Getting the flu vaccine is not only your best shot at beating the virus—it could help in other ways you may never have realized.
With flu season quickly gathering momentum, it’s not too late to get your shot to protect you through the remaining winter months. Last year’s flu season was long and brutal, the worst in 4 decades, with more than 80,000 flu or pneumonia-related deaths nationally.
In case you still need convincing, infectious diseases expert Michael Chang, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) in Houston, TX, has revealed added advantages.
Helps your heart
Getting the flu shot can literally prove a lifesaver for people with heart disease. There’s evidence to suggest influenza infections could potentially lead to having a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure, especially in high-risk patients. “Previous studies have shown influenza vaccination could reduce death, acute coronary syndromes, and hospitalization in patients with coronary heart disease and/or heart failure,” Chang said. “This makes getting your flu shot a no-brainer for anyone with a history of heart disease. It’s an extremely cost-effective intervention with lifesaving potential.”
Good for grandparents
Children are not only at greater risk of getting sick with flu, but also of infecting loved ones, particularly grandparents, who are more vulnerable. “Children have been described as ‘super spreaders’ because they come into close contact with family members, and younger ones tend to put their hands in their mouths more, which can put others at greater risk, especially older family members,” Chang said. “Children under the age of 5 are particularly vulnerable to flu, and the good news this year is the return of the nasal flu spray, which should make it easier if your little one doesn’t like having injections. Studies show it’s just as effective as the shot.”
Avoids other infections
Being struck down with flu is bad enough, and if you get another infection on top of it, you could be in even bigger trouble. Research shows bacterial coinfection complicates influenza, resulting in increased deaths and hospitalization.
“Your immunity can be altered by having flu, making you more prone to other infections, particularly in the respiratory tract where cells have been damaged. Staph infections are common and mainly not serious, but if you have flu already Staphylococcus aureus can enter the lungs, causing pneumonia,” Chang said. “That explains why this type of bacterial coinfection is frequent in influenza-associated pneumonia. Patients with coinfection unfortunately tend to have poorer outcomes, including higher risk of sepsis and in-hospital mortality.”
Less sick time
The flu vaccine isn’t infallible. Its effectiveness depends on how well it matches with the strains of virus in circulation, which varies from year to year, and it takes around 2 weeks to kick in. However, even if the shot doesn’t stop you getting flu altogether, it should significantly lessen its impact.
“It’s of course frustrating if you come down with flu, despite having had your shot in good time. But the reality is, this is possible, as the vaccine isn’t perfect,” Chang admitted. “That said, it’s the best form of protection available and will substantially lower your risk. If you are unlucky enough to still catch flu, chances are you will be much less severely affected. This means you hopefully won’t be laid up in bed for weeks unable to do anything and forced to take lots of time off work.”
Getting your flu vaccine is an opportunity to check your vaccine schedule to make sure you’re up to date with all your shots. All adults should get the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent to protect against whooping cough, and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years. In addition, women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.
“For older adults, the shingles vaccine is recommended for healthy adults aged 50 upward, and all adults aged 65 and above should have pneumococcal vaccines, which protect against pneumococcal disease including infections in the lungs and bloodstream,” Chang said. “When you get your flu shot, ask your physician if there are any other vaccines you need to have. It’s a good reminder to make sure you’re not missing out on any others.”