Flu Defense: National Vaccination Week Guide 

It's that time of year again - flu season is in full swing. As illnesses rise during the winter months, there's no better time than National Influenza Vaccination Week (December 4-8) to get informed about that important flu shot. 

Getting vaccinated is vital to keeping ourselves and our communities healthy, especially the most vulnerable groups. Let's explore the details around influenza, this year's prevalent strains, and bust some common flu vaccine myths. 

What Exactly is the Flu? 

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs[1]. The flu spreads easily through coughing, sneezing, or talking which propels droplets containing the virus into the air where they can infect others. 

Typical flu symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, tiredness, cough, and sore throat. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur, especially in children[1]

Flu symptoms often come on suddenly. Most people who get the flu recover within one to two weeks without requiring medical treatment[1]. However, the flu can cause serious complications for vulnerable groups like the elderly, very young children, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses[1]

Potential dangerous flu complications include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, heart problems, and sepsis. The flu also worsens symptoms for those with conditions like diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)[1]

Why Should I Get My Flu Shot? 

Getting vaccinated is the best way to guard yourself against influenza infection and transmitting it to more vulnerable people you encounter. Below outlines key reasons to get your annual flu shot[2]

  • Protects You From Illness & Complications: The vaccine significantly reduces the chances of contracting the flu and protects against severe symptoms or complications if infected. It typically cuts risk by 40-60% when strains in the shot and circulating virus are well matched[2]. Some protection occurs even with a mismatch.
  • Shields Vulnerable Loved Ones: By getting vaccinated, you lower the risk of transmitting influenza to more susceptible groups like babies, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals[2]. This indirect protection through reduced spread in the community is called herd immunity. 
  • Saves Healthcare Resources: Widespread vaccination alleviates strain on healthcare systems facing demands from flu patient hospitalizations[2]. It minimizes disruptions to work, school, and everyday life that influenza outbreaks can cause. 
  • Safe For Pregnancy: The flu vaccine is safe and recommended for pregnant women at any trimester. Illness during pregnancy increases the risks of birth defects, miscarriage, and premature labor[2]. The vaccine passes protective antibodies to infants too young for their own shot. 

Overall, flu shots are the most effective strategy we have against unpredictable seasonal influenza outbreaks. 

Flu Vaccine Misconceptions 

Despite strong evidence of safety and efficacy, common flu shot myths persist that discourage some groups from vaccination. Let’s explore a few and why they’re untrue[3][4]

Myth: The Flu Vaccine Causes Illness 

  • False – The vaccine cannot cause full-blown flu illness. None contain live viruses, only inactivated or weakened strains incapable of infection. Side effects like low fever, body aches or headache may occur post-vaccination, but subside in days. 

Myth: Healthy Adults Don't Need Flu Shots 

  • False – Even healthy adults can benefit from protection against lost productivity at work and everyday life disruptions flu infection causes. Those unvaccinated also risk transmitting the virus to threatened groups. 

Myth: Flu Shots Don’t Work on New Strains 

  • Misleading – Vaccine effectiveness depends partly on how well strains it contains match the ones circulating, which virologists analyze to formulate shots. Some mutation and mismatch occur, but the vaccine still provides protection, especially against severe outcomes. Those vaccinated typically experience milder symptoms during mismatched flu seasons. 

Myth: The Flu Vaccine Causes Infertility 

  • False – No evidence suggests getting a flu shot impacts fertility or pregnancy. This misconception may stem from outdated fears over a past vaccine suspending the use of

thimerosal, but health authorities found it safe. Flu shots are universally recommended before and during pregnancy. 

Myth: I Have Egg Allergies, So No Flu Shot For Me 

  • Misleading – Those with legitimate severe egg allergies should first be skin tested or given the vaccine fractioned to eliminate egg proteins under medical supervision. However, many mistakenly self-diagnose egg allergies. Flu shots are usually low-risk for those who can eat lightly cooked eggs. Discuss concerns with your doctor. 

Make sure to consult your physician or local health unit to address any other questions or concerns around the influenza vaccine. Don't let misinformation deter you. 

Which Flu Strains Are Hitting This 2023-2024 Season? 

Public health experts must regularly update annual flu vaccines to target specific viral strains experts predict will circulate in the approaching season. This helps enhance protective effects against lineages actually spreading through communities during flu outbreaks. 

For this 2023-2024 Northern Hemisphere influenza season, health agencies are currently observing higher rates of two co-circulating flu viruses: influenza A(H3N2) and influenza B/Victoria[5][6]

Influenza A Viruses 

Influenza A viruses are the only influenza strains known to cause flu pandemics. This happens when novel versions emerge that most people lack immunity against, enabling global spread[7]. There are many different subtypes of influenza A distinguished by key proteins called hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) on their surfaces. Currently, predominant influenza A viruses include[7]

  • A(H3N2): H3N2 strains evolved from the 1968 influenza pandemic. They tend to disproportionately impact seniors over 65 years old and are associated with more severe flu seasons. 
  • A(H1N1): Descended from the 2009 swine flu pandemic, H1N1 viruses continue circulating. 

All influenza A viruses, including H3N2 and H1N1, stem from reservoirs in wild birds and can sometimes jump to mammals like pigs or humans. However, influenza A, especially H3N2, continues posing a concern. 

Influenza B Viruses 

While less discussed than influenza A, B viruses contribute significantly to seasonal flu epidemics. First isolated in the 1940s, influenza B infections can cause similar illnesses to

A strains and require annual vaccine reformulation. These viruses evolve slower than A flu, undergoing less frequent antigenic shifts[7]

Influenza B rarely causes pandemics but remains an important target for seasonal flu vaccination. 

