There’s a lot of chatter out there about the vital necessity of this year’s flu vaccine.
But given all the public health blunders we’ve witnessed to date, it feels near impossible to trust anyone about anything in this department. But I do know that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the flu shot from my patients—most of whom hesitate before getting any vaccine.
So it’s probably safe to assume that this subject is on everyone’s mind…
Different year, same advice
Let’s start with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—which, in my opinion, has lost most of its credibility by kowtowing to the President and not sticking to their scientific guns—has to say.
Basically, the CDC wants all of us to get this year’s flu shot—unless, of course, you have a contraindication. They say, it’s “more important than ever” with COVID-19 floating around and threatening to overwhelm the healthcare system once more.
Now, this might surprise you… but believe it or not, I can see their point. Every year, millions of flu patients flood hospital emergency rooms, filling beds and accounting for a significant proportion of intensive care unit admissions.
The CDC says that if everyone got the vaccine, it may slow down that rush, and free up hospital resources for a second wave of COVID-19 patients.
But it’s also worth noting that this is the same advice they give every year.
And by and large, such campaigns have worked. Each year, more and more people line up for the shot. Last year, 62 percent of all kids and 45 percent of all adults got the flu vaccine. And guess what?
We still ended up with 16 million flu-related doctor visits, half a million hospitalizations, 35 million infections, and 80,000 deaths.
“Influenza vaccination of persons [6 months of age and older] to reduce prevalence of illness caused by influenza will reduce symptoms that might be confused with those of COVID-19,” they write. But you know what? I’m not buying that.
For one thing, the symptoms of COVID-19 are unique enough to be identifiably different from the seasonal flu, especially in most at-risk populations.
But even if that weren’t the case, doctors’ offices are often equipped with rapid flu and strep tests, which gives us a good idea of exactly which illness we’re dealing with right away, anyway.
So, while I get the CDC’s point, I just don’t think aggressive flu vaccination is the answer. Not only because its effectiveness is questionable (at best). But because, ultimately, there are some big question marks in terms of safety—especially in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
There’s a better way
There is very limited information available about how the flu vaccine might overlap with COVID-19. Do they interact with one another? Will the flu shot make COVID-19 more harmful? Less harmful? All we know for sure is that we really don’t know.
Now, here’s a short list of the groups the CDC has identified as being at higher risk for the flu:
- Infants and young children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years
- Adults aged 50 years and older
- Those with chronic lung disease (including asthma) and heart disease
- Those with kidney, liver, neurologic, blood-related, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes)
- Those who are immunocompromised for any reason (including from medication to HIV infection)
- Women who are, or who expect to be, pregnant during flu season
- Nursing home and long-term care facility residents
- American Indian and Alaskan natives
- Morbidly obese patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
- Caregivers or those who are in regular contact with any of these high-risk groups
In other words, we’re talking about pretty much the same groups of people who should already be taking extra precautions due to a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection.
The bottom line? Everything else about the 2020-21 flu season might be a little different, but my opinion on the flu vaccine hasn’t changed: There are much better ways to protect yourself through the winter and beyond.
As always, the decision whether or not to get the flu shot is a personal one. But no matter what you choose, I urge you to check out my Complete Guide to Year-Round Immunity. This comprehensive report outlines all of my top immune health recommendations, which nobody can afford to skip—this year, or any year.
“Influenza Vaccination Critical During Pandemic, CDC Says.” Medscape Medical News, 08/21/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/936148)