Seasonal flu: the avoidable risk
During the COVID-19 years, our social circles collapsed, our lives focused on the essentials, almost to the exclusion of everything else: gatherings; events; friends; even family. While most of us successfully avoided the risk of a potentially deadly flu virus in COVID-19, there is another flu risk for which we should annually vaccinate ourselves: the seasonal flu virus.
When I was first elected as an MPP, I had never had the annual flu shot. And about every other year before my first election, I was laid flat for a few weeks by a lingering seasonal flu virus. As a new MPP, the then-Minister of Health extolled the virtues of the flu shot. I figured the risk of any discomfort from getting the flu shot had to be less than the misery I had endured from the flu in the previous few years.
Trying to be a good community role model, I took my first flu shot in 2003. And that year, I never had the flu. Nor did I suffer from any adverse effects after getting the flu shot. Needless to say, the next autumn, I made a specific point to see my doctor, and got the flu shot. And that year again, I never came down with the flu. Such was the case, the year after, and the year after, and every year since. It’s not a coincidence. In the 18 years I have had an annual autumn flu shot, I never once caught the flu!
Now, a cold is a germ, and a flu is a virus. I have had a head cold, but never the seasonal flu with its weeks-long aches and pains, sneezing and coughing, and feeling like death warmed over week after week. When I have had a cold, its symptoms have usually been milder, and of shorter duration.
The annual winter surge in hospital admissions is almost completely driven by influenza cases. The peak time for you to risk a hospital admission from the seasonal flu is from December to March. You can reduce your risk to almost zero with a free flu shot in early autumn.
Let’s understand the facts:
- The flu shot is absolutely free, and easily available from your doctor, and also at many pharmacies and clinics;
- You need to be healthy when you get your flu shot. As early in autumn as you can, and while you are healthy, get the flu shot;
- The flu shot works. If you take it, you are extremely unlikely to ever get the seasonal flu. Depending on the cold germ, most people even find colds to be milder if they have had the flu shot;
- The flu shot requires some time, in most people a week or two, before your immune system benefits from it. Get your flu shot early;
- You need the flu shot each and every year. Getting the flu shot sporadically through a decade isn’t the powerful protection that an annual flu shot offers. Not taking the flu shot makes you much more likely to be laid out for a week or more with a flu virus that is almost completely preventable;
- The flu vaccine is made from eggs, and it is made in Canada. It’s safe, and it sure beats having the flu. You need a flu shot every year. Each year’s flu virus ‘signature’ is locked down in February of that year to keep the flu viruses against which you are being vaccinated current.
Don’t put off the annual autumn flu shot, even if you have had multiple COVID-19 vaccination shots. Go into nearly any pharmacy, and ask for your flu shot. It is free. All you need is your OHIP card. Be sure each and every person in your household, especially children and seniors, get the flu shot.