Who's Most at Risk From Flu Complications? 

While anyone can get sick with influenza, some groups face higher chances of developing dangerous complications or dying if infected. Make sure these vulnerable sectors take special priority in getting their annual flu shot[8]

  • Young Children: Babies and toddlers have underdeveloped immune systems, raising infection risks, along with greater chances of severe outcomes. Children younger than 5 years old, especially those under 6 months, experience elevated flu hospitalization and mortality rates. 
  • Seniors: Adults aged 65 years or older demonstrate a higher incidence of flu complications, like pneumonia, exacerbated underlying conditions, respiratory failure, heart problems, and death. Declining immunity from aging raises susceptibility. 
  • Pregnant Women: Expecting mothers who contract the flu during pregnancy face amplified risks of premature delivery, birth defects, miscarriage, and other complications. Getting vaccinated protects mothers and passes protective antibodies onto babies too young for their own shot. 
  • Those with Chronic Conditions: Suffering from illnesses like asthma, COPD, heart disease, or diabetes amplifies the dangers from influenza infection, which can worsen symptoms. The flu also interacts dangerously with chronic conditions by raising inflammation. 
  • Immunocompromised: HIV/AIDS patients, organ transplant recipients taking immunosuppressive drugs or those receiving chemotherapy have underperforming immune defenses. The flu can more easily overcome weakened immune systems to wreak havoc. Even mild influenza illnesses can become overwhelming. 

Don’t forget – getting your flu shot also safeguards these threatened groups by curbing community transmission. 

When Should I Get My Flu Shot? 

Flu viruses circulate year-round in the tropics, then spread into temperate regions during their characteristic cold and flu season epidemics each winter. In the United States, health officials recommend getting vaccinated early before activity accelerates, ideally prior to the end of October[8]. However, getting immunized even later into flu season remains beneficial with widespread cases peaking between December and February[8].

It takes around two weeks after getting vaccinated to develop peak immune response and full protection. But shot-triggered defenses can still combat infection even if flu exposure occurs shortly after. Unlike many childhood vaccines requiring years between doses, the CDC says you should get your flu shot annually before each season starts or at least when rising activity hits your locale[9]

While timing guidelines aim to cover pre-outbreak, keep in mind influenza unpredictably circulates and Flu vaccines work immediately with no upper-bound cut-off dates. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the ideal window – go get vaccinated even during December, January, or later! 

Where Can I Get My Flu Shot? 

The good news about influenza vaccines is major accessibility with options to get immunized at a wide variety of locations. Check availability through: 

  • Doctor's Offices & Health Clinics: Both general physician and specialist medical offices commonly offer flu shots. Outpatient health clinics provide another convenient choice to inquire. 
  • Pharmacies & Drugstores: Many pharmacy chain locations across the U.S. administer influenza vaccines, often with walk-in availability. Common options include CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and various grocery store pharmacies. 
  • Workplaces: Some employees provide options for workers to get company-sponsored flu shots at offices or job sites through arranged health staff visits. Inquire internally about on-location vaccination policies. 
  • Schools & Universities: School-based vaccination programs bring mobile flu shot clinics to safely deliver immunizations to students and faculty. College health centers similarly arrange vaccine availability. 
  • Public Health Departments: Check for community vaccination drives, local health department events, or family immunization days promoting flu shots across your county or region. 

Seek out whichever accessible, affordable option fits your situation - there are plenty to choose from! 

Flu Shots Protect Communities 

This National Influenza Vaccination Week serves as the perfect reminder to prepare yourself and your loved ones against influenza risks lurking this season. We all have a role to play in overcoming the collective threat of both seasonal flu epidemics and potential future influenza pandemics through widespread vaccination. Do your part to achieve community protection!

References: 

[1] Cold, Symptoms Common. "Flu." Nightime Relief. Acetaminophen, Doxylamine, Dextromethorphan, Alcohyl 10.6. 

[2] Trombetta, Claudia Maria et al. “Influenza Viruses and Vaccines: The Role of Vaccine Effectiveness Studies for Evaluation of the Benefits of Influenza Vaccines.” Vaccines vol. 10,5 714. 1 May. 2022, doi:10.3390/vaccines10050714 

[3] Le Saux, N. “Dispelling myths held by parents about the influenza vaccine.” Paediatrics & child health vol. 14,9 (2009): 618-22. doi:10.1093/pch/14.9.618 

[4] Franchi, Fabio, Manuela Lucarelli, and Livio Giuliani. "Flu: an epidemic of misconceptions." J Vaccines Vaccin 9.383 (2018): 2. 

[5] CDC. “Information for the 2023-2024 Flu Season.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Nov. 2023, www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2023-2024.htm

[6] Mitchell, Bobby. “Influenza Antigens for Northern Hemisphere’s 2023-2024 Flu Season - the Native Antigen Company.” The Native Antigen Company, 14 Feb. 2023, 
thenativeantigencompany.com/influenza-antigens-for-northern-hemispheres-2023-2024-flu-seas on/

[7] CDC. “Types of Influenza Viruses.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Mar. 2023, www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/types.htm

[8] Schmidt, Stephani. "Complications of flu." SA Pharmaceutical Journal 82.4 (2015): 23-27. 

[9] CDC. “Summary of Recommendations.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Aug. 2023, www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/summary/summary-recommendations.htm.