All About Flu Shots – What You Need to Know

Written by Cara Rosenbloom

3 minute read

Washing hands, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and being physically active are steps you can take to prevent the flu. The other important action is getting a yearly flu shot. Maybe you’re wavering. Perhaps you’re wondering if you really need the flu shot and if it actually works. Here’s what you need to know.  

Is the flu shot effective?

The effectiveness of the flu shot varies from year to year. When the vaccine is well-matched to the flu strains circulating in a particular flu season, it can prevent the flu in up to 60 percent of the overall population.

Does the flu shot decrease mortality rates?

Yes, it can, particularly in older adults. Studies show that if you are 65 or older, the flu shot can lower your risk of death by 48 percent. It’s often because getting the flu increases the risk of developing bacterial pneumonia, which can be deadly.

What’s actually in the flu shot?

The vaccine contains a number of ingredients and changes yearly based on the flu strains. Each year, it contains tiny amounts of the viruses it protects against. These viruses trigger the body’s natural defense mechanism to produce antibodies to fight against them, which is how it prevents flu. The vaccine also contains:

  • Formaldehyde: In tiny amounts, it’s added to inactivate toxins from viruses and bacteria that may contaminate the vaccine during production.
  • Chicken egg protein: It’s used to help the viruses grow before they are put into the vaccine. 
  • Gelatin: It’s added to stabilize and preserve the vaccine from the time it’s made until the time it’s used.
  • Antibiotics: It’s used to keep bacteria from growing.

Vaccines also may contain: 

  • Aluminum salts: To help the body develop a strong immune response (many vaccines are aluminum-free)
  • Thimerosal: As a preservative in multi-dose vials only. It contains a tiny quantity of ethyl mercury, which is not the same as the more harmful methyl mercury. Ethyl mercury doesn’t stay in the body. 

Does getting the flu shot cause the flu?

Nope, the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. Flu vaccines contain either inactivated flu virus, which is not infectious, or contain just a single gene from a flu virus to produce an immune response without causing infection. Either way, it won’t give you the flu. Some people get a sore arm after the shot – but that’s not the flu!

Do most Canadians get the flu shot?

No. About a third of Canadians get the flu shot each year. Of your fellow Optimity users, 29 percent reported getting the flu shot in 2017. Flu causes about 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year, so getting an annual flu shot is an important way to protect your health. 

Can the flu shot protect me against COVID-19?

The flu shot will not protect against COVID-19, but it will help reduce your risk of getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Having both illnesses at the same time could put you at a higher risk for severe illness. Also, getting the flu shot will not increase your risk of illness from COVID-19.

How to spot the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

The flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses, meaning there’s some overlap when it comes to symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath (or difficulty breathing), fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and vomiting and diarrhea (more common among children). However, one of the major differences is COVID-19 causes change in or loss of taste or smell. Symptoms with COVID-19 also appear to be more severe and cause more serious illness in some people. Regardless, ensure you are self-isolating if you are experiencing any symptoms of the flu and/or COVID-19.

Who should get the flu shot?

It’s good protection for everyone, but some populations are at higher risk for complications if they get the flu, so the vaccine is especially important. This list includes babies over six months, children under age five, pregnant women, seniors and anyone with a chronic health condition. 

When should you get the flu shot?

Roll out is different in each province, but begins in the fall – either October or November. Your best bet is to get the flu shot as soon as it becomes available. It takes a few weeks for the flu shot to become active and protect you, so you want to get it before flu season starts. 

Where can you get the flu shot?

This varies by province, but is generally available at your doctor’s office, local health department, flu shot clinic, walk-in clinics, and many pharmacies. 

Will you get the flu shot this year?

References:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321207.php

https://www.ontario.ca/page/flu-shot-safety

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/get-the-flu-vaccine-reduce-your-risk-of-death-201509158274

https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2015001/article/14218-eng.htm

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa070844

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/symptoms.html

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

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