The Truth About Flu Shots


 

Editor’s Note: While flu rates were down in 2020 because of quarantining and social distancing, the 2021 flu season is expected to be closer to “normal.” The actions that protect us from COVID-19 can also protect us from the flu, which can be more intense and tricky to navigate alongside diabetes. Visit coronavirusdiabetes.org to learn more about what you can do as a person with diabetes to keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19 (and the flu!) until we’re all safe. This article is based on current recommendations and research from the CDC


It’s never a good time to get the flu, but now — while hospitals and urgent care clinics are still dealing with COVID-19 — the best thing we can each do for ourselves and those we love is stay healthy. Easier said than done, of course! But a key thing can help protect you from developing severe symptoms from the flu: get the flu vaccine.

No doubt, your healthcare professional has urged you to get a flu shot. In the United States, flu vaccines are recommended for everyone over 6 months old — but if you have diabetes, getting vaccinated is especially important.

Dr. Marina Basina, an endocrinologist at Stanford explains that “If a person with diabetes gets the flu, it becomes much more difficult to manage blood sugars — any infection will elevate blood sugars and increase variability in the readings and resistance to insulin. On the other hand, fevers, sweats and poor appetite may lead to low blood sugars, or ketone formation even in the setting of normal blood sugars. Furthermore, DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be deadly if left untreated) is more frequent in the setting of flu even when blood sugars are not significantly elevated.”

Flu shots are a safe, inexpensive, and effective way to lower your risk of getting sick. One study found that flu vaccination is associated with a 79% lower rate of hospitalizations for flu-related complications among people with diabetes. Still, many people have hesitations about getting vaccinated. Here are some of those questions, answered.

I’ve heard that it’s important for me to get a flu shot as a Type 1 diabetic. Why?

  • Managing diabetes while sick with the flu is a total nightmare. If you can’t eat or are vomiting, you’re at risk for low blood sugars and may have difficulty treating them. At the same time, blood sugars can run high because the immune system is fighting infection or because of dehydration associated with illness — putting you at a higher risk of developing ketones and needing of medical assistance.
  • Additionally, people with diabetes (Type 1 and 2) are at a higher risk of developing flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections that can lead to hospitalization.

Do I really have to get a flu shot every year?

Yes! There are many strains of the influenza virus that are constantly changing, so in order to be effective, the vaccines used change every year.

I got a flu shot but I still got sick. Flu shots don’t work!

Again, this has to do with the many different strains of influenza virus that change constantly. Seasonal flu shots can’t cover every flu variety. So yes, you can still get sick if you get a flu shot — but you’re considerably decreasing your odds of getting sick during flu season by getting one, typically by 50-60%.

I feel sick after getting the flu shot.

Importantly, getting a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Flu shots consist of inactivated flu virus or, in recombinant vaccines with no virus at all. Some people do experience mild side effects after getting a flu shot including soreness where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headaches, and achiness. These side effects are minor and brief considering the severity of getting sick with the flu for someone with diabetes.

While flu shots are an effective step an individual can take to protect themselves, vaccines are most effective when everyone gets them. By getting vaccinated for the flu, you are protecting not only yourself but everyone you come in contact with. Have a safe and healthy flu season!

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time?

Yup! The CDC states that “immune response, and possible side effects after getting vaccinated are generally the same when given alone or with other vaccines.”

For more information on vaccine safety, the CDC has extensive resources and documentation.

 

WRITTEN BY Dana Howe, POSTED 10/12/16, UPDATED 10/18/21

Dana is a former Beyond Type 1 staff member who now works in vaccine education and promotion. She has a Master's degree in Health Communication from Tufts University and studied biology and community health as an undergraduate. Her public health interests are inspired and informed by living with Type 1 diabetes since being diagnosed in 2002. Aside from working in public health, she’s skiing, biking, hiking, or cooking elaborate breakfasts.