect ourselves from Covid seems to increase every few months, and a certain amount of “vaccine fatigue” does set in. I get it, I really do. It can be tiresome to be told you need yet another shot. But you do.
One issue that I have not been asked about, but we should talk about, is what happens if you do get the flu. Hopefully you will “just” be sick for a few days, and then get over it. But unfortunately, we have to consider the possibility that you may get a severe case, and have complications that require you to go to hospital.
I recognize some will accuse me of fear mongering, but in that scenario, you really need to consider the possibility that the care you need (and paid tax dollars for) may not be available. This past summer, media was littered with headlines about this hospitals closing beds, having trouble finding staff and even shutting down ERs. Heck the Chelsey hospital ER is being shut down for months! Do you really think that trend is going to magically end when flu season comes around?
The sad reality is that if you do get a complication from the flu, you may wind up with no one to provide you with the care you need going forward.
What’s the best thing you can do?
First, just about everybody over the age of six months should get a flu shot to protect themselves and their loved ones. The number of people who truly, truly have adverse reactions to the flu shot is very low. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Second, for people who are in nursing homes and retirement homes, it probably is worthwhile getting the shot the last week of October. These patients are truly truly high risk, and it may take them longer to develop immunity.
Third, for most other people in the community, wait till November to get your flu shot. This will ensure that we all have a reasonable amount of immunity until the end of the flu season.
Finally, get the new bivalent Covid booster as soon as you are eligible (for most people it’s three months after their last booster or a Covid infection). Once again, the chance of a true reaction to the Covid Vaccine is exceedingly low. Much lower than your risk of complications from Covid.
Immunizations continue to represent one of our strongest tools to stay healthy. Outside of clean water/sanitation, they are arguably the most successful public health measure in the history of humanity. Let’s all do our part to stay healthy and protect those around us.
Disclaimer: The opinion above is not individualized medical advice. It’s meant for the population as a whole. If you have specific questions or concerns, speak to your doctor.