Authored by Donna Nolte, MSN, CCRN (St. Paul's, Daphne)
At this time of year, I always begin to look forward to fall. It brings so many things I love – cool weather, volleyball, fall softball, long sleeves and fires in the fire pit. I’m keenly aware that, in our current pandemic status, the start of Fall this year will be significantly different from past years. But there is one thing that will be just the same as every other year - the start of Flu Season.
As a person of faith, I know that every day we are reliant on God for our very existence. As a medical professional, I also acknowledge the blessings of science that God has given to us. To me, one of the places this is clearly illustrated is in the development of vaccines. And this year, more than any other before, our acceptance of the blessing of vaccines is going to be critical.
My day job is as director of nursing in our local hospital. Every year, we prepare for the flu season and the increased need for bed capacity that always accompanies it. This year, we feel an even greater sense of urgency to prepare because of the impact that we will be facing with the coronavirus pandemic on top of the annual flu season. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage each of you to take the influenza vaccine this year. While infection with COVID-19 can range from completely asymptomatic to grave illness and death, the influenza infection is just flat out miserable at its mildest. It is very possible to have both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time – and that’s a recipe for disaster. There will be numerous opportunities to be vaccinated for the flu in local health fairs and clinics – Publix and Target even PAY you with a gift card to be vaccinated – so don’t chance it! While the influenza vaccine is never 100% effective, any protection is better than none.
There are always some concerns (aka myths) about the influenza vaccine that I’d like to take a moment to debunk:
“I took the flu vaccine a few years ago – I’m good”: Unfortunately, you aren’t. The flu viruses continually mutate and change so each year the vaccine is different. With many different virus strains out there, researchers spend a tremendous amount of time predicting which strains will most likely be active for the upcoming season. Additionally, the body’s influenza immune response decreases over time so an annual boost is needed.
“I’m young and healthy, I don’t need the flu vaccine”: so stay young and healthy…get the vaccine. The flu virus is an equal opportunity virus – it does not discriminate based age, race, sex, national origin, or religious affiliation. Everyone ages 6 months and older should get vaccinated unless advised against it by your primary care provider.
“When I took the flu shot, I got the flu”: this is simply not true. If a person gets the flu after receiving a flu shot, they were exposed before the vaccine and would have gotten sick regardless of vaccination status. The flu shot is made with either an inactivated (“dead”) virus or a synthetic virus response. Neither of these are capable of producing illness.
“I’ll wait and see if the season is bad and then I’ll get it”: nope – too late. Your body needs about two weeks to develop sufficient immunity to the flu from a vaccine. If we are in the height of the flu season or a flu pandemic like 2009, lots of luck going two weeks without getting exposed.
“I’m allergic to eggs”: there is a vaccine version that is “egg free”!
“I’d rather just get the flu”: No. No, you would not. Trust me. In my career, I’ve cared for many young healthy people who became gravely ill, and many not so young or healthy who left this earth, because of the flu.
The flu is no joke. And even if it doesn’t make you sick enough to be hospitalized, why go through seven days of misery, risk passing it to your friends and family, and miss a week of work or school if it can potentially be avoided?
The end of September to the end of October is the optimal time to be vaccinated for the flu. Any earlier and you run the risk of decreasing immunity at the peak of the season. While it is not recommended to wait, we do continue to vaccinate as long as we are seeing flu cases.
This is usually the point that I give the list of dos and don’ts during flu season. However, it is the exact same list that helps to protect you from COVID-19 so we are already a little ahead of the curve in that respect!
As we head into fall, my prayer for all of you is that you will be safe and well throughout this season. I also pray that you will acknowledge and accept the gift that our gracious God has given us in vaccines.
Stay safe, friends.