Protect Yourself and Others: The Importance of Vaccines and the Flu Shot
Aug. 27, 2020
Updated Dec. 30, 2020
Undoubtedly, vaccines have been on everyone’s mind since the start of the pandemic. As the first Covid-19 vaccines roll out across the country, vaccines are top of mind for many.
Meanwhile, recent data suggests a significant drop in childhood vaccination this year because of the pandemic. An estimated 9 million childhood vaccination doses could be missed nationwide in 2020, threatening community protection against highly contagious and preventable diseases like polio, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The current estimate is a decrease of up to 26 percent in childhood vaccination doses compared to 2019.
One of the most common vaccines is the annual flu shot. Flu season in the United States will likely last through March 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* recommends everyone over 6 months old get an annual flu shot.
Here are the basics on vaccines and the flu shot, and why you should make sure you and your family members are up to date on your vaccines:
What Are Vaccines?
Vaccines protect you and your family. They also protect the community. Vaccines stimulate a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease.
“Vaccines typically prevent illnesses that can be either devastating in terms of death or potential long-term effects on an individual,” says Dr. Lloyd Kapp, a medical director with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.
Typically, vaccines are administered through an injection, but some are given orally or sprayed into the nose.
Why are they important?
Vaccines protect people from diseases. They also help with “herd immunity,” which is when enough people in a community have established immunity to a particular disease.
“Herd immunity decreases the risk of spread. So, if someone should come into the community with the disease, you have enough people with immunity in the community that it doesn’t spread. Thinking about it in terms of populations means you prevent other people who may not be immune to the disease from contracting the disease because you don’t have the spread of the disease,” Kapp says.
He points out that this is one conversation currently taking place around COVID-19. If enough people in a community are immune from the disease, then you prevent the spread of the disease.
“That's why you’re continuing to see the spread of COVID-19, because you don't have quite enough people who have been infected and have immunity,” he says.
A vaccine would help increase the number of people with immunity to the disease and that would decrease the spread. Two vaccines for COVID-19 have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Are vaccines safe?
Yes. To receive EUA or approval, vaccines have to undergo several phases of testing to demonstrate their safety. As a result, vaccines are safe for most people. While vaccines are continually monitored for safety, there can sometimes be side effects. These are generally mild, such as low-grade fever or soreness and redness at the injection site.
There are some exceptions to who should get certain vaccines. Individuals should talk with their doctor about which vaccines are recommended for them.
Do vaccines cause autism?
No reputable scientific studies have found an association between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)*.
“You can find anything on the internet that supports either side, but when you really look at rigorous, evidence-based scientific studies, there's no documentation that says that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines contribute to autism,” says Kapp.
More information about vaccines and autism can be found online.
Which vaccines should you get?
The CDC’s recommendations for vaccines for children younger than 18 can be found on the CDC's website. Adults over the age of 18 should get a flu shot every year and a Tdap vaccine at specific intervals.
Other vaccines may be recommended based on your age, health conditions, job, lifestyle and travel habits.
Who should NOT get a vaccine?
There may be some vaccines that are not recommended for an individual based on age or other health conditions. Individuals should talk with a doctor before getting a vaccine.
“Vaccines are really safe, and they're very effective in terms of what they prevent — potential infections that are really severe and have significant consequences for patients and for people in the general population,” Kapp says.
Vaccines are one of the most important discoveries in medicine in the last century, he says. The CDC has found that vaccines will prevent millions of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths among children.
Safe and effective vaccines help prevent 2 million to 3 million deaths per year and are paramount to protecting the safety and health of Americans and the communities where they live, according to the BCBSA.
“When I was a practicing pediatrician, I would talk to parents about the diseases that the vaccines are meant to prevent. It is a good thing that we don’t see these illnesses that years ago were common and so devastating and had high mortality rates,” he says.
Why are vaccines given to infants and children?
The vaccines that are given to children and infants are given because those diseases are particularly devastating to younger children, Kapp says.
For example, H. influenzae type B (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis as well as other diseases, and it can be lethal for young children and infants. Before the vaccine for this disease, there was a 4 percent mortality rate with a 15 to 30 percent of those surviving with permanent hearing and neurologic impairments. Now, you don’t even see the disease, he says. The vaccine for Hib is given at ages 15 – 18 months, 2, 4 and 6.
“Pertussis is something that we still do see, mainly coming from adults and older teenagers now that their immunity has waned, but the worst effect from pertussis is in newborns and infants,” Kapp says.
The CDC recommends the DTaP vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in five doses beginning at the age of 2 months. The Tdap vaccine is recommended for adults and children over 7. It should be renewed every 10 years.
“Fortunately, we don’t see a lot of these diseases anymore, but that is because we have these vaccines to prevent them,” Kapp says.
Why should I get a flu shot?
The flu shot protects you from the flu and potential effects you could have from the flu. The flu can cause pneumonia and other secondary infections. It can also be more complicated for people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, and in older people and infants. Read more about the flu on our blog.
When should I get a flu shot?
The flu shot takes about two weeks to become effective. Generally, the flu shot provides immunity for about six months. That is why you need to get a shot every year. To cover the full span of the flu season, you should get your flu shot in September or October.
However, it is never too late to get a flu shot. Many of our members are eligible for no-cost flu shots. Coverage may be through your preventive care or pharmacy benefits.
Who should get a flu shot?
Everyone should get a flu shot, Kapp says. It can be especially important for people over 65. The flu shot is safe for everyone over the age of 6 months.
Does the flu shot cause the flu?
No. The flu shot does not cause the flu. You can have flu-like symptoms, such as mild fever, achiness or redness at the site of injection, from the shot.
“This is not unusual for any vaccine,” Kapp says.
Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?
Yes. The FDA issued an EUA for the first vaccine for use against COVID-19 on Dec. 11 and for the second on Dec. 18. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina is closely following the latest information regarding COVID-19 vaccines and distribution progress.
If you have questions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines or other clinical aspects such as potential side effects, please go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC)*.
There are ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to protect yourself and others. One of the best things you can do is to wear a mask or cloth face covering in public.
*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an independent organization that provides health information you may find helpful.
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