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Read our message to patients about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

How The Flu Vaccine Works

October 1, 2020

With an ongoing pandemic, getting your flu shot this year is an extremely important

decision. Researchers believe you can have influenza and COVID-19 at the same time, and although the symptoms of both are similar, COVID-19 appears to put you more at risk of serious complications.

We know the best defense against the flu is to get vaccinated. Researchers are still working on a COVID-19 vaccine, and it’s apparent that COVID-19 will still be circulating during flu season. Being fully vaccinated against one of them is a good first step to decreasing your risk.

Let’s take a look at the flu vaccine, how long it takes to reach peak effectiveness, and how it works to protect your body against influenza.

Don’t Wait To Get Your Flu Shot

The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season. Flu season typically peaks in January and can last until May.

While some may think this effectiveness rate is low (45%-55%), during the 2018-2019 flu season, flu vaccination was estimated to prevent 4.4 million flu illnesses, 58,000 flu hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths.

Early data from the 2019-2020 flu season estimates there were 39-56 million flu illnesses, 18-26 million flu-related medical visits, 410-740,000 hospitalizations, and up to 62,000 deaths. Much of this disease burden is preventable from higher flu vaccination rates.

How Does The Flu Vaccine Work?

The flu vaccine stimulates your body's immune system to make antibodies to attack the flu virus. Antibodies are proteins that recognize and fight off germs, such as viruses, that have invaded your blood.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Most flu vaccines in the United States protect against four different flu viruses (“quadrivalent”); an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses.

It’s important to remember that influenza vaccination not only reduces the incidence of flu but also reduces the severity and hospitalization associated with flu.

Do What You Can To Protect Yourself

Both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that present with similar symptoms. Both viruses can impact the elderly and those with certain chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease, the hardest.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, other things you can do to protect yourself from both viruses include, wearing a mask, frequently washing your hands, and maintaining a safe distance from people when you go out.

To get the flu shot, contact your North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group primary care physician, or, if you don’t have one, you can find a doctor online.

And if you’d like to learn more about the characteristics of both influenza and COVID-19, visit our new interactive webpage. You’ll find all of the similarities and differences between the viruses and other ways to protect yourself this flu season.

Flu vs Coronavirus