We have been getting a lot of questions about the flu shot this year in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. We compiled some of your great questions and wanted to share them with everyone. Enjoy!
Q: I’m on the fence about getting the flu shot. Should I really get it?
A: The flu shot is helpful for not only protecting yourself but to those around you. As we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to protect those who are vulnerable to complications of getting infected and this is just as important with the flu. Those who might be at higher risk of complications from the flu include young children, pregnant women, those over 65 years old, people who are immunocompromised (some examples include those with chronic kidney disease, HIV, or cancer), and those taking medications that affect the immune system (some examples are certain medications for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer treatments, or corticosteroids). It is recommended that anyone 6 months and older receive the vaccine.
Q: I am over 65 years old and I heard there’s a different flu shot for me. Is this true?
A: If you’re 65 years or older then you have 2 different options. The first option is getting a high dose flu shot (Fluzone High Dose). This vaccine contains 3 strains of the flu virus at higher doses. Research shows that this vaccine was more protective against influenza compared to a regular dose vaccine containing the same 3 strains of flu virus (which by the way is not offered in Ontario this year). The second option is getting a flu shot that contains 4 strains of flu virus at regular doses which is called a quadrivalent vaccine and this is the one that is offered to all ages. Now the question is which one should you receive? If the high dose vaccine is available then this would be preferred. BUT if the high dose vaccine is not available (and we’ve been hearing that there is limited availability) then you should not wait and should receive the quadrivalent vaccine as it’s more important to be protected earlier. What is new this year is that you can also receive the high dose vaccine in pharmacies.
Q: I’ve never had the flu shot before. What can I expect?
A: The flu shot is usually very well tolerated with minimal side-effects. The vaccine is given into the muscle in the upper part of the arm (near your shoulder). The most common side-effect is that it may cause mild soreness which should go away within a day or two. More rarely would it cause flu-like symptoms such as chills, muscle aches, and a low grade fever. This doesn’t mean you have the flu and you cannot get the actual flu from the vaccine as this is an inactivated virus. What is also new during the COVID-19 pandemic is the enhanced precautions we are taking when giving the flu shot. We sanitize our rooms in between each patient and we will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). We kindly ask that you wear a face make or face covering. Since it is your first time receiving the flu shot we do recommend staying in the pharmacy for 15 minutes after your injection. Our flu shots are by appointment only so that we are able to keep everyone safe.
Q: Can I still get the flu shot if I have an egg allergy?
A: Most flu vaccines are manufactured in chicken eggs and may contain trace amounts of egg protein. The amount of egg protein contained in the vaccine is not considered high enough to cause any reaction in those who have an egg allergy so it would be safe to receive the flu vaccine. In those who had a very severe allergic reaction to eggs called anaphylaxis, there is a different flu vaccine called Flucelvax which is NOT made in chicken eggs so it does not contain egg protein. Flucelvax is a quadrivalent vaccine that can be given to those 9 years and older.
Q: My child doesn’t do well with needles. Is FluMist still an option?
A: FluMist is an intranasal vaccine rather than an injection meaning it is given as a nasal spray into the nose. FluMist is a live vaccine compared to the injection which is inactivated and is a quadrivalent vaccine meaning it still protects against the same 4 strains of influenza as the injection. Unfortunately FluMist is not covered by the Ontario government so anyone looking at this option would have to pay out of pocket or have private insurance to cover this. FluMist can be given to children 2 years and older as long as they do not have severe asthma or any immune-compromising condition.