Why you need a flu shot

People with heart disease and stroke face a higher risk of complications from influenza
Health worker administers a flu shot to a person.

For those who have experienced heart disease or stroke, or are at risk for these conditions, coming down with influenza (or flu) can increase the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. The good news? A flu shot can reduce hospitalizations, deaths and other flu-related complications such as heart attack and stroke.

Having the flu can increase the risk of another stroke or heart attack.

Dr. Alexandre Poppe is a Heart & Stroke researcher and a stroke neurologist in the division of neurology at the University of Montreal Health Centre. He spoke with Heart & Stroke about the importance of getting a flu shot this fall.

What do you tell your patients about annual flu immunization?

I recommend the flu shot to all my patients, especially older ones.

Public health recommendations are that everyone over six months of age should get the flu vaccination. We know that those at highest risk of complications are people with chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Having the flu can increase the risk of another stroke or heart attack. Studies have shown that the risk of stroke or heart attack increases shortly after a flu infection, but probably even more in someone who is predisposed to stroke.

Also, the flu can lead to hospitalization. So immunizing to reduce the risk of flu can in turn reduce the risk of in-hospital complications.

With the ongoing pandemic and the need for COVID vaccine boosters, what should people know about getting a flu shot?

COVID and the flu are two different illnesses; the COVID vaccine won’t protect you from the flu, and vice versa.

So it’s important to get both vaccines. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says there’s no real danger to having both vaccines very close, even during the same session.

Plus, we all know that COVID has tested the healthcare system and strained its resources. Anything we can do to protect hospitals and clinics from being overloaded should be pursued. Vaccination is a relatively easy way to avoid hospital visits for respiratory illnesses and complications.

If you’re sick with COVID, how long should you wait to get a flu shot?

Health Canada guidelines state that people with acute symptoms of COVID-19 or any symptoms of acute respiratory infection, including a sore throat or runny nose, should postpone the flu shot until they have recovered.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that people over 65 should get a high-dose flu vaccine. What are your thoughts on that?

Lower doses are recommended for younger people and children primarily because their immune systems are more robust. Older people’s immune systems can wane over time, and therefore a larger dose of vaccine can help ensure an immune response.

Learn more

Health Canada advice on preventing flu