PALMDALE —Medical experts say everyone should get the flu vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone age six months and older get an annual flu vaccine by the end of October.
Fewer than half of Americans got a flu vaccine last year. Up to 740,000 people were hospitalized last year from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Increased vaccination coverage would reduce that burden, the CDC said.
This year is more important than ever to get vaccinated because of the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic.
“The reality is COVID isn’t going away any time soon,” said Dr. David Bronstein, a pediatrician and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Palmdale.
The flu vaccine can help reserve healthcare resources for COVID-19 patients.
About one-third to one-half of people with a flu infection are asymptomatic.
“You can still spread it. … It’s the same thing as COVID,” Bronstein said.
Up to 56 million people got the flu last year, of which there were up to 26 million medical visits and up to 62,000 flu deaths.
“It’s staggering when you think about the number of people we see every year with flu,” Bronstein said. “If you add that on top of already having issues with capacity with COVID, that’s just not a tenable situation.”
A few decades ago, health experts recommended the flu vaccine to anyone aged 65 or older. They later expanded the age range to include young children.
“Over time we realized that really anybody can be at risk of getting not just flu, the runny nose, the cough, the congestion, the body ache, the fever, but having that flu infection caused complications,” Bronstein said.
The flu causes pneumonia but can also set you up for a secondary bacterial pneumonia, which is essentially a pneumonia on top of your flu pneumonia. The flu can travel to the brain in people and cause encephalitis, which is basically a brain infection, Bronstein said.
The flu can also attack the heart and cause myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. The flu can also kill you, sometimes rapidly.
“It’s not just old people, it’s not just little infants, but people of all ages can have nut just flu but complications from the flu. So it really is recommended for everybody six months of age and older,” Bronstein said of the vaccine.
People who say they got the flu after getting the flu vaccine are mistaken, the doctor said.
“It is impossible for the flu shot to give you the flu because we’re not injecting you with the flu virus,” Bronstein said.
The flu vaccine contains an outer membrane protein from a flu virus so that your body will make its own natural antibodies against the outside of the flu virus. Those antibodies are then ready to attack the virus so you are not infected.
“There’s no live virus in the vaccine that can then possibly give you the flu,” Bronstein said.
Some people might get soreness or even redness in the arm where they received the shot. In rare cases, others might get a fever. But those reactions can happen after any vaccine.
“That’s not the vaccine causing the illness; that is your body’s immune response revving up production of those antibodies against that protein that’s in the vaccine,” Bronstein said. “So you may feel a little achy, that’s your immune response.”
The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective. So anyone who was exposed to the flu prior to getting the shot could still get the flu before their body has a chance to gain immunity.
People who are disappointed they got the flu after getting vaccinated should be thankful, Bronstein said.
“Assuming they didn’t wind up in the hospital, and obviously they didn’t die, but what the vaccine very likely did was prevent that flu from causing those serious and scary complications from making it so much worse,” Bronstein said.
Most health plans cover flu shots. Bronstein urged anyone considering getting a flu shot to check with their healthcare provider.
“If you have questions or you have concerns or you want to find out more about it talk to someone that you trust who has knowledge of this,” Bronstein said. “Talk to your doctor, talk to your personal physician and ask them for their opinion.”
Bronstein added with all of the measures in place to keep people safe from COVID-19, getting a flu vaccine is a simple way to keep each other safe.