Seasons are changing and winter is well on its way. For Mzansi, it means that flu season is here. Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, head of operation at the Bonitas Medical Fund, answers all your burning questions about the flu vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annual flu epidemics result in as many as five million cases of severe illness around the world, and anywhere between 300 000 and 650 000 deaths.
Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town’s health department has urged especially vulnerable citizens to get their flu shot to avoid developing severe illness.
The flu can cause severe complications in persons with pre-existing conditions, says the city’s mayoral committee member for community services, councillor Patricia van der Ross.
“The flu vaccine, like all other vaccines, will not prevent illness but lowers your chance of getting it, and will ease the symptoms and speed up recovery in the event that you do contract it,” she explains.
‘We continue to encourage personal hygiene, especially hand washing and coughing etiquette. Flu vaccines are an additional health measure offered by city clinics free of charge. In addition, you can receive your flu shot and Covid-19 vaccine on the same day as there is no waiting period between the administration of the two,” Van der Ross adds.
What you should know about the influenza vaccine
Mkhatshwa answers all commonly asked questions about the flu vaccine:
Why should I consider getting the flu shot?
How does the flu virus differ from the Covid-19 virus?
According to WHO the Covid-19 and influenza viruses are similar in disease presentation. “Firstly, they both cause respiratory disease, which presents a wide range of illness from asymptomatic or mild through to severe disease and death.
“Secondly, both viruses are transmitted by contact, droplets and any material that can carry infection. As a result, the same public health measures such as hand hygiene and social distancing is recommended.”
Why do I need a shot every year?
The flu virus changes every year, this means last year’s vaccine will not keep you safe this year. The vaccine helps your immune system fight off the virus by producing antibodies – the soldiers in your body that battle the flu virus.
Is it safe for me to get both the Covid-19 vaccine and flu vaccine?
As per the National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme Circular 3 of 2022, the answer is yes. However, it is recommended that if you decide to have both vaccines at the same time, then one should be on the left arm and one on the right.
Who should NOT have the flu vaccine?
- Individuals who are allergic to eggs or egg proteins as the manufacturing process for the vaccine involves the use of chicken eggs.
- Infants under 6 months of age – the vaccines are not licensed for use in such young children.
- Individuals who may have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past – if you are unsure discuss with your healthcare provider.
- Individuals who may be suffering from flu symptoms already.
Will I get sick after taking the vaccine?
According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), “A flu shot cannot cause flu. Flu vaccines are currently made either with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are not infectious or with no flu vaccine viruses at all. The most common side-effects from the vaccine are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines are very rare.”
‘I’m sorry I am still not convinced’
Flu viruses spread very quickly from person to person. Even if the flu vaccine is not 100% effective against the current flu strain, it will reduce your risk of getting flu and, if you do get it, it will be a great deal milder.
More importantly, by having the flu vaccine you protect others, who may be vulnerable family members, small babies, the elderly or those who are immune compromised. As with Covid-19, the more people vaccinated the closer we can get to “herd immunity”.