On the Fence About the Flu Shot? Why Getting It Is More Important Than Ever

Flu Shot

As we brace ourselves for a potential second wave of COVID-19, experts say the flu shot is more important than ever. Photo: Geber86/Getty Images

As we brace for a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, flu season will also be ramping up. And while we wait on the edge of our seats for a vaccine against one, inoculating against the other is proving more protective than ever.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone the spotlight on the importance of vaccination to prevent respiratory infections, particularly for people with diseases like heart failure,” said Dr. Karthik Gonuguntla of the University of Connecticut, author of a study released last week at a virtual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.


Guard Your Heart


Respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia are known to exacerbate heart failure (and evidence is pointing to the same from COVID-19) and so inoculating against them is particularly important for people with heart disease. (Flu and pneumonia vaccination has also been associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.)

For this study, researchers were interested to see whether immunization had any effect on mortality risk from heart failure. They looked at the outcome of nearly 3 million Americans, with an average age of 70, admitted to hospital with heart failure between 2010 and 2014.

The mortality rate of patients who’d had a flu shot was roughly three times lower than those who hadn’t; 1.3 per cent compared to 3.6 per cent.

And the results were almost identical when researchers looked at pneumonia; heart failure patients who’d received a vaccine had a 1.2 per cent mortality rate versus 3.6 per cent among those who hadn’t.


Change of Heart


Of course, you can’t win if you don’t play. Only 1.4 per cent of patients in the study had been immunized for flu or pneumonia. But there may be a silver lining from the pandemic, Gonuguntla noted.

“Pneumonia and flu vaccines are vital to preventing these respiratory infections and protecting patients with heart failure,” he said.

“Although many people have rejected common and safe vaccines before COVID-19, I am optimistic that the pandemic has changed perceptions about the role of immunizations [sic] in safeguarding our health.”

To avoid what some experts are calling a “twindemic,” a convergence of people becoming ill as both influenza and COVID-19 circulate — it’s not yet known whether people can be co-infected — health professionals are urging people to get the flu shot this year.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, only four out 10 Canadians got the 2018/19 vaccine — a dose reported to have prevented 60 per cent of influenza cases.

However, a survey in August by Pollara Strategic Insights found that 57 per cent said they will “definitely or probably” get the flu shot this year. And a quarter of respondents who didn’t last year say they are more likely to this year because of COVID-19.


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