Giving it my Best Shot

Yom Tov is over. Time to turn our thought to influenza or flu season which is just around the corner. Flu season generally runs from October through May.

My readers know I am a proponent of the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine assumes special importance this year. Let’s start with the flu vaccine during “ordinary” years when there is no pandemic.

I advise and encourage my patients to receive the flu vaccine. It is not perfect and there have been cases of flu even after being vaccinated. The flu vaccine is made of dead flu viruses. Since they’re dead, you can’t catch the flu from them. Also, when you get a vaccine, it takes about 2 weeks for your body to be ready to fight. In addition, many viruses mimic flu symptoms. The nasal flu vaccine is a live vaccine and as such is not given to immunocompromised patients or those with chronic conditions like diabetes or asthma.

Nonetheless, the flu vaccine mitigates against stronger symptoms and a person’s becoming even sicker. Lest we forget, the flu can kill people. This was true before Covid-19 or Corona became household words.

In a nutshell, this is what we need to know as “background” about the flu vaccine.

1. Get the flu vaccine as soon as you can to protect yourself. Everyone age 6+ months should have the flu vaccine. (Under the age of 9 years, there should be a history of 2 flu seasons in one season).

2. Children age 2 years and younger who come down with the flu are more likely to have serious complications. As a result, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the flu vaccine for just about everyone who are at least 6 months old.

3. Any person with a chronic illness, heart disease, diabetes, on steroids or immunosuppressives must be vaccinated.

4. In addition, babysitters, housekeepers, teachers, rebbes, morahs, therapists and others who work with children should also be vaccinated.

5. Even if you’re healthy, your co-workers, friends, or family may not be. Getting vaccinated protects you and them from catching and spreading the flu.

The flu vaccine assumes a special importance this year. Even if you have never had the flu vaccine previously, now is the time to get it. I’ll explain why.

The flu vaccine has many benefits. First, the flu vaccine saves lives. A 2017 study in the journal called Pediatrics demonstrated flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half (51 percent) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65 percent) among healthy children.

According to the CDC, the flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. During 2018-2019, for example, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths. During seasons when the flu vaccine viruses are similar to circulating flu viruses, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with the flu by 40-60%. Further, the flu vaccine can reduce the number of flu-related hospitalizations.

While it’s not possible to say with certainty what will happen in the rest of the Fall and Winter, the CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading. Further, it is possible to have both the flu and Covid-19 at the same time. Health experts do not yet have data how often this might happen.

In addition to a person feeling ill when contracting both the flu and Covid-19, the combination has the potential to overwhelm an already overtaxed health care system and tax it beyond imagination. But more importantly, the effect of both viruses together in an individual is a yet unknown. The immediate and long-term sequalae may not only be fatal but long standing. In this context, prevention, which means getting a flu vaccine, will be more important than ever. Hence, the CDC underscores that all people 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine.

Getting the flu vaccine will not protect you against Covid-19. However, getting the flu shot as early as possible in the season will help protect you against the flu, thereby reducing the chances that one might contract both the flu and Corona simultaneously.

It is safe to get the flu vaccine. It is preferable to do it in your doctor’s office as they can check the records to see if other vaccines are needed and then administer them and report them to the vaccine registry.

These are turbulent, uncertain times. What is certain is our ability to make healthy choices. Choose to be vaccinated (even if you wear a mask which will hopefully and quite possibly decrease the spread of the flu virus).

As I finish this “musing,” the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have announced a 13% increase in the number of pediatric Covid-19 patients. All the more reason to have the flu vaccine while healthy and to up up-to-date will all vaccines.

As always, daven.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.