Should You Get The Flu Shot This Winter?

With flu season well on its way and the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, you may be considering getting the flu shot. But, before you step up for the 'jab', here are a few things to consider.

flu shot

The Flu vs COVID-19

With winter well on its way, we become more susceptible to viral infection. And, while most of us have a book of home remedies to cure ‘the snotties’, the influenza virus is more dangerous than you might think. The National Institute for Communicable Disease in South Africa records between 7 000 and 12 000 seasonal influenza-associated deaths every year.

In the face of the novel Coronavirus, which has infected 202 South Africans as of Friday, 20 March 2020, preparing for flu season is more imperative than ever. Babies, young children, the elderly and those with heart disease and diabetes are especially vulnerable to contracting the influenza virus during colder months. And, as we know, these vulnerable populations are similarly susceptible to contracting COVID-19 with complications, such as double pneumonia.

Medical practitioners therefore confer that if you fall into one of these vulnerable categories, having yourself vaccinated against the flu is one of the best ways to avoid contracting both viral influenza and COVID-19. Even if you are not immune-compromised, experts agree that getting the flu shot may go a long way towards preventing serious illness this winter. However, there are a few things you should take into consideration before being vaccinated:

How Does It Work?

Each year, two influenza vaccine strains are developed. These vaccines are engineered to match the most prominent flu strains during the season. Two weeks after receiving the jab, you should begin to build up an immunity to these strains. However, you may still fall ill. But, studies show that the severity and duration of your illness may be reduced as a result of having been vaccinated.

Children as young as six months old can receive the flu vaccine. Although, all children aged between six months to nine years old must receive two doses of the vaccine, at least one month apart. This will ultimately boost their immune response. Children who suffer from respiratory illnesses should receive the flu vaccine, as it can help prevent severe complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.

In people older than 65, the flu vaccine also has many benefits. It is especially beneficial for those who have had a recent heart episode, those who have low immune response or other respiratory illnesses. For younger adults, getting vaccinated can save on missing out work days, paying for doctors bills and expensive over-the-counter medication.

flu shot

Benefits

On estimate, it can cost up to R15 000 a night for a stay in an Intensive Care Unit. This sure is a hefty price to pay, especially if you are not covered by a medical aid or a hospital plan. The flu vaccine can reduce your chance of being hospitalised for an extended stay by up to 50%. For parents with sickly children, being immunised can prevent passing on the illness to them. It also allows you to keep playing super mom or dad, all the while staying afloat at work. Caregivers, nurses and teachers may also consider it wise to get the vaccine.

Overall, while getting the flu vaccine cannot entirely prevent seasonal infections, it can reduce your recovery time and the possibility of being hospitalised. This saves you valuable time and money. Plus, you may actually be able to enjoy winter for a change!

Side-Effects

Common side-effects of the flu vaccine include:

  • Pain, redness and swelling in the area where you were immunised.
  • Drowsiness, tiredness or irritability.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Low grade fever of 37 – 38°C.

In addition to these side effects, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary season to season. The vaccine can prove less effective if the strain has not been well matched to the most common virus strain of the season. The vaccine is also known to be less effective in combating certain sub-types of flu, such as Influenza A (H3N2). Please note that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the flu vaccine has any effect on the COVID-19 virus either.

Not all vaccines are suitable for vegetarians, vegans or others who follow strict dietary specifications for religious reasons. People with an egg allergy are also susceptible to more severe side effects. Always consult with your doctor before receiving the flu vaccine to ensure that the ingredients do not contradict your dietary lifestyle.

Where To Get Vaccinated?

You should be able to access the flu vaccine at most large pharmacies and clinics. Dis-chem and Clicks pharmacies also offer flu vaccines. At Clicks, the flu shot is available for *R69.99, while Dis-Chem offers it for *R87 at their over-the-counter dispensaries. But, their in-house clinics administer the shot free of charge. Certain medical aids cover the cost of the flu vaccine as well.

Stay healthy!

Please note that this article is not intended to replace consultation with a medical professional. We are journalists, not qualified doctors.