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Why this year’s flu vaccine is safer than ever

Yale New Haven Health physicians share why the flu vaccine is necessary armor this winter

Known for its own pandemic nearly a century ago, influenza spreads easily through respiratory droplets and can have serious and even deadly outcomes. But unlike COVID-19, experts have already spent decades developing a safe and effective flu vaccine.  

“Each year in the US over 130 million people get vaccinated against the flu,” said Richard Martinello, MD, medical director, Infection Prevention, Yale New Haven Health. “The flu vaccine is one of the most heavily studied and understood vaccines.”

Before a vaccine was developed people relied on ineffective measures to combat flu such as salt up the nose, bathing in onions and drinking cinnamon and milk.  

We have come so far from vegetable baths, in fact, that Karen Brown, MD, medical director, Primary Care, Northeast Medical Group says “I would not dream of skipping my annual flu vaccine because you can be contagious before getting sick. I am very honest with my patients in that they may have had side effects 5 or 10 years ago, but we are getting better at production, so it has never been safer to get vaccinated.”

Still don’t have your vaccination date scheduled? 

Physicians from Yale New Haven Health share what you need to know before the 2020/2021 flu season: 

 The flu shot is necessary even if you are social distancing 

“The key issue this year is preventing the twindemic of flu and COVID-19 which could stress our health system,” Dr. Brown said. “Additionally, we don’t know if there is any interaction between the two viruses. What we do know is that the vaccine effectively protects against hospital, especially ICU admissions.”

You can get the flu shot even with an egg allergy 

The flu vaccine was developed in the 1940s, using fertilized chicken eggs in a method that is still used to produce most flu vaccines today. However, according to Dr. Brown, “people who have egg allergies can get the flu vaccine. It is only people with severe egg allergies who need an adjusted formula.”

The flu shot cannot give you the flu

According to Stephanie Rowe, DO, medical director, Walk-in Services and Video Care OnDemand, Northeast Medical Group, “you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine because it is not a live virus.” The vaccine contains small components of the virus to stimulate antibody production. You may feel tired, sore or achy after getting the vaccine – but that is an immune reaction. Dr. Rowe says, “the nasal option has some live vaccine, but most people get the intramuscular injection.”

You do not need a prescription to get the flu vaccine

Many flu clinics are putting forth effort to be accessible. “No doctor’s note is required for a flu vaccine,” Dr. Rowe said. “At Yale New Haven Health we are working to make the vaccine as accessible as possible. To maintain social distancing, patients need an appointment, but our dedicated flu clinics are open weekends, evenings and holidays. Some of our sites are even offering drive thru options.” 

Avoiding the twindemic

“I am hopeful that people will get vaccinated – but also hopeful that with masks and maintaining social distance we will see less cases of the flu and more people working together to keep our community healthy,” Dr. Rowe said.