Expert Q&A: why you should get a flu shot this year

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If you, like thousands of other people, spent a miserable week in bed with flu symptoms last winter, you can probably attest to the fact that the 2022-2023 flu season was a rough one for Tennesseans.

Fortunately, you can help reduce your chances of getting a serious case of seasonal flu this year by getting a flu shot.

WellTuned spoke with Dr. Sharon Moore-Caldwell, a physician and medical director for BlueCare Tennessee, to learn why it’s important to get the flu vaccine this year.

Why do we need to get a flu vaccine?

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: Any time you can decrease your risk of getting sick, it’s the right move. Everyone 6 months of age and older, with some exceptions, are recommended to get the flu vaccine. This is particularly important for people who are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications. After being vaccinated, you may be less likely to get the flu—or if you do, you should have a milder case. You may also be less likely to spread the flu, which can help protect the people around you.

Why should people make sure they get a flu vaccine this year in particular?

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: Tennessee had several years of what the CDC calls “low-severity influenza seasons” due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But last year, flu rates rebounded. The flu season began a little earlier than usual in 2022 in Tennessee. And flu activity increased earlier among all age groups. It wasn’t just adults getting sick.

Children had more cases of flu than adults in previous years and more were hospitalized. Experts believe flu cases may be on the rise again this year. Getting a flu vaccine can help provide important protection to you and your family. This is especially important when Covid-19 cases are also on the rise, which can increase your chance of getting sick with other illnesses like the flu.

What is the best time to get a flu vaccine?

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: Flu season usually begins in October. So it’s a good idea to get the vaccine before flu starts to circulate in your community. Fortunately, it’s easy to do. You can get flu shots at many locations: your grocery store, your local pharmacy, some urgent centers, and of course, your primary care doctor’s office. Some schools and businesses even host flu shot clinics to make it convenient to get vaccinated. Note: If you miss getting the shot at beginning of flu season, get it whenever you can. Late is better than never.

Will I notice any side effects with a flu shot?

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: You may not experience any side effects at all. You may have a sore arm afterward for a day or two. You might also notice a little soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. It’s also possible to be tired or develop a mild headache, fever, muscle aches, or nausea afterward. While inconvenient, these symptoms are actually signs that vaccine is doing its job of building immunity. Life-threatening allergic reactions to the vaccine are very rare.

What myths about the flu shot would you like to dispel?

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: One of the most common misconceptions about the flu vaccine is that it will give you the flu. You can’t get the flu from a flu vaccine. Only the influenza virus can give you a case of the flu. Some people also believe that the flu shot “doesn’t work” because it’s not 100% effective in protecting you from the flu. It is possible to come down with a case of influenza after you’ve been vaccinated. But the flu vaccine can reduce your chances of getting seriously ill and needing to go to the hospital.

What other vaccines should we get this year?

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: Since Covid-19 cases are on the rise again in Tennessee, you’re also at greater risk for coming down with a case of Covid-19. So, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I also recommend getting the recently approved Covid-19 vaccine if you can and haven’t already gotten one. Most people can get a Covid-19 vaccine and seasonal flu vaccine at the same time. There’s no need to make separate appointments or to wait between shots, but you should check with your doctor to be sure.

Experts also recommend that adults age 60 and older get vaccinated against RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which can cause very serious lower respiratory infections. About 6,000-10,000 adults die of RSV each year. Older adults who have serious health conditions, like heart disease or lung disease, are especially vulnerable.

If you have questions about vaccines and the ones you need, check with your primary care provider. They can help you take the steps necessary to stay as healthy as possible.

WellTuned: 7 flu facts: prevention, treatment & nutrition


Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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