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5 reasons to get a flu shot

Infectious disease expert Dr. Emily Godbout of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU explains why you should get a flu shot. 

Person hold a sign saying "Get your flu shot." Photo: Getty Images

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to capture headlines, don’t forget to get your flu shot.  Although cases of flu decreased last year with the introduction of COVID-19 mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing, an estimated 700 people still died of the disease., and many more suffered symptoms.

Here, pediatric epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Emily Godbout of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU offers five crucial reasons why everyone should get a flu shot this year.

Emily Godbout1. Flu shots help reduce serious respiratory illness.

While some people who get vaccinated may still get the flu, the flu shot typically prevents about 7 in 10 people who receive it from developing moderate to severe symptoms. So even though the vaccine might not completely prevent the flu, it can help keep you out of the hospital.

“Reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is really important to help protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe disease,” Godbout says. “It also helps lessen the resulting burden on our health care system, which is crucial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Godbout adds that while practices you follow to help guard against COVID-19, such as handwashing, social distancing and wearing masks, will probably help decrease the spread of influenza, the flu shot is still the single most effective way to reduce the spread of the flu.

2. Flu shots are safe.

“The flu shot is very safe and effective at helping prevent severe disease and hospitalization,” Godbout confirms.

The doctor also reassures patients that they will not get the flu from the vaccine. “The virus is inactivated,” she explains, “so it can’t actually cause the flu after you get the shot.”

Flu shots are recommended for anyone six months old and older, with rare exceptions.

3. Flu shots are updated every year.

“The U.S. flu vaccine is reviewed every single year and updated to match circulating flu viruses,” Godbout explains. “The flu vaccine can typically protect against three or four different viruses. Since the virus changes from year to year, immunization from the previous year is not protective."

She also stresses that our antibody response — what helps us fight the virus — can decrease over time, so a yearly dose helps boost the antibody response before the start of the flu season.

4. Flu and COVID-19 share similar symptoms.

It’s important to know that some symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar. If you have symptoms you’re concerned about, call your health care provider right away. You may need to be tested for both the flu and COVID-19 to know what you have and how best to treat it.

While receiving the flu shot doesn't mean you can't get the flu, vaccination will at least lessen the severity of your symptoms.

Reducing the spread of flu cases overall, by getting vaccinated, will help cut down on the number of seriously ill patients that clinics and hospitals will see, which will help everyone get through flu season more easily.

5. A flu shot protects you through the season.

Now is the best time to get vaccinated, as it takes a couple of weeks for antibodies to develop in your body. The vaccine will continue to protect you through the worst months of the flu season.

“It’s a great idea to get the flu shot right before flu season, so September and October are really good times to get vaccinated,” Godbout recommends. "We will continue to offer the flu shot throughout the fall and winter, but ideally we want to see people get it by the end of October.”

To get your flu shot 

Make an appointment at your doctor’s office to get your flu shot or visit one of your local pharmacies or grocery stories. Many offer flu shots without an appointment.  

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