Don’t Forget About The Flu

Mary Perry, MD, MPH, Cucamonga Valley Medical Group

By Mary Perry, MD, MPH

With news of coronavirus swirling around us all day, every day, I would like to take this opportunity to bring up another potentially controversial topic: the flu shot.

Over the past few months, I have attempted to offer the flu vaccination to every one of my patients because I believe in prevention. Some patients beat me to the punch and ask me first, others are grateful for the reminder and readily accept, but some patients are still hesitant about getting the flu shot. I often ask “Why?” so I can better understand my patients and seek shared decision making.

Here are some of the most common responses I have received:

“The flu shot makes you sick.”

You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccination. The injected flu vaccine, which is the form we use at CVMG, is made from inactivated viral particles. Your body sees those viral particles and creates antibodies for them. Then, if and when you are exposed to the live flu virus, your body is already prepared to fight it off with antibodies and you either don’t get sick at all, or you get a milder version of the flu.  

Think of it this way: your body is full of soldiers (the immune system) ready to fight an enemy virus (flu). The flu shot is like showing a picture of what the flu looks like to the soldiers so that if they see the flu virus start to sneak in any points of entry (nose, eyes, ears, mouth, etc) they are prepared to quickly stop it in its tracks.

“I never get sick, so I don’t need it.”

I am happy you have a strong immune system and good fortune! In the 2019-2020 flu season, approximately 400,000 people were hospitalized from the flu and approximately 20,000 people died from flu complications. Eighty-five percent of deaths were those in the age groups of 50 years and older.1

If you are a young adult, you may be wondering why you need the flu shot. Young people, including children, can still get very ill from the flu. Also, getting the flu shot can help protect more vulnerable populations around you, such as young children, pregnant women, elderly adults, and those with chronic health conditions.

In a time of coronavirus and flu, it may be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of the two viruses. This has major implications for quarantine times, taking sick days from work, and testing for all those you have been in contact with.

In addition, with hospital systems being overwhelmed with illnesses related to COVID-19, I urge you to do what you can to decrease burden on healthcare systems in any way possible, and that includes getting your flu shot.

“I already got one this year.”

That’s great! However, the question is … when did you get it? The flu season is from approximately October to March of each year, with the majority of cases between December and February. The formulation of the vaccine changes every year try to accurately predict the most likely circulating virus strains to protect against. Also, the protection from the flu vaccines wanes over time. For this reason, it is recommended to get vaccinated for the flu every flu season. If you got a flu shot in January 2020, that was for the 2019-2020 flu season, and I recommend you get another one now for the 2020-2021 flu season.

“I don’t believe in the flu shot.”

I cannot argue with your beliefs. They are yours. However, I can tell you that evidence points toward the flu shot being effective in preventing flu-related illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.2

My favorite question is:

“Where can I get the flu shot?”

Here at Cucamonga Valley Medical Group, we care about your health and the health of our community! Because of that, we held flu vaccine drive-through clinics on October 3 in North Fontana, and on October 17 in Eastvale. We were able to vaccinate close to 100 patients from these events!

We also offer vaccinations at every office visit, or you can make an appointment for a quick nurse visit for your flu shot. If you can’t make it in, you could also try your local pharmacy. Either way, I hope you get your flu shot and stay safe this winter!