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Parkland Experts Answer Your Flu Vaccine Questions

COVID-19 isn’t the only dangerous virus stalking us this fall and winter. Influenza will likely reappear after taking the back seat to the SARS-CO-V-2 virus last winter, one of the mildest flu seasons ever recorded. Through March 2021, Dallas County Health and Human Services recorded only two flu cases and no deaths, compared with 18,186 cases and 25 deaths during the previous flu season.

“Thanks to social distancing, masking and reduced travel last winter, flu cases were at a record low,” said Carolee Estelle, MD, infectious disease specialist at Parkland Health & Hospital System, “but we expect that it will be back this fall and winter. There is a risk for unvaccinated people getting both flu and COVID at the same time and that could result in more serious illness for those individuals. We strongly urge everyone get a flu shot and a COVID vaccine.”

Why do you need a flu shot? Here are 5 key reasons, according to Dr. Estelle:

  1. A flu shot can save your life. Influenza is a potentially serious disease. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes.
  2. Complications of flu can be serious, and include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions like heart failure or diabetes.
  3. A flu shot can reduce your sick days. The flu accounts for 111 million lost workdays and about $7 billion in lost productivity and sick days annually.
  4. An annual flu vaccine is the best protection against flu. Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, protecting against strains of the virus that research indicates will be the most common during the upcoming season.
  5. Flu vaccination reduces severity of illness in most people who get vaccinated but still get sick. Many studies have shown that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization in individuals who got flu after being vaccinated.

Dr. Estelle added that a common misconception is that the flu vaccine gives you the flu. “Not true,” she said. “When getting the flu vaccine that uses a deadened form of the virus, the vaccine itself cannot give you the flu.”

Side effects from the flu shot are usually mild. Many people have no side effects and for those who do, they generally only last a day or so. Compared to a case of flu, which usually lasts for two weeks and can produce more serious symptoms, the flu shot is a preferable choice.

Who should get the flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get the flu shot every year, with only rare exceptions. Flu vaccination is especially important for people at highest risk of flu complications, including adults 65 and older, people with serious chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and young children.

When, where and how can you get a flu shot at Parkland?

  • Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 29, Walk-in-Wednesday clinics at Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers (COPCs) will offer flu vaccines. Dallas County residents can get their flu shot without an appointment from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday during flu season. To find the Parkland COPC nearest you, visit www.parklandhospital.com/locations
  • Parkland patients can get their flu shots beginning Monday, Sept. 27 with an appointment at their Parkland COPC provider’s office.
  • Parkland flu drive events will be held at various locations beginning Oct. 9. A schedule can be found at www.parklandhospital.com/community-calendar
  • Flu shots will be offered at no charge to the patient.

Is it okay to get a flu shot and COVID vaccine at the same time?

The CDC says it is safe to get both shots at the same time, although you may want to get each vaccine in a different arm to reduce any pain and swelling that might occur.

Can you get seasonal flu even if you get a flu vaccine?

Yes, it’s possible for the following reasons:

  • You may be exposed to flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated causing you to become ill before antibody protection develops, about 2 weeks after vaccination.
  • You may be exposed to a strain of flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Many different flu viruses circulate every year. A flu vaccine is created using the three or four flu viruses research suggest will be the most common.
  • Unfortunately, some people can become infected despite being receiving a vaccine effective against the virus strain they contract. Protection from flu vaccines varies from person to person depending on health and age factors.

One of flu’s victims in Dallas in January 2020 was Teresa “Reese” Termulo, 16-year old daughter of Parkland pediatrician, Cesar Termulo, MD. Although she did receive the flu vaccine, the strain of the virus that Reese contracted was not included in that year’s flu shot.

“When my daughter died, it was (and still remains) the most devastating, catastrophic, and sorrowful event in my life,” Dr. Termulo said. “Many people still ask me, ‘So what's the point of getting the flu shot? Doesn't your daughter's death prove it doesn't work?’”

Dr. Termulo answers by comparing getting a flu shot to wearing a seat belt.

“Over 10,000 people die every year in car accidents even though they wore a seat belt,” he said. “Does that mean you should drive on I-35 without wearing a seat belt? That would be crazy. If you sustained a very serious accident (like being hit by an 18-wheeler), you might die even if wearing a seatbelt. And that's what happened to my daughter. It was a one in a million chance for someone vaccinated to die with the flu. But it happens.”

Dr. Termulo, Dr. Estelle and other Parkland physicians strongly urge everyone get a flu shot this fall. “Remember, by protecting yourself, you’re also protecting others,” Dr. Termulo said.

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