Update on flu in 2021: This shot matters

Flu infections may bounce back this year, so it’s important to protect yourself
Health worker administers a flu shot to a person.

Did you know that if you or a loved one have experienced heart disease or stroke, a bout of the flu can increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke? The good news is that a flu shot can help. This annual vaccine reduces hospitalizations, deaths and other flu-related complications, including heart attack and stroke. 

This year, avoiding flu will help take the pressure off the healthcare system, which continues to deal with COVID-19.

Will the flu season in 2021 be the same as last year?

You might be wondering if the flu season will be mild like it was in 2020, when people were sheltering in place, wearing masks in public and physical distancing. Medical experts believe that’s unlikely.

“With people travelling again and pandemic restrictions being lifted across the country, there may be a more normal return to flu season,” says Dr. Craig Jenne, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and the Canada Research Chair in Imaging Approaches Toward Studying Infection. 

How does flu affect people with heart disease and stroke?

That’s a concern for those with vascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke. One Canadian study found that people were six times more likely to have a heart attack when they had the flu. Dr. Jenne’s research has found that flu triggers blood clotting and inflammation in mice — mechanisms associated with heart disease and stroke. 

Having the flu can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke in healthy people, too. The flu shot is an effective way to reduce strain on the cardiovascular system. 

While the flu vaccine isn’t always a good match for the viruses circulating that year, it still helps. This vaccine isn’t just meant for older adults, either — it’s for all ages, even babies who are one year old. “Younger people who have the flu might be visiting grandparents and pass it on to them,” says Dr. Jenne, whose research has been supported by Heart & Stroke donors.

Can I get the flu shot after receiving my second COVID-19 vaccine dose?

With COVID-19 vaccinations continuing, Canadians may be wondering when they should get their flu shot.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recently recommended that COVID-19 vaccines may be given at the same time as, or any time before or after, other vaccines, including the flu shot.

NACI said no specific safety concerns have been identified when routine vaccines are given at the same time or within days of each other. Allowing COVID-19 vaccines to be given at the same time as or within days of other routine vaccines will help facilitate the rollout of the 2021 influenza vaccine program.

Bottom line? Book your flu shot as soon as you can. “Even if it doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, it lowers the severity of the impact,” says Dr. Jenne. “You might get a milder version that doesn’t require hospitalization.”