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Monday, Oct. 19, 2020

Get Your Flu Shot

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Vaccine offers significant protection

Erin Turner, for most of her life, decided not to get a flu shot. “I never got sick,” she says. That is, until 2014. “I got really sick. The flu got me and two of my children. It knocked me down for two weeks. I told myself, ‘never again.’” Since then, she and her four children have been getting vaccinated against influenza annually. “I start asking the pediatrician about it in September or October, and as soon as they’re available, we get them right away.”

This year’s flu season is set up to be one of the most challenging in decades, thanks to the overwhelming complication of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The symptoms overlap with COVID-19, which means anyone with flu-like symptoms needs to self-isolate until they talk to their doctor,” says Danielle Raley, MD, of Family Medicine Associates in Bossier City. “The best thing everyone can do is go get a flu shot,” she insists. Dr. Raley reminds everyone to be considerate of those around them by fighting the spread of the virus: Wash your hands frequently, cover your cough or sneeze, and stay home if you are sick and/or have a fever.

“One problem we’re facing this year is when someone comes in with a respiratory problem consistent with influenza, some of those patients may have COVID-19,” says Joseph A. Bocchini, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Willis-Knighton. “It’s more important this year than ever that everybody gets vaccinated against influenza.”

Doctors locally and across the country are strenuously stressing the necessity of flu vaccines. The most recent data available indicates about 45 percent of adults and 60 percent of children get flu shots each year. “Influenza is a serious disease. Each year, it causes millions of infections, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths,” Dr. Bocchini says.

The flu viruses change each year as they circulate through the population, so a new vaccine is created each year. “The shot is the best protection you can get,” Dr. Raley says. “I get mine every year. I recommend everyone get it every year.”

Erin Turner listened to that same advice from her children’s pediatrician, Clifton Vaughan, MD, of WK Portico Pediatrics, who told her “years ago, when there was no polio vaccine, I would have had parents begging for something, so their kids do not end up with it. That’s available now for the flu.” That comparison resonated with Turner, so she remains committed to protecting her family and others around them. She lives with four children under the age of 10, and so they probably are not diligent about hand hygiene or the other precautions doctors recommend. Because of this, kids can be quite effective at spreading illness. Therefore, protecting them against ailments like influenza protects others.

Dr. Bocchini explains each year the vaccine is made to match it to the strains of influenza that are expected to circulate. He also says the virus can continue to mutate after the vaccine is made. “However, even in years when the vaccine is not well-matched to the virus, the vaccine provides some significant protection. If somebody who is vaccinated does get influenza, the vaccine often results in a milder infection than if the person had not been vaccinated.”

Dr. Raley echoes this, saying, “The shot is not 100 percent. It never is, but the best protection you can get is the shot.”

The physicians emphasize that the vaccine cannot give you the flu. Often, someone will get sick shortly after they have received the vaccine and think they have the flu. “There are many other viruses that can cause respiratory symptoms, so when somebody gets the influenza vaccine and then has a respiratory viral illness, they can think it’s influenza, but it’s really not,” Dr. Bocchini says. And it takes at least two weeks after a person receives the flu vaccine to develop the immunity that protects against the flu viruses. He also dispels the notion that the flu shot causes a lot of side effects. “This vaccine is very safe. The side effects are minimal, mostly a little pain at the site of the injection. Very infrequently there may be some low-grade fever.” Dr. Bocchini says the side effects, if any, will last no more than a day or two. Compare that to Erin Turner being debilitated by flu for two weeks while caring for young children.

People living in close quarters are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the flu, Dr. Raley says. Patients with pre-existing conditions such as heart or lung disease are also at greater risk. “I really encourage these patients to get vaccinated. It’s what’s best for them.”

It is also rare for anyone to have an allergic reaction to a flu shot. So, Dr. Raley sums it up nicely:

“It’s safe. Get your flu shot. Everyone over the age of six months.”

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