Should I get a flu shot this year?
Updated: Apr 13
That's a good question, and one we get all the time. The answer is maybe or probably or it depends.
Most people would benefit from an influenza vaccination, also called “the flu shot”. The flu shot has been around for about 80 years. It has been studied extensively and is felt to be extremely safe. More flu vaccines have been given than any other other vaccine in the world. The flu shot is not perfect, like any vaccine, but it can decrease your risk of serious infection from 40 to 80% depending on the year.
Why the variation? Scientists have to predict six months before flu season hits which strains of the virus will be most prominent. When they are right, the protection is very successful. If they miss it by a bit, it's less effective.
Over the last year and a half we've heard daily about coronavirus, but if you run the numbers on the CDC's website today--using the estimated number of total flu infections and coronavirus infections and the number of people who die from complications of each--you would see that the likelihood of serious illness and death is actually significantly higher with flu then with Covid-19. Fortunately, that data shows that less than 0.8% of all flu infections lead to serious illness and death.
Some people chose to get the Flu shot, not because of the risk of serious illness, but to decrease the risk of sharing it with others, like elderly relatives. Many do so simply to avoid missing 7-10 days of work or school. Given the extensive safety data on the flu shot, that seems to be a very reasonable motive. Given the heightened awareness for respiratory illnesses in the age of COVID-19, many people are choosing the flu vaccine to avoid showing any symptoms that will get them sent home from school or work for an extended period of time.
Severe reactions are extraordinarily rare, while minor reactions like soreness and fever are more common but short-lived. The best time to get a flu vaccine is in October or November. Whether you choose vaccination or not, please be respectful of others. If you're showing signs of respiratory infection, stay home and take care of yourself. If you must be out, maintain distance, cover your cough and wash your hands frequently. What may be a minor illness for you could end up being a significant problem for others.
~Dr. Lawrence Hutchison, M.D.