Primary Care

Who should get a flu vaccine this year?

September 14, 2021
flu shot calendar

Health care experts are talking a lot about the flu vaccine this year due to COVID-19. If the COVID-19 virus is still circulating while flu cases are rising, it could make for a very challenging flu season for patients and the health system through the fall and winter. However, if more people get the flu vaccine, it can reduce flu cases, hospital stays and deaths. 

“An annual flu shot is always recommended for most everyone,” says Krystal E. Ainsley, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Riverside Williamsburg Family Medicine. “But, right now, we especially want you to consider getting one because fewer flu cases mean more resources for COVID-19.”

Dr. Ainsley says everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine this year. The best time to get one is early in the fall, but anytime during flu season is better than not getting one at all.

Read on to learn more about who should – and who shouldn’t – get a flu vaccine this year.

People at high risk for serious flu complications always need a flu shot.

For some people, flu can lead to serious or life-threatening health issues, including pneumonia, encephalitis myocarditis, myositis, multiorgan failure and sepsis. These issues are more common in:

  • Adults over the age of 65
  • Young children, especially those younger than 2
  • Pregnant women
  • Children with neurologic conditions
  • Anyone with certain medical conditions, including asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS

If you fall into one of these high-risk groups, a flu vaccine is always important for you. Studies prove that you can reduce your risk for flu-related problems in a major way by getting the shot.

“Even if COVID-19 weren’t an issue right now, your doctor would still strongly recommend the flu vaccine for you if you’re at high risk for flu-related complications,” Dr. Ainsley explains.

The flu vaccine is particularly important this year for essential workers and those at increased risk for COVID-19.

In addition to singling out persons at increased risk for serious flu complications, the flu vaccine is especially important this year for essential workers and people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The Department of Homeland Security defines an essential worker as anyone who is in the critical infrastructure workforce. This includes health care workers and those working in 16 other sectors, such as emergency services, transportation and water. 

Those at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include many of the same groups as flu, with some additions:

  • Anyone 65 years old and older
  • Residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • Persons of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions 
  • Persons in certain racial/ethnic groups

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, giving the flu vaccine to these groups will reduce the overall burden of respiratory illnesses on vulnerable populations, the health care system and other critical infrastructure.

Some people should not get a flu vaccine – but this is rare.

Only two groups of people should not get a flu vaccine:

  • Babies younger than 6 months should not get a flu vaccine. Once your baby turns 6 months old, call your pediatrician to see when they should get their first flu shot.
  • Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine should not get one. The CDC says this group “should not get a flu vaccine again.”

A note about egg allergies and flu vaccines.

Unless you’ve had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or nasal spray flu vaccine before, you don’t need to be concerned about getting these vaccines if you have an egg allergy – even if it’s a severe one. Research shows severe allergic reactions from the flu vaccine and nasal spray flu vaccine are unlikely in people with egg allergies. 

However, if you have severe allergic reactions to eggs (anything other than hives), you should receive a flu vaccine in a medical setting, and the procedure should be supervised by a health care provider who can recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.

Riverside offers free flu shots for those age 14 and up while supplies last. Learn how and where to get your free vaccine and get ready for flu season

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