Why Flu Shots Are Going To Be More Important Than Ever

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Person receiving a vaccine
Scary Mommy and Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty

We are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one thing we don’t need to add to this freaking mess is a horrible flu season. So, I’m saying this with all the gentleness and love I can muster: Get your damn flu shot.

No, the novel coronavirus is not the flu. Your flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19. That’s not what I’m saying. I am fully aware that COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus called SARS-COV-2, and it literally has nothing to do with the seasonal flu.

But influenza is its own beast. It hospitalizes and kills people every single year. It’s not a harmless little virus. Don’t believe me? Ask 1918. She’ll tell you.

What we do not need to add to the hellscape that is 2020 is a horrid flu season. There’s no COVID vaccine yet, but luckily for us, there is a widely available flu vaccine. This year more than ever, you need to get your flu shot.

If you’re over the age of six months and you don’t have a valid medical contraindication to vaccination, you need to march your ass to your doctor or pharmacy (masked up, of course) and get vaccinated.

Seriously. Stop making excuses, buying into anti-vaccine conspiracies, putting lives at risk, and being ridiculous. If it’s medically safe for you to do it, get the damn vaccine.

Just a quick flu shot refresher:

  1. Flu shots contain inactivated virus. That means the virus is dead, so it cannot replicate in your body. It is literally impossible for the flu shot to cause the flu. It can make you feel kind of crummy for a few days. That’s called an immune response, and it’s a good sign that your body is building a defense against the flu virus. But that’s not the flu, and you aren’t contagious during that period.
  2. Most flu shots do not contain mercury. If you’re worried about that just tell your doctor or pharmacist. They can make sure the shot you receive is mercury free. But just FYI: The evidence overwhelmingly suggests thimerosol in vaccines is not an issue.
  3. Small children getting their first flu shot will need two doses. The first one primes the immune system, and the second one actually helps develop immunity. It’s a bummer, but that’s how it goes. I have a baby getting two doses this year, and I’m not looking forward to seeing her hurt for a minute, but it’s for her protection. She will be okay.
  4. Vaccines are extensively researched and are very safe. The anti-vaccine movement is dangerous. It has done a spectacular job twisting the truth, spreading misinformation and scaring the shit out of parents for profit, but there is absolutely no actual scientific evidence that supports their “cause.” The entire anti-vaxx philosophy hinges on conspiracy theories and a deep misunderstanding of science. Actual, reputable scientists and doctors all agree that vaccines are safe and effective.

I usually try to write about vaccines with some level of understanding for the vaccine hesitant, but honestly, at this point, I can’t muster up the sympathy. We are watching the novel coronavirus completely change everything we have ever known. That’s not enough to make everyone think, “Hmm, maybe I should do what I can to make sure we don’t throw the fuel of a flu epidemic on top of this raging COVID dumpster fire?”

Before anyone goes all bonkers on me about how flu shots don’t even work, just stop. Yes, they do. They don’t always prevent the flu completely, and their efficacy rates are lower than say, MMR, but some prevention is better than none. Not to mention, flu shots are proven to reduce the length and severity of the illness, and decrease hospitalizations.

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Do I really need to explain why that’s important right now?

Taxing our hospitals even further with tons of flu cases is a terrible idea during a freaking pandemic. First of all, in some places, COVID outbreaks have already consumed all the available resources. But more importantly, healthcare workers are human beings, and they also get sick. If everyone got their flu vaccine, fewer doctors and nurses would end up with the flu. That’s important because a sick healthcare worker can’t care for a sick you.

Well, I guess I should say a sick healthcare worker shouldn’t have to come to work to care for a sick you.

Because if we add influenza insult to COVID injury, they might feel an obligation to try to power through before they are fully recovered. If ICUs are overflowing, and it’s a matter of life and death for their patients, a doctor or nurse might end up having to work when they’re still sick. It’s incredibly unfair to healthcare workers who deserve to be able to take a time off when they have the damn flu.

If the healthcare system doesn’t move you to action, can we talk about schools? Fever, chills, cough, fatigue, body aches, sore throat and headache are all possible symptoms of COVID-19. They’re also all symptoms of the flu.

Now when a kid shows up to school and starts running a fever halfway through the day, they’re going to need a COVID test. Everyone who has been around them might need to be quarantined or on alert.

A horrible flu season during the COVID pandemic will make school a living nightmare for the people who are trying to facilitate education for our kids under these totally craptastic circumstances. We have to do our best to keep the flu season moderate. Flu shots are how we can do that.

The flu/COVID confusion is inevitable to some degree because some of the symptoms overlap. Some people, even vaccinated ones, will still get the flu this year. But a flu shot can make you less likely to get the flu, and make your illness less likely to require hospitalization. It’s seriously your obligation as a decent human to get the tiny little jab this year.

Flu shots are not perfect, but if everyone who is medically able gets one, we can at least try not to make everything more difficult for each other during an already out-of-control stressful time.

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