As a nurse practitioner, I have the privilege of helping my patients understand the choices they have to protect and improve their health. I have found some misunderstandings by some people about the influenza vaccine. I thought I would just review some of the questions I have heard about the flu and COVID-19.
Question: Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
Answer: This is the most common misperception about the flu vaccine. The virus is killed before it is put into the flu shot. After getting the flu shot (or any vaccine) some people will feel ill with body aches, a low fever, and a headache. This is not the flu. This is your body’s immune system recognizing the foreign virus and reacting appropriately to it. I consider this a good sign that you have a healthy immune system and are building antibodies to the virus.
Question: If I do not typically get the flu why would I need the flu vaccine?
Answer: Vaccines are important for individual health and community health. While you may be lucky enough to have not gotten the flu in years past, there is no guarantee your luck will continue. If you get the flu, you may pass it on to others including your loved ones. Remember that last flu season, 2019-2020 had the highest recorded death rate for pediatric flu patients (matched by the 2017-2018 season).
Question: Will getting the flu vaccine lower my immune system and make me more vulnerable to COVID-19?
Answer: The flu vaccine does not weaken your immune system. Rather, it makes it stronger and ready to fight the influenza virus. There was a study in early 2020 that linked the flu shot to getting coronavirus, but the data from the study was later shown to have been analyzed incorrectly. We do not know what the consequences will be for those unfortunate people who end up getting infected with coronavirus and influenza virus at the same time. We also do not know if those who have recently had COVID-19 will be sicker if they get the flu than those have not had COVID-19. I recommend people talk to their healthcare provider about getting the flu vaccine.