Why your flu shot matters more this season than ever

Oct. 5, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by Sanford Health.

Given the presence of the pandemic, this is not just another flu season coming up.

Protecting yourself with a vaccine will involve new conditions. It will not be about lining up and just getting a shot. It’s not the only virus we need to worry about in the coming months.

Most important to remember is that getting a flu shot remains a wise decision as we all enter that flu season window. The coronavirus pandemic remains among us, but that should not be a deterrent to helping protect yourself from the flu.

It is to the contrary, in fact. The truth is the flu shot is now more important than ever.

“We’re doing our part here at Sanford to get the word out,” said Andrea Polkinghorn, Sanford Health immunization strategy leader. “We will be stressing the importance of the vaccine and how we’ve improved access to them. From the clinicians’ side of things, this is on everybody’s mind. We’re really making a bigger push this year than we ever have before, and we’re doing that because of the pandemic.”

Immunization officials like Polkinghorn have been involved in encouraging people to get influenza vaccines for years. Overcoming misinformation continues to be an additional challenge.

Vaccinations are safe and positively impact the health of the community a great deal. The pandemic has not changed that. It’s the environment around that effort that has made conditions more challenging.

“Because we are midst a pandemic, on the public health side of things, there’s great concern about COVID and influenza co-circulating this fall and that people could potentially contract both diseases at the same time,” Polkinghorn said. “Not only is that alone concerning, but you also have to think about the impact on the health system.”

Talk of straining the health care system capacity based solely on coronavirus concerns has quieted down. A flu outbreak fueled by a reluctance to get a vaccination could potentially be a problem, however. Worse yet, it’s an avoidable problem.

“We want to reduce the burden of influenza,” Polkinghorn said. “We want to reduce influenza-related hospitalizations by improving vaccine rates so that we don’t burden the health system and can conserve the PPE.”

So what goes into coming up with the flu vaccine that millions will receive in the coming months?

No. 1, the World Health Organization monitors influenza activity throughout the seasons and the strains that are most prevalent. The WHO then picks the most common strains and puts them in a vaccine.

In other words, it is a prediction about the strains that will be most prevalent the coming season.

“Influenza viruses are smart. They can change and mutate, and because of that, sometimes we get a vaccine that doesn’t match as well as we’d hoped,” Polkinghorn said. “But it still has a lot of benefits even if a person who takes the vaccine gets the virus.”

The advantage to taking the vaccine even if it’s not entirely effective in warding off influenza is not just a footnote in this instance. It will definitely soften the impact.

“It will shorten the course of the disease, the patient will experience less-severe symptoms, and it dramatically decreases the risk of hospitalization and death,” Polkinghorn said. “So even if it’s not 100 percent, there are many benefits a person will receive from being vaccinated.”

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Why your flu shot matters more this season than ever

Given the presence of the pandemic, this is not just another flu season coming up: Why you should consider getting your vaccination today.

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