Every year, this is a common question I get asked from our patients and also submitted by the public on social media and online. This year it’s even more confusing and the answers aren’t easy for many with chronic illness or autoimmune conditions. It doesn’t help that public health officials and the media are promoting the flu shot as a critical part of the fight against COVID-19. The main concern is that people could get both illnesses at the same time, which would increase the risks of severe complications or death if this happened.
However, let me just add a few words of calm into this storm. First, if you are a high risk person and quarantining this winter, or at least being extremely cautious and wearing a mask and maintaining social distance guidelines when outside your home or your “quarantine bubble”, then you are unlikely to get either the flu or Covid. The same measures you are doing not to get coronavirus will drastically reduce your likelihood of getting the flu.
I think we need to continue to discuss the flu shot in the same context that I have talked about it for years. In my opinion, all medical decisions should be based on comparing the risks vs. benefits of any medication or treatment for each individual person. This approach is called Personalized Medicine, and how we approach all treatment decisions through the lens of Functional Medicine at Blum Center for Health. What is good for your friend might not be good for you.
IS THE FLU SHOT RIGHT FOR YOU?
In general I do recommend the flu shot, especially this year, for people who could likely become hospitalized or die from getting the flu: children, anyone over 65; those with pulmonary or respiratory diseases like asthma and emphysema; and people with any chronic illnesses like cancer or severe/life threatening illnesses. And for those at high risk of becoming hospitalized or dying from COVID: people with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease. Also important to note, if you are a caretaker for the elderly or anyone at home who fits the criteria above, or if you are a parent to children living at home, these would be additional situations you need to keep in mind as accepted indications for receiving the influenza vaccination. And this holds true for this winter, during the COVID pandemic.
However, on the flip side, some people with autoimmune conditions, or who take immune suppressing medications, should talk to their doctor before getting the shot. The aluminum used as adjuvants, and the mercury used as preservatives, can cause side effects or flares for those with autoimmunity, and those on certain immune suppressing medication might not even become immune after getting the vaccine. For you, it is a personalized decision and I cannot give you medical advice about that here. But it might be that during this pandemic, your decision might be different than it usually is.
In either case, my approach is to help you build a strong immune foundation so that you don’t get sick from any virus. A strong immune system is the basis for staying healthy in general, and should be a year round strategy…not just during flu season. This is, by far, the best prevention and protection!
Click here for more on supplement recommendations to strengthen your immune system.