Smita Wadhwani, RN, BSN, CCM, director of case management, Blue Cross &
Blue Shield of Rhode Island
With cold and flu season upon us, getting the
flu vaccine should be on the top of your healthcare checklist. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best time to get the flu
vaccination is early in the fall. It can take up to two weeks for antibodies to
develop in order to protect the human body from the influenza virus, making an
early vaccine important for effectively heading off exposure. While the flu
shot is not a guarantee against getting the flu, it limits risks associated
with the most anticipated (seasonal vaccine) or common (traditional vaccine)
strains. Recent studies show that a flu vaccination reduces the risk of illness
by 40-60 percent among the overall population when flu viruses are well-matched
to the vaccine.
I got vaccinated last year; why do I need to
do it again?
The flu is more than just a bad cold. Each
year, nearly 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized as a
result of infections related to the flu virus. The most prevalent strains of the
virus change from year to year and the antibodies developed as a result of the
vaccine weaken over time, so it’s critical that we get the updated vaccine
every year. Like colds, the flu can be highly contagious (especially for those
of us in the Northeast who spend a lot of time in enclosed spaces in the
winter), so even if you are generally healthy, you still have a risk of
contracting the flu. Also, because young infants (under 6 months old) cannot
receive the vaccine, if you spend time around babies, lowering your risk of flu
also lowers theirs.
I’m retired and not in an office or school
every day; do I really need another shot or doctor’s visit?
The vast majority of flu related deaths occur
among those older than 65; seniors are at higher risk for contracting the flu
because their bodies can’t fight off antibodies as easily as when they were
young. To counteract this risk, since 2009 seniors have been encouraged to get
a specific form of the vaccine designed for older adults. This “high dose vaccine”
creates a stronger immune response and seniors who relied on this version of
the vaccine had 24 percent fewer influenza infections as compared to those who
received the standard dose flu vaccine. Though the high dose vaccine is
associated with slightly stronger side effects (including pain at the at the
injection site), the increased protection is considered crucial for this
I’m pregnant and have never gotten the flu
before; won’t getting a vaccine now be bad for my child?
It’s incredibly beneficial for expectant
mothers to receive a flu shot – both for mother and child. According to the
CDC, flu shots given during pregnancy have been shown to protect both the
mother and baby from influenza for several months after birth. Babies of
vaccinated women are about one-third less likely to get sick with flu than
babies of unvaccinated women.
It is important to note that the flu shot
doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu. Different strains of the vaccine,
timing of the vaccine, and other factors can still create a risk of illness.
Therefore, good hygiene habits (handwashing, covering your mouth when you
cough, etc.) remain important.
Flu vaccinations are available free of charge
to typically anyone with insurance – your doctor’s office, local health center
and even pharmacies can provide them. However, those with severe allergic
reactions to eggs should receive the vaccine from a health care provider who
can identify and address a severe allergic reaction as recommended by the CDC.
For more information on receiving a flu shot
or preventing the flu, please visit www.bcbsri.com/flu.