Influenza puts more than 200,000 Americans in the hospital each year, and for some, it is a life-threatening or even fatal illness. In Tennessee, it’s not uncommon for two to three children to die annually from flu.
“We certainly need to get the flu vaccine to protect ourselves, but we also need to think about the health of others,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Inexpensive, safe flu vaccines are readily available in many locations across our state, and it only takes a few minutes for most people to get vaccinated. The vaccine is available by shot or nasal spray at county health departments, along with many pharmacies and doctors’ offices.”
“It takes about two weeks to be protected after you get the flu vaccine, so it’s best not to put off getting the vaccine,” said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “November and December are when we typically begin to see increased numbers of flu cases, and people sick with the flu can spread the virus at family gatherings over the holidays and during their holiday travel. Nationally, thousands of people die from influenza each year.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Department of Health recommend annual flu vaccination for everyone over the age of six months. It’s especially important for pregnant women to be vaccinated in order to protect their unborn children. One major challenge for health officials is combatting rumors and myths about flu immunizations. It is important to note: It is not possible for the flu shot to give you the flu.
“The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, but we hear this all the time,” said Moore. “It is true vaccinated people may still get the flu or a flu-like illness during the winter. Some of these folks actually have one of the many other, less serious winter viruses that the flu vaccine does not prevent.
“People who delay getting the vaccine may actually be exposed to the flu before the vaccine can protect them, and some who are vaccinated go on to catch the flu anyway, but their illness may be less serious than the illness of an unvaccinated person. What we know for certain is that people who are unvaccinated are always at a higher risk of catching a serious case of the flu than people who are vaccinated.”
“The flu vaccine is safe and successfully used by hundreds of millions of people,” Moore continued. “After vaccination, most people will have temporary soreness and redness at the injection site. Some may feel under the weather for a day or so as their body responds to the vaccine. It is rare that someone cannot be vaccinated as a result of a severe allergic reaction or Guillain-Barre syndrome following a past flu vaccination, and people who are unsure should talk to their healthcare provider. Flu shots are one of the great medical developments in history, saving lives and preventing much unnecessary pain and suffering.”
After your flu vaccination, it’s still important to practice good health habits to protect yourself from the flu and other winter viruses, and to prevent spreading them to others if you do get sick. Good health habits include frequent hand washing with soapy water or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.
People who are sick should stay home if at all possible to recover to prevent spreading illness to coworkers, friends and others.