Every October, people return to a familiar conversation: Should you get the flu shot? As flu season begins in the Northern Hemisphere, this question—along with other concerns—circulates among families, and in schools and workplaces. “I heard it isn’t as effective this year.” “I was told you should wait until it’s colder.” “My friend got a flu shot last year, and she had a fever afterward.”
There’s no shame in being concerned. The flu is a complicated disease caused by a family of influenza viruses. Each year, different variations of influenza circulate and become widespread globally. Flu experts at more than 100 influenza centers around the world keep track of these different variations, or strains, and go through an intensive research process to identify which strains may be the most common in a given season. This research process leads to the creation of the season’s vaccine, which is intended to protect against common flu strains that winter. But the seasonality of the flu leads to variation in both flu severity and vaccine effectiveness from year to year.
While COVID-19 may be dominating the health conversation right now, doctors and other experts are urging Americans to consider flu vaccination as well. The flu has caused between 140,000 and 810,000 estimated hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 estimated deaths each year since 2010, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2020, experts are particularly concerned that the seasonal flu may become a burden for hospitals, which are already caring for an influx of COVID-19 patients. The flu and COVID-19 also have similar symptoms and can require similar equipment from hospitals and health labs, which makes a double epidemic even more concerning.
In order to address flu concerns and help readers make decisions for themselves and their families, FindCare compiled a list of 20 common concerns about flu vaccination from friends, family, and online forums. Those questions were then sent to six doctors and epidemiologists, who responded based on their expertise.
The experts consulted in this story are:
- Emily Temple-Wood, D.O.; family medicine resident at Lutheran General Hospital
- Jessica Malaty Rivera, M.S.; infectious disease researcher and science communication lead at the COVID Tracking Project
- Lindsey Shultz, M.D.; physician, public health analyst, and expert contributor to COVID Explained
- Josh Petrie, Ph.D.; assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Rachel Roper, Ph.D.; associate professor at the East Carolina University Medical School
- Allison Messina, M.D.; chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
Read on to learn more about how flu vaccination works and why experts consider it important.